Tommy’s beginner's guide: How to buy fresh oysters

June 28, 2022 at 7:00 AM
Raw oysters arranged on a white surface.

Purchasing seafood is unlike buying any other type of food. Ultimately, seafood is a way of life. Choosing the best product requires a seasoned, veteran eye. Sifting through products and discerning quality is an essential skill to hone when attempting to procure fresh seafood, but that is just the beginning. Here is everything you need to know about buying fresh oysters:

Where to look

Buying fresh oysters requires first knowing where to look. Oysters are extremely perishable, so you must find suppliers you trust.

Purchase your oysters directly from a seafood supplier or fish market and avoid supermarkets. Eliminating the middleman maximizes freshness. To find a reputable seafood shop or fishmonger, you can find good resources online or go by word of mouth.

Always ask the fishmonger or employees when they receive their delivery, and buy your oysters on that day or as close as possible to guarantee you purchase their freshest available oysters.

Farmer’s markets are also good sources if there are no seafood shops or fishmongers nearby. Many oyster farmers sell directly to farmer’s markets, so they do not travel far. Buying fresh oysters online is also an excellent alternative.

Many fishmongers and processors provide overnight delivery services within 24 hours, and modern methods and technology enable them to easily preserve their freshness and quality.

Assess the display

Learning how to buy fresh oysters requires understanding how to assess their freshness. Always look for harvest tags.

These tags detail where and when they were harvested, and reputable sources will display them. If the tags are not displayed, request to see them. If they do not have harvest tags, this is a red flag since they are a legal requirement, and we advise finding another source.

You must evaluate the display, too. Oysters must be kept in a bed of ice with the cup-shaped part of their shell resting on the ice with the flat top facing upward. If they have not displayed them like this, the brine has probably drained, and the oyster is likely dead.

Never purchase oysters kept in tanks. While living in water tanks often elongates their lives, tanks are unsanitary and hurt the oyster quality. Filtering the water drains out their natural liquor, also called ‘brine,’ and replaces it with tank water, which dilutes the flavor and poses a health risk.

Using your senses

If oysters don’t respond to tapping their shells, they are likely dead, and you should not buy them. They should snap closed when you tap them.

We also advise sampling oysters before buying them. Fresh oysters taste salty, briny, and slightly sweet, and the meat should be plump and engulfed in clear, milky liquid, which is the brine. They should also smell like the fresh ocean with an added salty undertone. Oysters should not smell fishy. If they have a rotten or pungent stench, don't purchase them.

We recommend evaluating their weight, too. You want oysters that yield plenty of meat, which means they should feel heavy. If an oyster feels too light, it has probably either lost its brine or died, and you should not purchase it.

Get in touch now to buy premium fresh oysters

If you are not entrenched in the culture and heritage of American seafood, learning how to buy fresh oysters can be daunting. However, we believe every American has a right to enjoy fresh-caught seafood harvested from our domestic and nutrient-rich waters, from the dock directly to the plate. At Tommy’s Seafood, we are an unparalleled seafood processor that has caught, preserved, and supplied the finest seafood for over three decades. Our culture is premier seafood, and our passion is sharing it with you. Get in touch now to learn more about our fresh oysters.