“R” is for Oysters

by Buck Reed

We have all heard and lived by various culinary rules/myths in our adventures in the kitchen. Cold water will come to boil faster than hot water, marinating meats makes them tender, and you should always rinse your chicken before cooking. Just for the record, the first two statements are false, and the third is neither right nor wrong. There are just as many reasons to rinse your chicken as not to. And, then, there is this one: only eat oysters in the months with an “R” in them. Clearly, at one time, this was sound advice, but it is no longer true today.

First, “R” is for: modern Refrigeration methods. Before we invented a method of making ice and keeping food cold, oyster consumption was at the mercy of the weather. Having oysters sitting on the dock in the hot summer sun was not ideal conditions for health safety and keeping them at peak flavor. Harvesting oysters from cold waters and keeping them cold was a major way to keep oysters fresh, plump, and tasty.

Then there was the next “R”: Reproduction. Most oysters reproduce in the summer months when the waters are warm. Unfortunately, a spawning oyster isn’t as plump or sweet as a benign oyster. Fortunately, most oysters are raised on farms and are actually bred to not reproduce. Think seedless watermelons, and you get the right idea.

“R” is also for Red tide algae. In the summer months, warmer water promotes the growth of algae, which can introduce toxins into the waters that oysters live. Although farm-raised oysters solve this problem easily enough, monitoring the waters of wild-caught oysters ensures only safe oysters are brought to market.

Following a few simple rules when purchasing and handling oysters will also go a long way toward keeping you safe while enjoying oysters all 12 months of the year. First, only buy oysters from a reliable source. Plan upon consuming your oysters as soon as possible. You can help keep your oysters safe by storing them in a bowl, covered with a towel or newspaper, and placing the bowl in the refrigerator. Check your oysters to make sure they are still alive before consuming raw. They are dead if the shell is open and the oyster cannot keep it shut. You do not know what killed the oyster, so you are better off to discard it.

Given today’s modern oyster industry technique, you can forget the final “R,” which is Risk. As in, you will have little risk when eating oysters whenever you wish.

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