Shellfish Profile: Oysters

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Description: Oysters are saltwater bivalve mollusks. Because oysters filter so much seawater, they are high in minerals. The risk in eating wild oysters is diminishing thanks to strict guidelines and monitoring of oyster beds. Wild oysters are at their best in the winter, with the main season lasting from late September to May. Oysters spawn in summer months; though edible, they tend to be flabby and insipid, the reason they are traditionally only eaten in months with names containing an R. Farm-raised oysters can be eaten year-round.

Shellfish Characteristics: American oysters have a moderately deep, elongated, rough-textured shell that is grayish white to grayish brown. The tender meat is salty with a meaty texture.

How to choose: Choose oysters without broken shells that are tightly closed. Tap on the shell. If it closes, the animal is alive. A dead oyster will have an unpleasant sulfur smell. Shucked oysters should be smooth and plump and covered in clear, grayish liquid with a briny scent.

Common flavor combinations: Bay leaf, black pepper, butter, cream, Dijon mustard, fennel, hot red pepper, lemon, Pernod, sesame, shallot, soy sauce, spinach, thyme, white wine.

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