With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, Oysters are an obvious choice – but how do you choose which ones to put on your menu? Here’s the easiest way to break down the flavor profiles of the most popular East Coast Oysters.
Generally speaking, East Coast Oysters have a smooth shell with a tear drop shape. They also boast a saltier flavor than their West Coast cousins.
Oysters are filter feeders and take on the flavor of their surroundings. So generally speaking, the closer an Oyster is to the ocean, the saltier it will be. On the other hand, if an Oyster is grown near a river, or in an estuary, it will have a milder, sweet flavor.
That being said, most Oysters are farm raised at this point in the game. This offers a lot of control for flavor, size, and shell structure. The further north into colder waters you go, the slower the Oyster grows. This allows for a deeper, more developed flavor and it also allows the farmer to tumble more often to reinforce the shells, resulting in an easier Oyster to shuck.
Let’s get right into it and start in the south and head up the coast:
Gulf Region Oysters range from Florida all the way to Louisiana, and the Gulf of Texas. These have a very mild, sweet flavor since they grow quickly (most mature in about eight months) and are full of plump, succulent meat. These large to jumbo Oysters can be enjoyed raw on the half shell, but the most popular way to serve these babies are grilled, fried, or roasted.
Chesapeake Oysters grow in a very large bay area so the flavor profiles can vary depending on where they are grown. Generally speaking, these Oysters have a mild, full flavor and are larger in size and boast a plump meat with a buttery flavor and sweet finish. Virginia Oysters, specifically, offer one of the largest flavor profiles, so much so that professionals and connoisseurs have broken the region up into seven sections. Since the bay isn’t as rough as the ocean, these do not get the opportunity to be tumbled as often and the shells can be delicate, but the work is worth the reward. They are great Oysters to get if you want to start introducing Oysters on your menu.
Mid-Atlantic region Oysters are probably the most synonymous with “East Coast Oyster,” mostly because this is where the famed Blue Point and Cape May Salt come from. Starting in New Jersey and going all the way up to Connecticut, this is the largest growing region for Oysters. Ranging from farm-raised to wild Oysters, these are a medium-sized Oyster with a deep cup. These briny Oysters have a full flavor and are complimented by firm, plump meat with tons of liquor – perfect for half shell presentations.
New England Oysters are one of the most popular Oysters among East Coast lovers. These come from colder waters and take longer to mature, resulting in a complex salinity. The Oysters are usually medium in size and have tons of plump meat and clean liquor. The flavors tend to be more on the sharper side and can have hints of seaweed. These are a dream to shuck and sure to please anyone craving a good salty Oyster.
Maine Oysters don’t have as much variety as other areas do, but the ones that they do produce speak for themselves. These succulent filter feeders can take up to three years to reach maturity and tend to have a deep, clean flavor with a high shell-to-meat ratio. The plump meat tends to be lighter in color and sits in a briny liquor. These are great standing on their own, or paired with a gin cocktail.
“The Maritimes” Canadian Oysters are a true Oyster head’s dream due to the fact that the shells are very strong and easy to shuck, which yields to a clean looking Oyster with no broken shells. The flavor is also unique in the sense that these start off very briny up front, but then the salinity drops off after a few seconds leading to a crisp flavor with a firm, crunchy meat. A majority of these shelled wonders come out of PEI, but there are tons of great options from neighboring areas like Nova Scotia too.
So no matter what your clientele is or which recipe you plan on presenting to your guests, the selection of your Oyster is always important. Our Oyster selection rotates constantly, so always make sure to check with your sales rep, or you can always cross reference our Shellfish Update on our website! Check it out here!