Buying Oysters


Buying Oysters on the Internet
John McCabe

In recent years, the internet has increasingly become a fabulous place to buy oysters. More and more oyster growers and middlemen are seeking the direct connection with the consuming public online. This is great news, not just for oyster lovers but for seafood lovers in general.

The time it takes for freshly harvested oysters to reach the coolers of seafood distributors in a major city averages at about two days. It usually takes another day or two before the oysters are dispatched to their network of retail seafood stores and restaurant clients. There the oysters may reside a few more days before they are actually purchased by a consumer. Many of the better seafood restaurants and seafood markets realize that every day lost in transit and storage will reduce the value and quality of any fresh shellfish shipment. Hence they try to get as close to direct with the original shellfish harvester as possible, often paying enormous air freight fees to beat the risky "shelf life game". For the consumer, the internet is a fantastic new opportunity to beat all the odds and buy directly from a growing number of shellfish growers online which are also willing to ship smaller quantities to the general public directly.

I firmly believe that the internet is the greatest gift to the seafood industry and consumers alike since Sergius Orata's grand oyster business in ancient Roman times. I've bought oysters online many times and have yet to be disappointed. At last I can try oysters from different areas around the country. Depending on where any oyster is grown, the same oyster species will frequently acquire a unique flavor, perhaps also a different meat color or meat consistency. The oyster prices charged are usually very fair. However, if the online shellfish vendor is located far away, the shipping cost can certainly hurt a bit. Buying oysters online is usually also not the impulsive type of buying decision that it is for many folks at the seafood market. The purchase is planned and it takes a few days to actually take posession. First you will need to visit the website of the grower or vendor, take a look at what's available and choose the shellfish you desire. Then you place your order and pay (in advance) with your credit/debit card. Some vendors will give you a choice as to when you wish to receive the shellfish order and schedule the shipment accordingly.

You will end up with a rather unremarkable looking cardboard box at your front door. However, the box is actually quite remarkable. It is very sturdy (sometimes made of wax coated cardboard) and is usually lined on the inside with an insulating styrofoam container. The shellfish is bedded inside this styrofoam compartment, frequently with an ice pack or two. A special tag is also included which indicates (among other data) when and where the shellfish was harvested. I love receiving those boxes because I know that gloriously fresh seafood lurks inside. Incidentally, those boxes are not cheap. Depending on the quantity ordered they can easily cost a grower anywhere from two to three bucks a piece - even more on bigger insulated box sizes. They also take up plenty of valuable storage space at the grower's facility.

Please note that selling and buying shellfish online is as new to most growers as it is to most of the general public. Most growers cannot drop their shucking knives the minute the online order arrives, go package a small quantity of shellfish and run right down to UPS or FedEx with it. Many growers set a day or two in the week aside to fill online orders. Nonetheless it's well worth the extra wait in those cases as the freshness simply can't be beat.

Pointer: One way to offset shipping costs a bit is to partner with a friend on an order and thus share in the sliding scale shipping price reduction on a larger order. Most online shellfish vendors don't just sell oysters. They frequently also sell fresh clams or mussels. My dear wife, for instance, for reasons I accept but will never fathom, can't stand oysters - and loves clams. So we order both and save on shipping - and I end up with all the delicious oysters and get to share in some of her tasty clams to boot. Works out great (particularly for me I'll concede).

Let's order some Internet Oysters!
On one of my internet oyster orders I decided to grab my camera and capture the grand event live with some pictures. Join me in the experience:

I chose a large oyster grower in the State of Washington on this particular order. Their website is nothing short of a masterpiece in every way. It's interesting and fun to visit, even if one chooses not to buy anything online. The shopping cart computer program proves to be as perfect as the rest of the website. With ease was I able to breeze though a very nice selection of oysters and other shellfish. The computer program permits changes to your order along the way ("Umm. Let's make that two dozen small oysters instead of one, try some clams too, and find out find out how much that will cost including shipping delivered to our door-step. Hmm. Not too bad. Let's add some fresh mussels and see what that would cost...").

