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Buyer's Guide to Fresh Oysters

There's a special thrill to bringing home a dozen Kumamotos on a Saturday afternoon. You can't stop opening the refrigerator door just to look at them. And you've already got a special bottle of etoile Brut picked out for tonight.

Perhaps you've made a day trip to a coastal shellfish farm. Or spent an hour staring glassy-eyed at the counter of your local seafood market. Or maybe you received a mysteriously cold package marked "Oysters, Keep Refrigerated." Whatever the case, you're in for a treat.

Buying oysters where they're grown
If you're lucky enough to live near the Pacific or Atlantic Coast, then take a trip to an oyster farm. Or add a visit to your next vacation itinerary. While local growers may not offer quite the same selection as a big mail order supplier or a seafood market, they can put live oysters on your plate within a day of harvesting. It doesn't get any fresher than that!

Cool tip: Call ahead to find out what’s in stock and whether you should bring your own ice and containers.

Our favorite place for locally grown oysters is the Hog Island Oyster Company of Tomales Bay on the Northern California Coast. You can bring your own wine, shuck, and even barbecue your own oysters on the spot.

Find Atlantic Coast Oyster Farms
Find Pacific Coast Oyster Farms

Buying oysters at a local store
Your local seafood market or gourmet supermarket should have fresh oysters in stock year round. If not, simply ask them if they can place a special order for you with their supplier. Here's what to look for when making your purchase:

• Make sure the oysters are displayed on ice (in a seafood counter case) or kept at 45°F (in a refrigerated storage unit).
• Look for shells that are clean, closed and unbroken. They should smell fresh, not "fishy."
• Ask to see the shellfish tag from the box the oysters came in. All states require that this tag remain attached to the box until it is empty. The tag will tell you when and where the oysters were harvested and when they were shipped. Oysters should be eaten no more than 5 days after their harvest date. Though they can still be eaten after 5 days, they start to lose some of their liquor, and become dry.

When you take your oysters home, cover them with a moist cloth in an open container. Do not store them in water. Salt water will shorten their shelf life and fresh water will kill them. Oysters need to breathe after they are harvested, so do not store them in an airtight bag. (If you're worried about having their scent in your fridge, then simply eat them as soon as possible!)

Buying oysters by mail
Many oyster growers ship all over the U.S. via UPS and FedEx. Our favorite is Taylor Shellfish Farms on Puget Sound in Washington State. You’ll receive freshly harvested oysters in a special overnight shipping box, surrounded by ice packs and ready to enjoy within the next 2 to 3 days. Be sure to have a chilled bottle of Chandon on hand. You may want to open it the minute your oysters arrive.

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said, “Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides are very good indeed—
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear, We can begin to feed!”
— Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter