I’m a relatively recent oyster lover. Growing up in a Kosher home in the Chicago area, oysters weren’t common fare. My first taste of a raw bivalve was a quahog someone slipped me when I worked as a camp counselor in Massachusetts; I found its slithery texture disgusting. I didn’t indulge in raw fish again until I discovered sushi. From there, all it took was a single slurp to graduate to oysters. Soon, I was even enjoying my mother-in-law Doris’ delicious oyster dressing.
As an oyster novice, I was eager to attend Patrick McMurray’s Oysters 101 Master Class at the 2014 Seafood Expo North America. McMurray (@ShuckerPaddy) owns the Pearl Diver and an Irish bar called The Ceili Cottage in Toronto. He also holds the Guinness world record for shucking the most oysters (38) in a minute.
While he didn’t shuck at that pace, McMurray did open hundreds of oysters as he chatted with us for an hour, sharing his oyster expertise. Here are some of the fun things I learned.
- There are five species of oysters, but every type of oyster is uniquely flavored by where they live, the water, and how they’re raised.
- Larger oysters give you more to taste on the palate than the smaller ones, but bigger size doesn’t necessarily give you bigger flavor.
- We tasted two oysters. McMurray described the “European flat” oyster as having a great meaty texture and tasting the most of the sea. He also said that the flavor of these oysters emulates red wine tannins. (I can’t say I detected it, but it was interesting to compare oysters to red wine.)
- Our second oyster was a local favorite, the Wellfleet oyster. He described them as having a classic shape, with fluting on the bottom. I’m still not sure I’d be able to recognize a Wellfleet oyster, just based on that description, but I’ll start looking at oyster shells more closely.
- With a degree in kinesthesiology, McMurray designed his own oyster knife, which he says enables you to lever open the oyster with much less force than other oyster knives. “When you’re shucking 1,000 oysters a day,” he says, “it cuts down the wear and tear” on your hands. The McMurray Oyster Knife will be available for $20 at kitchen stores like Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma at the end of April.
- Like white wine, you don’t want to serve your oysters too cold. A slightly warmer temperature will bring out their flavor.
- It’s okay to preshuck your oysters if you’re entertaining a crowd. McMurray recommends that you put the top shell back on after you shuck the oysters, add a little lemon, wrap them in Saran wrap and put them in the fridge to store. He didn’t specify exactly how long they’d keep.
- Oysters are high in protein, low in fat, and have a little bit of Omega 3. They’re also high in zinc. Their protein is easily digestible, so they’ll give you a burst of energy.
- Oysters and other shellfish are good for the environment, because they improve water quality. (So eat as many oysters as you can!)
At the end of the hour, we were treated to a generous supply of the oysters that McMurray had been shucking. While I liked learning about oysters, I enjoyed eating them even more!