The misnomer that this shellfish is always eaten in its raw state causes many to miss out on its delicious flavor, until they discover how easy cooking oysters can be. And even though the oyster’s slimy, mucus like appearance can be off putting, once cooked they are a delectable and nutritious treat.

Oysters are marine mollusks that are widely found in the shallow waters of the world’s oceans. They congregate in beds, called oyster reefs. Two calcified valves enclose the plump bodies of the oysters; connective tissue on one side hinges the two valves together while allowing the other side to open at will. The small bodies adhere to the shell with adductor muscles, and contain a heart, kidneys and gills. Oysters feed through a filter system in which sea water is passed over the gills, capturing any particles or plankton that are then transferred by cilia to the mouth. This passive eating style enables the oyster to filter over a gallon of water every hour. It is likely that this unique filtering system is the reason that oysters taste more like the sea than any other type of shellfish.

Preparing oysters.

Select only those oysters which are tightly closed. Only live oysters can be consumed; all others must be discarded. Scrub the oysters well under running water to remove any silt that remains within the shell. Some individuals soak the oysters in salted water for 20-30 minutes and then refrigerate them for approximately an hour before proceeding to the shucking stage. Place a folded hand towel in one hand with a closed oyster on the towel; with the other hand, work the tip of an oyster knife into the shell next to the hinged tissue. Twist the knife until a snap is heard; then pry the shell open, keeping the oyster level. Reserve the juice, or liquor, within. Cut the muscle from the shell and throw away the top shell. Using the knife, detach the oyster from the bottom shell without removing it. For those who enjoy raw oysters, it is now ready to eat on “the half shell”.

Cooking oysters.

There are a number of cooking methods that will produce a delicious oyster meal:

Steaming. The simplest of these methods is to simply steam the oysters. The oyster can remain in the double shell or steamed on the half shell. Pour a combination of water and beer into a large pot into which a steamer pan will fit. Arrange the oysters on the steamer pan and place in the pot; cover and allow it to steam for approximately 5 to 10 minutes.

Frying. Place the cleaned and shucked oysters in a large zipper bag; add flour, Cajun seasonings or breading mixture, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, Old Bay Seasoning and black pepper and toss to coat. Fry in hot oil until golden brown and serve.

Roasting. Place unshucked oysters in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet or grill tray (some people enjoy placing the shells directly on a coal or wood fire) and turn the heat to high. Close the cover on the grill and wait until you hear the shells “pop” before checking. Once the shells have all opened, the oysters are ready to be served with a side of melted butter for dipping.

Steaming, frying and roasting are the most common ways for cooking oysters, but there are numerous recipes that add pasta, sauces and other ingredients to the seafood. Everyone has their favorite recipes, and those who have never tried them should give one of these methods a taste test. They will likely be pleasantly surprised that the food that appears so unappealing raw is actually quite a delicacy when prepared “their” way.…