If you haven’t yet been wowed by oysters, you may well have been dallying with the wrong ones. Maybe you hate the mouthful of salt you get with Eastern oysters and love supersweet Kumamotos. Maybe you like bold, gourmet oysters with brassy, lemony finishes. Don’t endure the duds in your search for a compatible oyster. According to Rowan Jacobsen from The Oyster Guide, you can save yourself time by picking your profile, then finding your matches.
1. The Shrinking Violet—You’re not sure about this whole oyster thing and need some convincing, preferably with the lightest flavored, smallest, least intimidating oysters possible.
Beausoleils are the East Coast model, delicate, salty, with a fresh biscuit aroma. Many other New Brunswick oysters, such as La Saint Simons and Caraquets, also have a small size and clean finish. On the West Coast, Kumamotos are every
beginner’s favorite oyster, and Kusshis are reliably small, pretty, creamy, and mild.
2. The Brine Hound—Bring on the salt!
Look for oysters grown in or near the open ocean. Maine and Massachusetts provide some of the briniest, with Pemaquids, Glidden Points, Wiannos, and Wellfleets leading the pack. Island Creeks, from Duxbury, can be extraordinarily salty, and Cuttyhunks come from an island off the coast of Cape Cod that has no rivers. Olde Salts, grown near Chincoteague Bay, are one of the few briny Virginia oysters. Pacifics tend to be less salty than Eastern oysters, but Snow Creeks fit the bill, and Willapa Bay is famous for its salty oysters. Bahia Falsas and El Cardons, from Baja California, may be the saltiest oysters on the planet.
3. The Sweet Tooth—Skip the salt: there is nothing quite so divine as the creamy sweetness of a superplump oyster.
Forget Eastern oysters. The kind of sweetness you’re looking for can only be found in a Kumamoto—sweetest of the sweet—and some Pacifics. Totten Inlets are reliably sweet, Baywater Sweets and Hog Island Sweetwaters amazingly so. Nootka Sounds and Chelsea Gems also deliver the goods.
4. The Connoisseur—You want the best oysters in the world, price be damned.
Tiny, intense Olympias are the demiglace of oysters, a perfect reduction of tasty flavors. Penn Cove Selects and Hama Hamas are more satisfying in size, with the bright green flavors that mark the best Pacifics. Kumamotos have unmatched fruitiness—though Hog Island Sweetwaters give them a run for their money and balance the fruit with perfect brine. Westcott Bay Flats deliver a refined, metallic zing that can be found only in a European Flat. Among Eastern oysters, Colville Bays have full citrus flavor and perfect salinity, Glidden Points are big and briny. For mineral-rich, savory intensity, Moonstones, Oysterponds, and Widow’s Holes are your best bets. Some feel that a Totten Virginica combines the best of both coasts in one oyster.
5. The Wild One—Forget those hatchery-raised wimps, you want a natural-set oyster that survived the one-in-a-million journey from egg to adult.
Olympias are natural-set—and native, of course. Hama Hamas are still grown from natural sets in Hood Canal. Most Apalachicola oysters are completely wild, born and raised in the flats of Apalachicola Bay and harvested with tongs.
Gulf oysters are generally wild, as are many Malpeques, Caraquets, Tatamagouches, Bras D’Ors, Martha’s Vineyards, and Chesapeakes. But if the call of the wild is what you’re after, consider harvesting your own. Many state parks, particularly in Washington state, have oyster seasons.
6. The Bold—Bring on the tangiest, muskiest, biggest, most challenging oysters possible.
Damariscotta Belons are your Everest. Snow Creek Flats are your K2. Any European Flat is going to test you. Large Pacifics can also have intense and exotic flavors, particularly those from southern Puget Sound. Skookums will push the musk as far as you want to take it. Hammersley Inlets aren’t far behind. Any extra-large oyster will deliver sheer chewing intimidation.
7. The Clean Freak—You prefer filter feeders from pristine waters.
Two Canadian oysters from opposite ends of the country grow in national parks: Raspberry Points in Prince Edward Island National Park and Imperial Eagle Channels in Pacific Rim National Park. Nootka Sounds grow in an area of British
Columbia less populated than Pacific Rim National Park. Canoe Lagoons hail from Alaska’s 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, where the bears outnumber the people. Drake’s Bays are screened from all of California by the bulk of Point Reyes National Seashore. Cuttyhunks live in solitary splendor on the deserted west end of Cuttyhunk Island, ten miles off the Massachusetts coast.