January’s Entertaining Tips: Raw Oyster Tasting
Ok, have we all been to wine tasting parties? Or what about the wine and cheese pairing parties? Here in Seattle, beer and/or hard cider tastings are having a moment in the sun. And I’m willing to bet most of us have been to at least some iteration of one of the above.
Here is the thing, I love the idea of a party surrounding the exploration and sampling of something new!! Who doesn’t love trying yummy new things?? Plus, I love interactive parties that encourage people to chat it up about food/flavors etc. Its great especially when not all of the guests know each other. Commonality (or friendly disagreement) can be a great ice-breaker!
So in the spirit of tastings and our Pacific Northwest location – which is home to some of the best shellfish in the world – why not do a raw oyster tasting party?! If think theres not much to say about the differences between oysters, then think again! Some have a clean finish, some are briny, some are sweeter, some are earthy, some have hints of citrus. Because of this I recommend asking the kind folks at the fish market, for a range of oyster flavors. Be sure to tell them that you will be eating them raw, because some oysters are giant and not optimal for raw consumption.
Give it a try! Its a ton of fun, easy to prep, and a great way to get the conversations flowing!
What oysters to buy….
This answer will vary wildly by your geography, so use the knowledgable folks behind the seafood counter or at the fish market! They are happy to make suggestions and ensure you have a variety of flavors represented. Again, be sure to tell them that the oysters will be served raw! You don’t want to end up with giant oysters that you can’t easily slurp down.
Because the oysters need to be kept alive until shucking, purchase them the same day you plan to serve them! I store them on ice in my refrigerator until its time to shuck them.
How many oysters to buy….
I like to purchase 4-5 varieties of oysters and allow 2 oysters per variety per person. For example, if 6 people will be participating in the tasting, I would buy one dozen of each variety of oyster. This would mean, each person could eat as many as 10 oysters, which is quite a few!
Two oysters per variety allows tasters to sample with various topping combos rather than just one.
Oysters are rich, filling, and with our cheese and bread spread (see below), 8-10 oysters per person will be plenty!
What you will need….
Your selection of oysters will likely come from a variety of locations. It can be fun to have a map or a description of the area. For example, one of my favorite oysters comes from the South end of the Hood Canal in the Puget Sound and another favorite is just off Vancouver Island, BC. A map of Washington state’s inland waterways is definitely a fun addition.
Also, as you are selecting oysters at the fish market, if there is a flavor profile description of each variety, you may snap a photo on your phone to write down or read aloud as you sample each variety!
If you don’t already have one, buy an oyster shucking knife. Its worth the $10 and will make the process much faster and smoother. Your hands will thank you later.
If you are new to oyster shucking. There are a bunch of great tutorials on Youtube.
A dry white wine is always a safe bet.
But I am partial to any chilled bubble – the dryer the better. I love a good chilled extra dry cider! We are partial to a WA local Alpenfire’s “Bone Dry” Cider. But a dry leaning prosecco or Cava would also be wonderful (most champagnes are too bitter to pair nicely with oysters).
A non-alchoholic option would be a chilled Perrier or La Croix. For a tasting, something bubbly is a great palette cleanser, but you won’t want anything sweet.
What else to serve
A small arugula or mixed green salad garnished with pomegranate seeds, honey candied pecans, and lightly dressed with balsamic and olive oil is a perfect green item.
An assortment of fragrant cheeses, a thinly sliced baguette, and seasonal fruit are all great additions for snacking between each oyster. Depending upon where you live, selecting seasonal fruit in the winter can be tricky, but in WA, I choose thinly sliced apples and cubed pears with toothpicks next to them for mess-free eating. In the summer, strawberries, apricots, or grapes are wonderful options.
Fruits to avoid at anytime of year are anything extremely acidic, like pineapple or citrus. Acidity does not pair well with cheese and not all citrus meshes well with oysters.
If you want to include dessert, stay away from chocolate or other strong flavored items. Opt for something like a lovely poached pear or an apple hazelnut tart.
How to Serve…
You need something vinegary or lemony to cut the richness and brine of the oysters. So I usually do a couple mignonettes or vinaigrettes. My favorite is made with a minced roasted shallot, champagne vinegar, and a pinch of black pepper. It especially super on the extra briny oysters.
I have found that the lemon, water, and rosemary version goes excellent on the less briny oysters.
I also, serve oysters with freshly grated horseradish and a couple of lemon wedges.
My personal favorite way to garnish an oyster is a bit of a mignonette, a pinch of grated horseradish and a drop or two of squeezed lemon. Some may say thats too much garnish, but I say: Yummmm!
I recommend organizing the oysters on plates by variety. Count how many oysters you intend to serve. and figure 8-10 oysters per serving platter. Fill a circular 9-10″ diameter pie plate, cake pan, etc. with ice and arrange half shell oysters face up over the ice. Be sure to place a label or color code the plate so that you remember which plate correlates to which variety and region.
How to lead the tasting….
No, you don’t have to be an oyster expert to lead!!
One option is to go in order of least to most briny or visa-versa (ask the fish market folks to place them in this order for you and make a note of it!) Then just have your flavor notes and the background/geography of each oyster variety handy. Read the background aloud and taste away!!
Sharing this background info, makes guests more willing to offer their opinions and observations! Leading to some great conversations after the oyster related festivities conclude.
I space out each oyster variety by 5-10 minutes. This allows for conversation and the snacking of cheese, bread, fruit, etc. Also, it feels more casual this way!
We have had so much fun every time we host these parties! If you try it, please do let me know how it goes!
I have loved reading all of the comments lately. Be sure to post any additional questions in the comments!! (Most likely, if I can’t answer them, my seafood savvy father can!) Also, I’m curious what other tasting parties have you hosted or attended?!
- 1 small shallot
- 3 tbsp. champagne vinegar
- pinch of finely ground black pepper
This is my favorite mignonette for oysters!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove outer skins of shallot and wrap in foil. Place shallot in the oven and roast until shallot is soft when squeezed. Remove from the oven and allow shallot to cool completely to room temperature, then refrigerate to chill.
After shallot has chilled, finely chop 1 tbsp. worth of shallot and reserve rest for another use. In a small bowl combine shallot, champagne vinegar and pinch of salt. Chill until ready to serve. For best flavor, make at least 1 hour prior to serving.
Makes enough for roughly 4 dozen oysters.