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How Do You Eat Your Oysters?

I spent this past weekend down in Houston, TX and had the opportunity to taste oysters with about 160 Southerners. It was the first time I’d gotten a good look at Texas oyster culture — though I’d visited dozens of times when my family lived there, I’d never visited any Houston-area oyster bars — and let me tell you: Texans absolutely love their oysters.

Except, they’re not exactly loving their own oysters these days, unfortunately: Red tide has closed the oyster harvesting season across much of the TX coastline. But the closure hasn’t deterred folks down there from finding oysters. In fact, it’s only made them more ravenous. I was down there for an oyster tasting event at Brasserie 19 and was impressed to see the event sold out with 160 folks seated at 4 pm on a Friday afternoon (happy hour starts early down South). Each guest tasted their way through 6 oysters: 5 East Coast plus 1 West Coast. I walked through the room at various points during the tasting and was surprised not just to hear how much the guests adored the East Coast oysters but to watch how they ate them: Many folks poured the precious liquor out of the shells before downing the meat.

Odd, I thought, seeing it once or twice. But a food writer friend who was also at the event told me that people in Texas do that all the time. They’re so accustomed to eating oysters with the much more mild Gulf waters that they don’t see the point of sucking back the oyster’s liquid. One guest even admitted that he and his friends usually “washed” their oysters off before eating them. For us Northerners, that would be sacrilege. The juice is an oyster’s most precious resource: that’s where you’ll taste the ocean. I tried hard to get the crowd to focus on the juice of our Northern oysters and slurp it all back with the meat. A few of them looked at me oddly before dumping the liquid out anyway… but I think I got my message across to one or two. Hopefully the ones I did reach will take their slurping a bit more seriously… especially when trying oysters from up this way.


-Erin Byers Murray

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