5 tips for buying the freshest oysters in the shell

March 4, 2020 at 5:00 AM
Knowing where to buy oysters in the shell is just half the battle! But we're here to help.

Did you ever wonder what would have happened if Pistol had eaten a bad oyster before he challenged Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor?  The phrase, “The world’s mine oyster,” would have never been born. The dream of endless possibility and boundless optimism would have been lost forever.

But how could Pistol have known how to identify and buy fresh oysters in the shell? We brought our team at Tommy’s Seafood together to create this guide to ensure that you and/or any other Shakespearean hero buys only the freshest.

Five ways to identify fresh oysters in the shell

Before you start shucking any oysters, here’s what you need to look for:

  • Are the oysters alive?  Look closely. Do their shells close a little bit tighter when you tap them?
  • Are the oysters open?  If you see even the slightest opening between the shells, this oyster is not alive and not fresh.
  • Are their shells intact?  Look closely on the top and bottom and at the edges. Any cracks signal trauma and any trauma will impact the integrity and the freshness of the oyster.
  • Do they smell to much like the ocean?  The oysters should have a mild scent of the sea – but definitely not at high tide.  If you sense a fishy smell, these oysters aren’t for you.
  • Does their flesh look fresh? Fresh oysters are firm and plump. Bad oysters are dry and withered with a cloudy appearance. Contaminated oysters tend to be gray, brown, black or pink in color. 

Identifying fresh frozen oysters

Shucked fresh and served up raw, oysters are a culinary delight. However, once you freeze an oyster, you can’t eat it raw because the freezing process kills it. If you don’t happen to live five minutes from the coast, there are still endless ways to enjoy cooked oysters.  Check out some of our favorite recipes here.

To determine if the frozen oyster meat is fresh, ask these questions:

  • How long did the process take from harvest to freezing? The quicker the oyster moves from harvest to the freezing process the better. Seafood should be frozen within minutes, not hours, of it leaving the ocean. Fast freezing ensures freshness and flavor.
  • How was the oyster frozen? At Sammy’s Seafood, we have a proprietary approach to freezing our oysters.  We use CO2 freezing at -90 degrees F. This approach has been proven to keep the catch fresher than the industry’s traditional methods can.

Taking care of the environment for the future

As you source your seafood, it is important to ask about how the food was harvested. At Tommy’s Seafood, all of our seafood is harvested with sustainable processes to ensure that we care for the natural habitats around us. Whether you are enjoying fresh oysters in the shell at a local raw bar by the sea or ordering them to serve as the specialty of the day at your restaurant, please ask about how the food was caught.  When the world is our oyster, we need to make sure that we take care of this precious gift.