The 15 most delicious oysters any American could hope to eat
Because we wanted to provide you with the knowledge you need to order the most beautiful bivalves no matter where you are, we asked oyster expert/Shucked author Erin Byers Murray to select her favorite salty, slippery gems from all over the US (and Canada). Here's what she picked:
Moon Shoals (Barnstable, Massachusetts)
Why they’re delicious: Grown near that well-defined bicep of Cape Cod, these hearty, meaty specimens don’t come around often, but when they do, they burst with a mouthful of ocean water. Bite into the meat to pull out the flavor, and you’re rewarded with a citrus-y, creamy, almost vanilla-like finish.
Where you’ll find them: Maison Premiere, New York; The Publican, Chicago; Brasserie 19, Houston
Cooke's Cove Malpeques (Prince Edward Island, Canada)
Why they’re delicious: These tong-harvested oysters are grown in a protected inlet on the northern end of PEI. You’ll get a good wallop of sea-salt brine up front, followed by a sweet, crisp bite of meat.
Where you’ll find them: Grand Central Oyster Bar, New York; The Southern Steak & Oyster, Nashville
Maine Belons (Damariscotta, Maine)
Why they’re delicious: Its technical name is the European flat oyster and was originally planted in Maine in the ’50s by sex-crazed scientists hoping to repopulate the region’s oyster beds. Decades later, they started to flourish. Harvested by divers, they give off a gutsy, strong flavor up front with a metallic-tinny finish. Have a sudsy beer nearby to wash these down -- these oysters don’t play well with delicate wines.
Where you’ll find them: Eventide Oyster Co., Portland, ME; Island Creek Oyster Bar, Boston
Blue Pool Oysters (Lilliwaup, Washington)
Why they’re delicious: These tumble-grown oysters get hit with of the pristine waters of the Hamma Hamma River, which flows through the Douglas fir-covered hills down into the Hood Canal. The oysters are salty, well-balanced, and almost crunchy with a strong, mineral-y finish.
Where you’ll find them: Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle; Meritage, St. Paul; Shaw’s Crab House, Chicago
East Beach Blondes (Ninigret Pond, Charlestown, Rhode Island)
Why they’re delicious: Besides the killer name, these cultivated beauties are wrapped in a shimmery, colorful shell due to a bit of tumbling in the surf; they’re finished in cages in deep waters. The result is a pleasantly mild oyster with good minerality and a little bit of salt.
Where you’ll find them: Mermaid Oyster Bar, New York; The Optimist, Atlanta
Rappahannock River Oysters (Topping, Virginia)
Why they’re delicious: Cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton are on a mission to revitalize their home turf, the Chesapeake Bay. Their Rappahannocks are part of a long legacy of oyster growing (started in 1899) and carry with them a mild minerality and lingering sweetness. If you like buttery Chardonnays, these pair well with ‘em. If you don’t, well, phew.
Where you’ll find them: Merroir, Topping, VA; Rappahannock Oyster Bar, Washington, DC
Kumamotos (Willapa Bay, Washington)
Why they’re delicious: These tiny treasure troves often have thick, fluted shells that hide flavor-bombs of meat. Originally a Japanese cultured oyster, they now thrive in the Northwest, specifically this little bay facing the Pacific. They’re also fantastic for first-time oyster eaters; they smell like cucumbers and taste creamy, sweet, and melon-y.
Where you’ll find them: Waterbar, San Francisco; Grand Central Oyster Bar, New York; Island Creek Oyster Bar, Boston
Lynnhaven Oysters (Broad Bay, Virginia Beach, Virginia)
Why they’re delicious: Once known as a “Lynnhaven Fancy,” these fancy boys can grow up to 7 inches long and are part of a growing number of oyster-growing revitalization projects. The beds of Lynnhaven produce mild oysters with a little kick of salt -- but you’ll want to try these for the meat, which is plump and luscious.
Where you’ll find them: Terrapin, Virginia Beach; Grand Central Oyster Bar, New York
Caper's Blades Oysters (McClellanville, South Carolina)
Why they’re delicious: Awesomely named for their old-timey razor blade shape, these SC oysters are harvested like they were 200 years ago, using a rock-and-chisel technique (clusters are harvested by hand and each ‘ster is chipped away from the cluster). Briny up front and sweet in back, they are a delicate and novice-friendly treat.
Where you’ll find them: The Ordinary, Charleston; City House, Nashville
Island Creek Oysters (Duxbury, Massachusetts)
Why they’re delicious: I’m slightly biased but these are the perfect example of a Northern East Coast oyster: a hit of seawater to start off, followed by a note of grassiness and an almost sugary sweetness at the end. The meat is firm with a slight crunch, and the oysters have a consistently lovely, teardrop shape.
Where you’ll find them: Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row 34, Boston; Next, Chicago; Pêche, New Orleans
Point aux Pins (Bayou La Batre, Alabama)
Why they’re delicious: One of the first farm-raised oysters from the Alabama Gulf, these family grown oysters are helping to reinvigorate that area’s oyster industry -- and they’re changing the way we think about Gulf oysters in the process. The sweet, meaty bites have a faint brininess but only grow to about two inches -- a rarity in Gulf bivalves, which usually come as big as a hand.
Where you’ll find them: Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham; Reef, Houston
Pepper Grove (Galveston, Texas)
Why they’re delicious: Texas is dipping its toe back in the world of appellation-naming their oysters, meaning you can now pinpoint the exact inlet of Galveston where they’re grown and compare them against others. Pepper Groves are pretty with their notched, mottled shells and get high marks for the mouthful of saltwater goodness you get followed by vegetal notes in the firm, toothsome meat.
Where you’ll find them: Reef and Goode Company Seafood, Houston
Hog Island Oysters (Marshall, California)
Why they’re delicious: One of the first farmed oysters to gain a cult following, Hog Island is still one of the best. These Pacific oysters are petite and easy to take back -- you’ll want a dozen all to yourself since there’s an addictive cucumber-melon-y-bready-green tea thing going on in each bite.
Where you’ll find them: Hog Island Oyster Co. and Zuni Café, San Francisco
Penn Cove Select (Whidbey Island, Washington)
Why they’re delicious: The beauty of these oysters is their size and consistency; Penn Cove has been farming oysters since the 1970s. About 4in long, they’re uniformly gorgeous with meat that practically bursts out of the shell. Bite down into the firm, crunchy flesh, and you’re rewarded with waves of salt and sea cucumber.
Where you’ll find them: Anchovies & Olives and Elliott’s Oyster House, Seattle
Olympia Oyster (Shoal Bay, Washington)
Why they’re delicious: A rare treat, Olympias are fragile little guys (often called Olys) that are also big on flavor. Grown way down deep into Puget Sound, they’re what remains of a species that once populated the Northwest. These are rich, coppery, oysters that are sweet and slightly smoky on the finish. When you find them, order them by the dozen since their diminutive shells hold just a fingertip of meat.
Where you’ll find them: The Walrus and the Carpenter and Elliott’s Oyster House, Seattle; Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco
Erin Byers Murray lives, writes, and eats in Nashville where she’s currently the managing editor of Nashville Lifestyles. She’s the author of Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm and co-author of The New England Kitchen (due out October 2014). Now landlocked, she constantly craves the ocean and gets her fix by traveling the country in search of briny bivalves. Follow her @erinbmurray.