Oysters are one of the many polarizing things in our world, and although the distinction between “oyster eater” and “non-oyster eater” will not decide any wars, it is an important one in the culinary world. Until last week, I was unsure which camp I fell in to.
I was invited to try oysters for the first time by a friend who loves oysters, and because I needed something to write about for this article and because I was curious, I said yes. We met at Scott’s Seafood in Sacramento because they have a happy hour on Thursdays during which oysters are only $1 each. We ordered four different kinds of oysters and glasses of white wine. When the oysters arrived, I was surprised that each type looked distinctly different from the others. Some shells were small and dark gray, others were bigger with a purple tinge, and some where so wrinkled and rough around the edges that they were hard to pick up. The oysters came with oyster crackers (now I know where the name comes from! It’s unclear whether they are so named because they are shaped similarly to oysters or because they were often served with oysters soups and stews), lemon wedges, horseradish sauce, and a yummy dipping sauce.
Another friend had given me the reasonable-sounding advice that I should swallow the first oyster whole, and if that went well, try chewing the next one. I swallowed the first one, dripping with lemon juice and dipping sauce, without much of a problem. Salty, but not bad. When I chewed the next one, however, oh boy. It reminded me of being at the beach when you’re little and a huge wave knocks you over. Sand, saltwater and indescribable fishy tastes flood your mouth as the wave pushes you down under, and it even fills your nose. That is how the oyster tasted to me, and I almost spat it out.
A few oyster crackers later, I was feeling ready to try again. However, I couldn’t bring myself to chew, so I ate a few more, piling them with condiments and swallowing quickly. This was the time my friend chose to say, “The best is when you squeeze lemon juice over them and they move. Then you know they’re still alive and that they’re really fresh!” Hold on. They’re alive?? I guess I’m pretty naive because I assume that even if my food is raw, it’s dead. But not so with oysters. Apparently you want them as fresh as you can get them, still living if possible, because as soon as the oyster dies the bacteria living on it and its shell begin to multiply, changing the taste and increasing your chances of contracting a food borne illness such as vibrio vulnificus, which causes nausea and vomiting (www.safeoysters.org).
With that knowledge now firmly ingested along with the oysters, I have decided that although I am glad that I said yes to trying oysters, I think I fall firmly in the camp of people who dislike eating them.
To enjoy raw oysters in Davis, go to Tucos located at 130 G Street, (530) 757-6600. Sacramento has an abundance. Here are some examples:
Scott’s Seafood: 545 Munroe Street, Loehmann’s Plaza, (916) 489-1822
Monterey Bay Canners: 400 Bercut Drive, (916) 441-3474
Chops Steak, Seafood and Bar: 1117 11th Street, (916) 447-8900
Fins Market and Grill: 2610 Fair Oaks Blvd., (916) 488-5200