By Liz O'Connor

Oysters bathe in their lusty liqueur while laying, in-wait, to be consumed. They also seem constantly bathed in hype. Are they an aphrodisiac? Are they safe to eat? Should we use farmed or wild oysters? The issues have been shucked and the answers are as simple as the bi-valve’s anatomy. And, our featured recipes are so good they’d knock Venus right off her half-shell.

We’ll start by addressing safety so-as to quell any fears. When consuming oysters, especially raw, it’s important to remember that they feed on organisms and bacteria, and those organisms and bacteria can be potentially hazardous. And, they gorge themselves on gallons of water a day that’s polluted with who-knows-what. [more]


Chefs Allison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing of Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar
Oysters Rockefeller “Deconstructed”

Chef Anita Lo of annisa
Oysters with Three Root Vegetables

Chef Ted Walter of Passionfish
Oysters with Passionfish Sauce

Chef Charlie Palmer with Chef de Cuisine Mike Altman of Astra
Phyllo-Crisped Oysters on the Half Shell with Chive and Caper Rémoulade



“Raw 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 disease.

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, featured below.


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 Hog Islands.

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 colder months.

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 will.

“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.





Related Links:
  • Aphrodisiacs
  • Bouillabaisse
  • Forum: Sustainable Seafood
  • Forum: Contaminants in Seafood

       Published: February 2005