The Incredible, Edible… Oyster! Part I


The Incredible, Edible… Oyster! Part I

Saying that we love oysters is a bit of an understatement.

When we built Portland’s longest oyster bar almost a year ago, we made our stand with these bivalves, and we haven’t looked back. Every day, you can come and see what’s fresh, and choose from our selection of over a dozen shellfish at our raw bar, as well as various baked selections.

With so many reasons to love oysters, picking just a few to write about proved to be a tough task. We’ll start out in this article with the simple stuff like flavor profiles and consumption, two subjects as complex as that of wine. In Part 2, we’ll follow with a brief look at the oyster’s life cycle. In Part 3, we’ll discuss the oyster’s sustainability. As much as I love eating oysters, their sustainability might be their most exciting aspect.

You’ll notice a bit of change in my writing style for Part 1 of this series. Typically, I only write from the standpoint of representing our restaurant; however, today we’re discussing an experience, something where your preferences and mine may be similar or entirely different. Eating an oyster is a personal adventure, though it’s something that you necessarily share with anyone else involved.

Every step of oyster farming and service is an intensive, personal task. From spawning to the moment it’s set in front of you, your oyster has most likely had interaction with at least one person every day of its life. We’ll get into that in Part 2, but make no mistake: for the people who have a part in providing that oyster to you, farming shellfish can’t just be a job.

Oyster Flavor

There’s a word for that – “merroir.” This word is a fantastic addition to our lexicon, as it gives us the perfect mental image of how oyster tasting and eating works, where the flavors originate, and the complexity found in consuming oysters. Much like drinking wine, I’ve come to enjoy oysters that have some funk, but that’s not something I would have appreciated the first time I ate an oyster. Enjoy your own evolution in this manner.

Oyster flavor breaks down into three distinct parts: The taste, the texture, and the finish.

The Taste

An oyster’s initial flavor will always have some level of salinity. It’s raw, and it comes from the sea. Sometimes, that means the taste will be slightly salty and other times that means it will be very briny. The salinity will tell you about the water where the oyster lived. Some suggest you take a few drops of this water in your mouth and let it roll around your tongue before taking the oyster itself. In trying different oysters from different farms, even within the same bay in Puget Sound, I’ve found that two of the same species of oyster might have similar taste characteristics, but they can be quite dissimilar as well. In fact, the first time I had two of the same types of oysters from the same farm and they were different, it was a bit of a shock. It turned out one had been much closer to the shore than the other.

In trying different oysters from different farms, even within the same bay in Puget Sound, I’ve found that two of the same species of oyster might have similar taste characteristics, but they can be quite dissimilar as well. In fact, the first time I had two of the same types of oysters from the same farm and they were different, it was a bit of a shock. It turned out one had been much closer to the shore than the other.

As you bite into the oyster the first time, you might notice sweetness, bitterness, savory characteristics, and even some sour notes. Take note of what you taste now, because as you continue enjoying this oyster, that may change drastically.

The Texture

After you figure out the initial taste, chew the oyster several times to get the feel. Is this oyster thin, meaty, chewy, spongy, watery, oily, or smooth? I’m giving this short list just to spark your imagination, as there are hundreds of other words you might be able to use to describe what you’re feeling. Some oysters will even have a combination of these textures – for instance, some of my favorites are meaty and slightly buttery. This is something you’ll have to figure out for yourself over time. For me, it’s taken many oysters, and it’s been one of the most enjoyable aspects of this delicacy.

Some oysters will even have a combination of these textures – for instance, some of my favorites are meaty and slightly buttery. This is something you’ll have to figure out for yourself over time. For me, it’s taken many oysters, and it’s been one of the most enjoyable aspects of this delicacy.

The Finish

With most foods, and especially those served here in America, it seems that all the complexity of the food is found in that first encounter, as you first put it in your mouth. Most foods just don’t appear to change from the time you bite off a piece until you swallow them; they just break down.

Like great wines, though, this is the halfway point of finding an oyster’s character. As you give the oyster in your mouth a final moment on the back of your tongue before swallowing it, a whole new bouquet can fill your mouth and sinuses, and you’ll be hit with an all new delightful twist in the storyline of your meal. You might taste essences of minerals, savory elements, or even fruit.

Fruit? When I first learned that some oysters would leave you feeling like you had eaten a watermelon afterward, I couldn’t believe it. I was even more shocked when I found out it was true. Today, I have certain mineral finishes that I like and others that I really would rather not taste – I had one with an aluminum finish and was not a fan. I love an oyster that finishes tasting like watercress, citrus or cucumber, or mineral notes can be interesting as well.

Conclusion

Whether you’re just getting started in enjoying oysters or have done so for years, there’s always something new to try, and something new to enjoy. Whether you’re just getting started in enjoying oysters or have done so for years, there’s always something new to try, and something new to enjoy. Something you dislike today could become a favorite in the future. My suggestion? Be adventurous.

In Part 2, we’ll be talking about the process of farming an oyster and what’s involved from spawning until the moment it’s set in front of you at our thirteen-seat oyster bar. Stay tuned!