Fact: Oysters are intimidating. And they're popping up on menus all over the city with no signs of stopping. So we figured it was time to master the art of ordering these mollusks once and for all.
We sat down with Chicago chef and expert Doug Psaltis to get the scoop on how to order--and enjoy--oysters.
Pick a Flavor
Just like wine, oysters have different flavor profiles depending on where they’re from. Your first order of business is to decide whether you’re in the mood for something briny (you’re probably an East Coast gal) or a bit sweeter and more cucumber-like (that’d be West Coast).
Speaking of flavor, size also plays a big part in how oysters taste. West Coast are larger, a little plumper and usually taste more like fresh algae. East Coast have thinner, almost translucent shells, so they're briny and not as buttery.
If you’re testing out a new restaurant, Psaltis’s rule of thumb is to order two oysters per person. It's kind of like going to a sushi restaurant, he explains: “You don’t know much about the place the first time, so you start out with a couple of things. The more confident you are, the more you’ll order.”
Mind the Sauces
If you’re trying a new type of oyster, taste it on its own before slathering on the sauces. “If it’s an oyster you’ve had a million times, sure--pile on the mignonette (red wine vinegar, shallots and pepper). But if it’s new for you, take a moment to eat it and taste the delicacy of it,” he says.
Chew, Don't Gulp
You may know this bit of the drill: Slurp each oyster right from the shell--belly, brine and all--then place the empty shell back on the tray facedown. But don't skip one important step: While some people swallow oysters whole (gasp), Psaltis suggests giving them “a couple chews” to really savor that oceanic taste.
Sip While You Slurp
No surprise here: White wines typically pair best. Psaltis prefers un-oaked Chardonnays from the Northwest, where some growers even crush up oyster shells to use in their soil. Other worthy pairings: light-tasting beers, Champagne and even vodka martinis.