Healthy Eating Tips

The More Oysters You Eat, the Better the Oceans Get—Here’s How To Shuck, Shop For, and Eat This Iron-Rich Sustainable Seafood

Allie Flinn

Photo: Getty Images/Marianna Massey
When it comes to sustainable seafood, oysters are among the best options you can choose. Just a single one of these sexy-times inducing, selenium-rich bivalves can filter more than 50 liters of water a day, says Chef Tony Adams, Cooking School Director and Head Chef at Cavallo Point. "There has been an incredible growth of great new oyster farms all throughout the country, and they’re doing such a great job bringing back sustainability and the idea of 'mer-oir' (or the 'terroir of the sea')," he adds.

Adams describes these farms as "carbon capture farms that are basically living and breathing filters for purifying the waters in a manner which is natural and cohesive to any natural waterway system. If an oyster can filter more than 50 liters of water a day on its own, imagine the impact on the water for even small and medium size oyster farms! It's incredible. We’ve done so much damage to our waters in such a short span of modern industrialization, and oysters are a clear choice for helping to heal and undo some of that destruction."

Ready to do just that? Read on for everything you need to know about eating oysters.

How to shop for the freshest oysters possible

If you plan to prepare oysters yourself, there a few things to keep in mind when shopping. Adams says that you should ideally buy them from a reputable fishmonger, but if that's not possible, make sure the store's seafood department is clean and the seafood looks and smells fresh. ("If you can smell the fish department from the deli, you’re in trouble," he says.)

"Next, you should always be able to ask the fishmonger if you can check the shellfish harvest tags, which vendors keep on file for 90 days," says Adams. These tags show the harvest date and location of oysters and other bivalves like mussels and clams. "If they’re not willing to show you their tags, don’t buy from them," he says.

Lastly, take a look at how the oysters are being stored; they should be on self-draining ice "and not sitting in half-melted ice submerged in fresh water, which will kill them."

Lastly, the shells should be closed up tight.

How to shuck oysters like a pro

Shucking oysters requires a little practice. Adams recommends using a New Haven-style oyster knife ($10) because they're all-purpose. Here's how to shuck 'em, step-by-step.

1. "Locate the flat top shell and bottom shell, and insert the knife between the two at the pointed apex—not the rounded edge," says Adams.

2. "Use a motion that is part 'revving a motorcycle', and part 'teeter-totter', with a little pushing action as well." This can take a little getting used to, as each oyster has a different feel. You just have to find that friction point, and then apply pressure using the prying movement.

3. When you finally gain access and hear/feel the pop of the oyster opening, Adams says that you'll need to scrape the oyster knife across the interior roof of the oyster to release the adductor muscle. Discard the top shell.

4. Slide the oyster knife under the oyster to release the adductor on the bottom of the shell. Flip the oyster over to ensure it is released (and hide any marring you may have caused when opening the top).

5. Slurp away.

Additional tips from Adams: Go slow, be safe, and use the same type of oyster the first few times you shuck to get the hang of it.

How to eat oysters

"Simple is best when eating," he adds. "Serving them naked with a cold beer after working a 12-hour day is probably the way I’ve most consumed oysters in my life, but it’s not my favorite way," he says.

For a step up from that, serve them on the half shell with a dab of fresh horseradish cocktail sauce, or an herb- and vinegar-based sauce.

For cooked oyster recipes, he recommends going traditional Rockefeller-style, or grilling them with a chorizo compound butter.  "And if beer isn’t your thing, a glass of cold champagne or rosé is the ticket," he adds.

Health benefits of raw oysters

Didn't think we'd leave you without a healthy reason to eat oysters, did you? Oysters are chock-full of health benefits. Find a few of them below.

1. Oysters are a strong source of many key nutrients: Zinc, vitamin B12, iron, selenium, and vitamin D.

Where to begin. Oysters are high in zinc, which is key for optimal immune system functioning and cell growth. A 3.5-ounce serving of oysters provides over 600 percent of the RDI for zinc. They pack a strong vitamin B12-punch, which is critical for nervous system maintenance and blood cell formation. Many people, especially older adults, are deficient in this vitamin.

Oysters are also high in iron, which is required for hemoglobin and myoglobin production. These proteins carry oxygen throughout your body. Oysters also contain selenium, a mineral and antioxidant that maintains proper thyroid function and fights against free radicals in the body.

Lastly, they're rich in vitamin D—essential for immune health, cellular growth, and bone health. Many people are also deficient in this vitamin, especially those living in colder climates. Oysters will help you meet your daily requirements.

2. Oysters are high in protein.

A single oyster can have up to two grams of protein, depending on their size. That means a half-dozen oysters can give you around 12 grams of protein which is equivalent to roughly two ounces of meat.

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