With their crisp, briny flavor and lush, silky texture, raw oysters have been prized as an aphrodisiac since Adam and Eve dropped their fig leaves to vive la différence. Raw oysters are notoriously difficult to shuck, though, and no one wants to start a romantic evening with a trip to the urgent care. Cooking fresh oysters coaxes their stubborn shells open without losing any of their sea-deep deliciousness. Choose fresh oysters with tightly closed shells that feel dense and heavy in your hand. Scrub them with a stiff brush under running water, and then steam, bake or grill them for a sinfully succulent feast.
Place a steamer basket in a wide pot and add water until it just touches the bottom of the basket. Add the oysters. If you don't have a steamer basket, just arrange the shells in the bottom of the pot. Try for a single or double layer so that the steam can circulate freely.
Season the oysters with a little lemon juice or dry white wine if you like. Bring the water to a boil.
Cover the pot, and let the oysters steam for 10 to 20 minutes, or until most of them have opened. There will usually be two or three that stay closed, so don't risk overcooking the oysters by waiting for every single one to open.
Remove the oysters from the pot with tongs or a long-handled strainer, and arrange them on a platter. Season with kosher salt, cracked black pepper and lemon juice. Serve with cocktail sauce or melted butter.
Heat your oven to 500F.
Arrange the oysters in a single layer on a baking sheet that has a lip to hold in any juice that might escape. Place each oyster so that its concave side – the one that is not as outwardly rounded – is facing down. This helps hold in the juices and will keep the oysters from drying out.
Put the baking sheet in the center of the oven. Bake small oysters for 15 to 20 minutes and large ones for 30 to 35 minutes, or until almost all of the shells have opened. Season with kosher salt, cracked black pepper and the sauce of your choice.
Heat your grill to medium high. There is no need to oil it before heating because oyster shells don't tend to stick.
Place your oysters on the grill with their rounded sides up. Close the grill.
Grill the oysters for 2 to 4 minutes or until most of them have opened. Grilling doesn't coax the shells open as efficiently as steaming or baking, so you may have to pry a few half-opened ones the rest of the way. Season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper, and serve them with a variety of sauces such as cocktail sauce, lemon juice and hot sauce, or melted butter.
- Oysters are safe to eat all year long, but they’re best from November through May, when their higher fat content makes them plumper and more flavorful.
- Cooking oysters cupped side up causes juices to drain out. Cooking them cupped side down keeps more juice in the shell, but makes it difficult to remove the oysters from the grill or roasting pan.
- Oyster packaging has a tag that shows the oysters’ harvest date. Cook the oysters within two weeks of that date.
- Store oysters in the refrigerator, cup side down. Cover the oysters with damp newspaper to keep them moist.
- Very large oysters may need to cook for an extra moment or two after their shells open.
- Grilled and roasted oysters are delicious topped with compound butter. Mix your favorite herbs into softened butter. Let the butter harden. Place a dab on each oyster when its shell opens, and let the butter melt into the juices. A splash of fresh lemon juice makes a delicious topping as well.
- Use caution when microwaving oysters in their shells. Oysters can explode if too much pressure builds before the shell opens.
- Never store oysters submerged in water. Lack of oxygen suffocates them.