Fresh Oyster Types
The ball park price (2006/2007) at seafood markets runs anywhere from 50c (a great bargain if truly fresh) to 2 bucks a piece (high). Occasionally you may also find the European oyster (Ostrea edulis) and Kumamoto oyster (Crassostrea sikamea) for sale. Although they are a tad more expensive, give 'em a try at least once if you've never tasted them. You might be very pleasantly surprised. If you really get lucky, you might spot the tiny Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida a.k.a. O. conchaphila) in the seafood case. Don't let the small size of the Olympia oyster fool you. It's a proven winner when it comes to "heaven on the half shell".
Inset image: The small Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida a.k.a. O. conchaphila) is a native West Coast oyster. The State of Washington is the largest producer in the world. It is remembered as the "Gold Rush oyster" as some 49ers once paid a silver dollar for just one. It is tiny, rare, and rather expensive - and worth it.
The three specialty oysters mentioned control a comparatively small share of the North American oyster market. They are generally slurped raw off the half shell. They do, however, also excel in oyster recipes by adding an exciting dimension in taste.
the Pacific oyster vastly dominates the shell stock sales. The
pricey European oyster accounts for but a tiny fraction of the
combined European oyster volume.
Also remember to pick up some lemons and a bottle of hot sauce. Many oyster lovers like a few drops of lemon or hot sauce on their oysters. The lemon is cut into thick slices which can then be halved or quartered (wedges). I like serving wedges, one or two every two oysters, as only a few drops of lemon juice suffice. If you feel a little adventurous, then pick up a lime too. A few drops of fresh lime juice also work very well with oysters - some say better than lemons. In any case, mixed lemon and lime wedges look pretty on an oyster platter. Buying lemon juice in a bottle is only a last resort if no fresh lemons are available. Although Tabasco sauce is always a good choice with oysters, there are many other hot sauces that are also excellent. While I think of it: Pick up a little fresh parsley to dress up the look of the oyster platter. Shock your friends by eating a fresh sprig of this "garnish". Parsley is delicious and healthful.
Another pointer: When you buy shell stock from a seafood vendor, you usually will not know how fat that oyster is inside that shell. The shell size is no indicator, as the shell of a skinny oyster can be just as big a shell of a fat one. Consolation: No matter how fat or skinny the oyster inside turns out, it will always taste great as long as it has been permitted to retain its natural moisture level (not dried out) due to proper handling by the grower, shipper, and ultimate seafood vendor. Naturally oystermen are well aware of the fact that shell size is no sure fire indicator of the actual meat weight of oysters. Without exception, every oysterman strives to produce the fattest, best tasting oysters possible in the oyster bed(s) he controls. Unfortunately the sea and his oyster beds actually control him instead. In some years, his bed(s) will produce exceptionally fat oysters; in others the oyster meats will be rather skinny. Many small growers sell their shell stock to big growers for meat processing. The big growers will pay these small growers based on actual or prospective meat weight yield. Many growers work extra hard to insure fat and tasty oysters by shifting all their oysters at a certain size from one oyster bed to another. The other bed has traditionally produced fat and tasty oysters in most years. This is due to a naturally high level of nutrients that the oysters can then feast on for a year or more. These beds are called "fattening beds". Many small growers, however, do not have the luxury of additional fattening beds that they can rotate their stock on. The oyster business is a very hard road for many reasons. Please support your oystermen.
Just one more pointer: Some epicures subscribe to unwritten rules regarding the shape of a Pacific or Eastern oyster destined for serving on the half shell. The highest grade describes any oyster that is no more than 1.5 times as long as it is wide. Up to 2 times length vs. width describes an acceptable standard size. Any more than that is deemed "commercial", better suited for meat processing. Many growers go through much trouble trying to produce oysters with perfect shell shapes. Some rotate their stocks to firmer sea bottoms. Others employ tedious cultivation methods in mesh bags (called rack and bag cultivation). Hence, a favorable "choice" or "standard" oyster shape sometimes commands a premium price in the half shell trade.
* Shucked oysters or "oyster
In North America the Pacific oyster and
Eastern oyster vastly dominate the shucked oyster retail business.
The Kumamoto oyster and Olympia oyster are also available in
this form occasionally. I've never seen European oyster meats
for sale - only shell stock. They are almost exclusively slurped
off the half shell. In Europe the shucked oyster market is very
slim at best. Shell stock vastly dominates the market.
Pointer on Pacific and Eastern shucked oysters: If you plan to create a big oyster stew or some other tasty oyster dish that simply requires lots of oysters of no particular size and shape, ask the vendor if he or she also offers so called cuts. These are oyster meats (mixed sizes) that were damaged during opening at the grower's shucking facility. They also come in pint and gallon sizes and are usually considerably cheaper - and taste exactly the same.
Measures and Weights
North American Pacific oyster
North American Eastern oyster
Abbreviation key: XS = Extra Small; S =
Small; M = Medium; L = Large; XL = Extra Large
European shell stock reference: Pacific
Abbreviation key: P = Petit (small); M = Moyen (medium); G = Grand (large); TG = Très Grand (extra large)
European shell stock reference: European
Abbreviation key: same as above
Unusually large (and rare) European oysters may further be qualified numerically as follows: "000" = 110g, "0000" =120g, "00000" = 150g and beyond.
* HPP (High Pressure Processed) oysters
General pointer: There is nothing wrong with asking the local fish monger about the possibility of special ordering a particular type of oyster he may not carry regularly.
Health advisory: There is a risk associated with consuming raw oysters or any raw animal protein. If you have chronic illness of the liver, stomach, or blood or have immune disorders, you are at greatest risk of illness from raw oysters and should eat oysters fully cooked. If you are unsure of your risk, you should consult your physician.
Advisements on any errors discovered are most welcome: Contact