At Hudson Coastal Raw Bar & Grill in Maple Lawn, owner Brad Hudson offers an insightful and informal crash course in oysters. Plus, he serves oysters all year long, not just during the “R” months.
The “R” rule – originally created to keep people from eating contaminated or spoiled oysters in warmer months, and to give oysters a chance to repopulate – has been relaxed thanks to the practice of oyster farming.
“I’m a big fan of farmed oysters,” Hudson said. “It helps the economy as well as the environment.”
For oyster fans, he added, “Farmed oysters are consistent both in price and in flavor.”
Stop drenching your oysters in hot sauce and horseradish, he added. “To truly enjoy an oyster, you need to experience its pureness. Would you put ketchup on your filet mignon?”
To eat an oyster, flatten your tongue, press the oyster to the roof of your mouth, then break it down by chewing it six or seven times. “If you toss the oyster back and eat it in two seconds, what’s the point?” asked Hudson. “Let the oyster release its flavor and tell you its story.”
Hudson also recommends pairing oysters with wine (he likes Terlato pinot grigio). “Sip on the wine, then have the oyster, then hang out for 30 or 45 seconds,” he said. “Let it hit your palate with a reaction, a resonance. That’s where the enjoyment is.”
When oysters come from very cold water, they sport a thicker shell and a higher fat content, which translates into a great taste in high demand by oyster aficionados everywhere. That’s why Sweet Petites, oysters from Prince Edward Island in Canada, are regularly on the menu at Hudson Coastal.
Oysters have specific names – Sweet Petites, Va-Va-Vooms, Pickle Points, Happys – that often reflect the quirks of their cultivators or their regions.
The mind-blowing fact even many of the boldest oyster eaters don’t realize? Hudson gently cradles a shell. “This oyster is a living, breathing organism, right up until you eat it.”
Oysters continue to breathe once removed from water and continue to breathe for about two weeks. You eat them before they stop breathing because a dead oyster is more likely to harbor bacteria.
If you attend enough corporate events around town, you’ll eventually see a team from Superior Oyster Shuckers at work. The family-owned business has been shucking for more than 40 years, and became fully licensed and insured about eight years ago.
“Oyster shucking is a lost art and a hard skill to learn,” said Ryan McGrath, owner. Oysters shucked on-the-spot add a special touch to corporate events, weddings and house parties, said McGrath, who buys his oysters from suppliers such as J.J. McDonnell & Co., based in Jessup.
Onsite oyster shucking becomes a conversation piece, said McGrath. “It’s fun to watch, and we make it look easy.”
It’s not. Oyster shuckers place a knife at the base of the hinge, then twist the knife to pry it open. McGrath uses a Dexter-Russell white-handled oyster knife.
“At least one person every party shows me a scar they got from trying to shuck oysters,” said McGrath.
About the Oyster Recovery Partnership
Hudson Coastal, Superior Shuckers, and many other local restaurants and businesses work with the Oyster Recovery Partnership. Through a Shell Recycling Alliance program, the partnership reclaims oyster shells, which are the best, most natural material used to rebuild oyster reefs. The partnership cleans the shells, treats them with baby oysters, then puts them back into the Chesapeake Bay.
“The Oyster Recovery Partnership comes by once a week to take all my oyster shells,” said Hudson. “I generally fill three to four 55-gallon trash cans with oyster shells each week. Last year we recycled 21,000 pounds of oyster shells.”