Oysters stimulate the appetite, awakening the taste buds, palate, sense of smell and imagination. The ritual of eating oysters actually increases my appetite. Few other foods can do that –– to a lesser extent, raw clams do, as well as high quality sturgeon caviar, but that is an expensive endeavor.

Chilled, fresh, perfectly shucked raw oysters are the best way to start a meal. Not just a light first course, oysters are appetizers in the true sense of the word.


Oysters stimulate the appetite, awakening the taste buds, palate, sense of smell and imagination. The ritual of eating oysters actually increases my appetite. Few other foods can do that –– to a lesser extent, raw clams do, as well as high quality sturgeon caviar, but that is an expensive endeavor.


To get the full sensory experience an oyster can offer, it has to be fresh, properly shucked and presented, and then eaten in a certain way. Oysters should be held level while shucking and then placed on crushed ice so they are even, which keeps the natural juices (liquor) in the shell. The oyster should be whole, never punctured, and completely free from the shell.


First, you look at the oyster –– the size, the shape, the color of the shell and flesh. Store that in your memory bank. Then you carefully pick up the oyster and take a sniff. Do you smell salt air? Or fresh herbs? Or cucumber?


Finally, you slide the oyster with its juices into your mouth and bite into it, chew it a little and let the flavor explode and then linger. French poet Leon Paul Fargue once described it as “kissing the sea on the lips.”


Did this flavor bring back memories of the ocean water you swallowed on your first swim of the year? Did it remind you of other oysters? Did you taste a slight mineral, copper-like flavor, or a strong mineral flavor? Was it mildly salty or very salty? Was it crisp and firm or soft and buttery? Lastly, was there an aftertaste –– of seaweed, herbs, black tea, melon, citrus, apples or cucumbers? There is a lot going on here. It is a divine gustatory experience when done with mindfulness.


All popular East Coast oysters are one species (Crassostrea virginica), but they can be remarkably different, depending on where they are harvested.


It is fun to compare a couple of varieties of oysters at a seating. I don’t recommend more than three or four types at one tasting; it becomes confusing.


It is also important that you eat the first oyster of each variety unadorned or with just a little drop of lemon. After that, you can try adding a little mignonette, ground pepper, horseradish or cocktail sauce. I think you will find the more you study the flavor of oysters, the less you want to disrupt their natural flavor.


There are dozens of great East Coast oysters. Here are a few of my favorites: Pemaquid or Glidden Point from Maine; East Beach Blondes or  Moonstone from Rhode Island; and Wellfleets, Cotuits or Onset Marsh from Cape Cod, Mass.


And if you want to taste a few West Coast oysters, try the famous Kumamoto –– grown from California to British Columbia –– and the tiny but special Olympia from Washington. A larger, nice Washington state oyster called Quilcene is also worthy.


Oysters, like wines, are subjective. Make finding your favorites a tasty and fun endeavor.


Jasper White is a chef, author, entrepreneur and owner of Summer Shack restaurants and the Fish Market at Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham, Mass. Got a question for Jasper? Send an email to features@ ledger.com with “Jasper White” in the subject line.