SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
Now that you know where to source oysters online, why not host a party? Here’s how:
1. Pick a date and order accordingly. Most online retailers will ship next day air if your order is placed by a specified time, while others require 2-3 days. Once you’ve chosen your source, place your order in time for the oysters to arrive the day of the party but be sure to leave yourself enough time to prepare for your guests.
2. Mise en place. Decide whether you plan to shuck ahead or involve your guests – either way, you’ll need an oyster knife. Oyster knives range in price from a few dollars on up. For a novice shucker, an inexpensive knife will do the trick. You can find them at your local seafood market, Asian market, or kitchen supply store but if not, there are plenty of options online. I like this one because the handle has great grip and the long blade helps to loosen the oyster meat from the shell, quickly and easily, but there are different styles. Alternatively, most online oyster retailers are selling branded knives or kits, with everything you need to get started. Remember to have plenty of clean kitchen towels as well, to ensure a clean, dry shucking station and to help you stabilize the oyster, protecting your hand while you shuck.
3. Plan your presentation. If you have plenty of entertaining space, set up an oyster bar or shucking station. Either way, you need a large vessel of ice to display your oysters, shucked or unshucked. Place a clean towel underneath to avoid puddles of condensation and melted ice. If you’re tight on space, make sure you have some serving pieces on hand so can place trays of oysters around the party to refill periodically. Store shucked oysters on sheet trays in the refrigerator to keep them cold and line the serving pieces with rock salt instead of ice. If you provide discard bowls for your shells, the salt will stay clean and dry throughout the party (no melting!). Place small plates, cocktail napkins, and garnishes nearby.
4. Plan your garnish. Seasoned oyster eaters prefer theirs naked but most people still expect accompaniments. The simplest option is lemon wedges but I like to provide some variety for my guests. Classic accompaniments include cocktail sauce, horseradish, and mignonette (and sometimes crackers or sourdough bread with butter) all of which can be purchased but that would be too easy, right?
5. Make your mignonette. Classic mignonette is a combination of red wine vinegar, shallot brunoise, and freshly cracked black pepper. I like to change it up and try different acids like champagne vinegar, sparkling wine, lemon juice, or verjus, as well as different garnishes. Try these combinations – verjus, pink peppercorn, dill; champagne vinegar, lemon juice, preserved Meyer lemon, Serrano pepper brunoise; champagne vinegar, shallot brunoise, pickled green tomato. Think up your own flavor profile and challenge yourself to incorporate those flavors.
6. Make your sauce. Classic cocktail sauce is a combination of ketchup, hot sauce, Worcestershire, and black pepper. Some people add horseradish and lemon right in and others leave it on the side. Another classic sauce is made with crème fraîche, dill, and mustard. Swoon.
7. Play sommelier. Classic accompaniments to oysters include dry sparkling wines, dry white wines like Melon de Bourgogne and Muscadet Sevre et Main, pale ales and sour beers, as well as porters or stouts, like Guinness. You could also serve clean gin or vodka cocktails or a classic Bloody Mary. I like sparkling wine because of the simplicity, crisp, clean taste and festive connotations. Whatever you choose, make sure you have plenty of glassware on hand.
8. Clean your oysters. Depending on where you ordered your oysters, they may arrive fairly clean or covered in fluff mud. Once they arrive, unpack them and rinse them thoroughly with cold, running water. Never completely submerge them – fresh water kills! Place them in a bowl or open container, covered with a damp towel, in the refrigerator until you’re ready to shuck. You can place them on ice but be sure they don’t submerge as the ice melts.
9. Get shucking. Fold a clean kitchen towel in half and then in thirds then fold it around the round (wider) end of the oyster, leaving the hinge exposed, and place it on the counter. Place the base of your hand on top of the towel and lean against it to give yourself leverage. With your other hand, place the tip of the oyster knife inside the hinge and rock it back and forth gently until can feel it catch and the oyster begins to open. This is like gently coaxing a stubborn lock to open – don’t force it or else you risk breaking the lock or worse – your hand! Once the oyster begins to open, gently work the tip of the knife deeper into the shell. Continue to rock it back and forth until the muscle pops. Slide the knife the rest of the way across the oyster to loosen the top shell from the muscle and discard the top shell. Without damaging the oyster meat, slide your oyster knife underneath and loosen the muscle from the bottom shell so the oyster can slide out easily. Leave as much liquor as possible behind. Use the tip of your knife to carefully remove any shell, dirt, or debris from the inside of the oyster and there you go! This will get faster and easier with time but don’t be afraid to involve your friends, just be sure you have enough oyster knives on hand.
10. Enjoy. As Jonathan Swift once put it, “he was a bold man that first ate an oyster." Luckily the guesswork was done for us party people and we can focus on indulgence. Eat and enjoy.