It is also possible to choose from a few shippers, compare shipping prices, and schedule the delivery on (or around) a certain date. Very impressive indeed. I completed my order, chose to check out, then typed in my address and credit card information - done. It must also be noted that a magnificent website is not going to make the oysters taste any better. I've dealt with some growers with real Spartan looking websites, some not even featuring an order form - just email. Nonetheless, the service and the oysters proved to be excellent.

Glorious Moment: The Shellfish Box Cometh!
My friendly UPS guy delivered the shellfish box to my door promptly on the day I had specified at the grower's website. It was prominently marked with "up-arrows". This was a welcome sight, as it indicates clearly to anyone that the box likely does not contain potatoes. Life is tough enough for the oysters in transit - no need to turn them upside down and sideways to boot.

 

 

A Peek Inside the Box
I ordered two sizes of Pacific oysters (small and x-small) as well as some of the tiny Kumamoto oysters. Each were separated with individual plastic bags which were zip-tied shut. The bags filled the box out nicely, thus keeping the oysters from rolling around in the box during transport. Around the shellfish a couple of sealed ice packs had been placed. Combined with the insulating Styrofoam liner and lid, the oysters benefited from adequate cooling during transit.

 


Papers Please!

Proper documentation in the form of thin synthetic printed tags accompanied these oysters. Tags like this are mandatory (by law) with any commercially harvested shellfish that is shipped in the United States, Canada, and Europe. They serve to demonstrate that the respective shellfish was harvested legally by the grower and meets or exceeds state and federal public health regulations.

 

 

A Peek Inside one of the Bags
Regrettably, the small Pacific oysters (which are actually not that small) had just been pitched into their bag by someone - much like potatoes. Most of the poor things were upside down or sideways. The prominent "up arrows" on the box suddenly struck me as a cruel joke played on my friendly UPS driver. I believe that a unorganized oyster mess in a plastic or mesh bag is perfectly acceptable when buying directly from a grower or seafood market, as the oysters are then heading to one's home refrigerator in a matter of hours. I don't believe that this applies to oysters destined to be on the road for several days. I suspect that the oysters were quickly bagged and then stuffed into the box at the grower's facility. Perhaps it would have been wiser (although a tad more time consuming) to put the empty bag in the box first and then putting the oysters in the bag- always more or less with the cupped shell portion downward. After all, some oysters bought online can end up costing oyster lovers up to a buck a piece or more after the shipping cost is factored in.

Death of the Oyster
Sure enough, I spotted a gaper right on top of the mess - deader than a doornail. As mentioned elsewhere in these "buying oysters" reports, it is not that unusual to end up with a dead one in a dozen soon after purchase - sometimes even if the oysters were harvested just hours earlier. That's not a big deal, particularly if the grower or seafood vendor practices the "baker's dozen" system and springs for an extra oyster (or two) with each dozen. However, there is no need to precipitate oyster death and/or loss of water in the shells of the survivors with sloppy packing when these marine critters are going to be in transit for days. I found another dead one in the same pile. Luckily, this grower did practice the "baker's dozen" system, at least on this order, and there was no loss to me. Unfortunately, several of the remaining oysters had lost most of their water. Oysters naturally shed some of the water inside their shell over time - even if perfectly stacked belly down in the crisper of your refrigerator. However, they loose plenty more if stacked upside down and sideways.

Fresh and Plump
All the oysters in this shipment were exceedingly fresh and plump. Even the two dead ones I mentioned had obviously only died a few hours ago - still good enough for my cats. Although the Pacific oysters tasted great, the little Kumamoto oysters ended up stealing the show with truly exceptional taste. Overall I was very pleased with this particular internet oyster order. For the next three days straight I slurped fabulously fresh oysters off the half shell. Heaven!




* Intro
* Fresh Oyster Types
* Looking over the Seafood Display (and Who's behind it)
* LiFo (Last in, First out) Shopping
* How many Oysters to Buy
* Buying Oysters on the Internet

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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