Oyster love can go two ways. One way is to eat them raw on the half shell, arrayed in beautiful formation on crushed ice and served with exquisite mignonette sauce or cocktail sauce. They are cool, sparkling-fresh, and vary from sweet to briny, mineral-bright to creamy, depending on where they are harvested. They are sold by the dozen, and no matter where the oysters come from, they are expensive. This is fancy food, priced accordingly. The other way to love oysters is at an oyster roast, a Lowcountry ritual that is anything but fancy. Almost never enjoyed by less than a dozen or several dozen people at a time and featuring oysters by the shovelful, it revolves around the process of steaming the bivalves over smoldering charcoal until they are just ready to get pried open. More warmed than cooked, they retain all the sensual mouth feel of raw ones with the added lick of fire. Unlike neatly-marshaled urbane oysters, oyster-roast oysters look scruffy, bunches of them stuck together and smelling of the sea, all gnarled and splotched with pluff, which is the oysterman’s term for the fine silt that sticks on them when they are harvested. Pluff clings to them when they are roasted so that merely touching a cooked cluster will smudge your fingers. Participants at an oyster roast – who eat standing up around a big table heaped with oysters – will vie with each other to see who can open their oysters fastest (and therefore eat the most). It is common to have a 55-gallon can somewhere nearby or under a hole in the center of the table into which shells can be tossed. Neither of these ways of enjoying oysters on their own applies to dishes that are made with them, which are a vast world of such extreme pleasures as oyster po boys, oysters Rockefeller, oyster linguine, oyster dressing, and oyster stew.

Restaurants With This Dish

Hunt’s Oyster Bar


Capitol Oyster Bar


Barrow’s Catfish


Big, pearly hunks of crab imperial swaddled in creamy sauce, perch atop a short stack of crisp-fried green tomatoes.
Café des Amis


Great Southern Cafe


Fish & Chips at Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar in Seattle, WA
Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar



What do you think of Oysters?

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