can be risky,” says Slade Rushing, one-half of the husband
and wife duo that operates Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar
in New York City. “We have to worry about the state
of the environment and pollution. These things are an issue."
Then, there’s something called V.
Vulnificus that could render you or your customer deathly
ill. V. Vulnificus is a bacterium related to the bacterium
that causes cholera, and is found in warm seawaters mostly
around the Gulf Coast. Basically, avoid eating or serving
oysters from this region during warm weather especially if
your immune system is weak or you have an underlying liver
There’s also the whole “R”
month myth. In the past, it was said that one should refrain
from eating oysters during the warmer months and have-at-em
during colder months, or the months with an “R”
in the name. The reasoning behind this was two-fold.
One reason was that, because heat encourages
the growth of bacteria, balmy summer waters were a breeding
ground for disease. Limiting harvests to "R" months
was the answer.
The other reason, more an issue of quality,
was that, because oysters spawn during the summer months,
their meat weighed less and was of poorer quality than the
sugar-rich meat of an oyster that was bulking up for the cold,
dormant winter that lay ahead. Who would you rather snuggle
up with: Marilyn Monroe or MaryKate Olsen? A sweet, plump
oyster or an anorexic oyster? My money’s on Marilyn.
Because of spawning and safety issues,
some varieties of oyster are still only available during “R”
months. But, with todays farm-raising regulations and technology,
many varieties of oyster can be enjoyed year-round.
A good supplier is going to try their very
best to provide a safe product, because what happens if they
don’t? People get sick, the supplier gets slapped with
a lawsuit and, suddenly, the money formerly set aside for
that flashy new speed-boat is going to pay for someone else’s
medical bills. Actually, oysters plucked, legally, of course,
from farms are raised in strictly monitored and regulated
waters making bacteria outbreaks pretty rare.
Wild oysters and farmed oysters generally
taste the same, but it’s the regulating that makes a
difference. Wild oysters are eaten safely and with pleasure
all the time, but farmed oysters are babysat to ensure safety.
The Rushings have found a great boutique oyster supplier.
“He lets us know what’s going
on with the oysters,” Slade says. “Regulations
ensure quality. That’s what the bonus is.”
And, as it turns out, shellfish aquaculture
is actually good for the environment. Aquaculture, think agriculture
but in water, produces a large portion of the seafood consumed
these days and has been a hot media topic of late. Sustainability
and safety issues, for example, seem to have cast this type
of farming in a poor light. However, the controversy apparently
surrounds the farming of fish, not oysters.
What the mullusks do is clean the water
around them, sometimes filtering over 15 gallons a day, removing
Nitrogen from the water, which improves light penetration
and promotes the healing of damaged seagrasses.
Shellfish farming is sustainable because
it doesn’t damage, but helps, the environment. It doesn’t
jeopardize future productivity, either. So, we can all rest
assured that in enjoying oysters we a: aren’t going
to harm the environment, b: probably won’t become deathly
ill after consuming them raw and c: can benefit from their
high protein and mineral content.
There are five species of oysters harvested
in the US: Atlantic, Pacific, Kumamoto, European Flat and
Olympia. Of these species, a large variety of names usually
denote the region they’re harvested from. For example,
a Blue Point oyster is an Atlantic oyster that was harvested
from Blue Point, NY. Cape Cods are harvested somewhere around,
you guessed it, Cape Cod. It all makes sense.
Each variety will vary in taste because
of the water in which they’re reared. Temperature, salinity,
mineral content and water quality all contribute to taste.
An oyster is generally judged by its sweetness or salinity,
its texture and other variables that can alter flavor, like
near-by plant life or minerals. Naturally, east coast oysters
are going to taste different from West coast oysters.
Allison Vines Rushing, the other half of
the aforementioned chef-duo, prefers east coast.
“They’re so nice and briny,
light and crisp,” she notes with passion, while “west
coast oysters are more creamy.”
Before the Rushings moved to New York,
they’d spend Sunday mornings in New Orleans bellied
up to the oyster bar sipping Bloody Mary’s and eating
freshly shucked oysters with the customary splash of Crystal
Hot Sauce and Saltine crackers. While they still enjoy oysters
this way, they spin a classic with Oysters Rockafeller Deconstructed,
Atlantic or Eastern oysters, native to
North America, account for about 60% of the U.S. harvest.
Much of the Atlantic harvest is caught wild rather than farmed.
Popular varieties include the aforementioned Blue Point and
Cape Cods, Malpeques and Lynnhavens.
Pacific oysters, harvested mostly from
Washington state, were introduced from Japan when the native
stock diminished due to over-consumption by Californians from
the late 1800s to early 1900s. All Pacific oysters are farm-raised,
and popular varieties include Sweetwaters, Wescott Bays and
The Kumamoto is closely related to the
Pacific oyster and valued for its buttery meat. They’re
raised in Washington and popular in the half-shell trade.
Grown on both coasts, the European Flat
oyster is pricy but worth it. The high cost can be attributed
to their availability, as well as their sweet flavor. Popular
varieties include Marennes and the Belon, from Brittany, France.
Finally, the Olympia oyster, native to
the West and grown mostly in Washington, is a wee-little oyster
usually the size of a quarter and prized for its strong taste.
The Olympia, along with the European, are examples of oysters
that are less tasty during summer months and sold mostly during
One issue that remains hotly debated is
whether or not oysters are a true aphrodisiac. We’ve
learned that oysters are loaded with zinc, which is essential
for men’s sexual health. And, zinc deficiencies in men
and women can lead to infertility and loss of libido. So,
according to experts, it’s possible that downing raw
oysters can increase sexual appetite and endurance. Taking
the time to carefully and thoroughly research this matter
may be a fun project.
Psychology probably lends a hand in whether
or not you think the oyster will increase your libido. If
you think they’ll make you feel sexy then they probably
“I believe it’s true,”
Slade said when asked for his opinion. “At least I want
to believe it’s true.”
We believe it's true, too. But, we'll let
you decide for yourself.