You might be hesitant to try oysters at home, but they’re an economical and totally impressive (not to mention, delicious) appetizer to serve at a dinner party or cookout—as long as you keep a few things in mind. Make sure to purchase your oysters directly from a grower or from a reputable fish market and sample the goods if you can, even if you have to pay a few dollars to do so. Also, that old saying that you should only eat oysters in months that end with “r” is simply not true, especially in the United States where most of the oysters available commercially are grown under conditions to ensure their safety and tastiness year round. I prefer small, sweet oysters so I keep my eye out for Kumamotos (from the Pacific), but there are endless varieties of the delicious bivalves, so don’t be afraid to make friends with your local fish guy or gal and ask them what’s good.
I won’t go into details on how to shuck oysters here, but you can easily pick up a shucking knife (or two) from the fishmonger where you purchased your oysters and queue up an instructional YouTube video or two before you get shucking. After a few tries you’ll be a total pro, but don’t forget to protect your hand with a clean, dry dish cloth or glove. Once the oysters are shucked, place them (in their shells) on a bed of rock salt or ice and serve immediately.
And since you’ve gone through the trouble of shucking your own oysters, why not try dressing them up with something a bit fancier than a squeeze of lemon? Below you’ll find recipes for three simple sauces that will all enhance the sweet and or briny flavor of fresh oysters, and don’t forget the cooler of frosty cold ones on the side. If you aren’t into raw seafood, these sauces would pair nicely with fried or grilled seafood too.
See recipes for Classic Mignonette, Cocktail Sauce, and Spicy Cucumber and Cilantro Relish below.
Mignonette is the most traditional accompaniment to serve with oysters and it is a cinch to put together, provided that you have been practicing your mincing skills. Apply just a small amount so you don’t overpower the flavor of the oysters
Yield about ¼ cup
1 small shallot, finely minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Combine all ingredients and let sit at least 15 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a day.
Nothing beats a spoonful of classic cocktail sauce on a fresh, briny oyster. I like my cocktail sauce with enough horseradish to make my nose run, but feel free to scale it back for a less spicy sauce. Save the extra to serve with chilled, poached shrimp for the best shrimp cocktail of your life.
Yield about ½ cup
½ cup tomato ketchup
1-3 tablespoons horseradish
2 shakes Worcestershire sauce
3 shakes Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
Combine all ingredients and let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Spicy Cucumber Cilantro Relish
For something a little different try a bit of cucumber and cilantro relish. The key to this recipe is to mince all of the ingredients very finely so you can get a little bit of each component in every bite.
This one was my favorite of the three by far: cool, crunchy with just a bit of heat.
Yield about ½ cup
2 Tablespoons finely minced cucumber
1 Tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
1-2 teaspoons finely minced jalapeno (depending on your heat tolerance)
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
4 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Combine all ingredients and let sit at least 15 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to a day.