What You Need to Know about Oysters

Oysters are the new cocktail-hour choice

Move over, chips and pretzels. The new happy-hour delectable has no crunch, but it has plenty of punch. Bars throughout the San Francisco Bay Area are packing in locally-harvested oysters. These days, oysters present plenty of value, too. Because bays, inlets, and tidal basins are going through detox, farmers are rejuvenating old oyster beds and they’re discovering new ones. You can get oysters on the cheap. The Waterbar, for example, in San Francisco, offers a $1.05 oyster bar during happy hour, which lasts from 11:30 am to 5:30 pm.

More than 150 oyster varieties come from only five species

In North America, there are more than 150 varieties of oysters, but they represent only five species. These are:

Pacific oysters—Also known as Japanese oysters or Miyagi, Pacific oysters are the most cultivated in the world. They tend to have a sweet, less salty, flavor when compared to Atlantic oysters.

Kumamoto oysters—These are imported from Japan and are popular in the United States. Though they take longer to cultivate, their quality extends into the summer. They’re fairly small and have a mild, nutty flavor. If you’ve never tried oysters before, start with a Kumo.

Atlantic oysters—These are found along the Atlantic coast from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and they’re indigenous to the United States. They tend to be salty with a crisp texture and clean flavor.

European flat oysters—Oyster aficionados can appreciate the European flat oyster, which offers the boldest flavor among oysters. They have a potent seaweed flavor, crunchy texture, and a gamey finish.

Olympia oysters—The Olympia oyster is the only oyster indigenous to the Pacific coast. They were nearly wiped out during the Gold Rush. They are small, creamy, and offer strong flavors approaching celery and copper. They are also very difficult to cultivate.

When planning a catering menu, consider the sweeter varieties of oysters for your guests. Mix them up with other iced seafood for an incomparable buffet. You could always pair with traditional cocktail sauce or you can opt for bolder touches like kimchee, a tarragon or ginger mignonette, or chirizo butter. If you’d prefer your oysters hot, consider them roasted or fried.

Because harvesting oysters depends heavily on weather conditions, you may not always be able to find the kind you like. Talk to your caterer about which oysters are likely to be available for your event.