With a briny, rich flavor and cold, crisp saltiness more evocative of the ocean than almost any other seafood, oysters are the singular food of celebration, romance and decadence. Serving oysters to loved ones or just treating yourself at home shouldn't be a stressful or worrisome endeavor. Follow a few simple guidelines to keep your oysters fresh and you and your guests safe, and there will be nothing but celebration to be had.
Lifespan of Refrigerated Oysters
Fresh oysters -- whether live or shucked -- will keep in your refrigerator for up to two days. Oysters that were cooked when fresh will last up to four days when refrigerated. Proper storage is key for the survival of fresh, live oysters: do not seal them in an airtight container as the lack of oxygen may kill them. Instead, cover them with a damp paper towel and keep them refrigerated until you're ready to use them. cooked oysters, however, should be stored in an airtight container.
Safely Serving Oysters
Do not leave oysters, whether raw or cooked, out at room temperature for more than two hours or for more than one hour on a hot day above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep raw oysters in the refrigerator or in a cooler with ice until ready to eat, and then serve them on ice. If serving large quantities, you may wish to divide them on smaller platters and keep all but one platter in the refrigerator until needed.
When to Discard
When purchasing fresh, live oysters, only select ones with unbroken shells free of cracks or chips. If the oyster is slightly open, tap it to see whether it closes up tightly; if it does not close, do not buy it. Perform the same "tap test" at home before preparing the oysters for consumption to ensure that any open ones are still alive; if not, discard. If you cook the oysters whole -- in their shell -- discard any oyster that fails to open during cooking.
Fresh, live oysters can be frozen either in their shell or shucked. As freezing changes the texture of oysters, plan to cook them later rather than eat them raw. To minimize freezer burn, store shucked oysters in their liquor or in water and squeeze out any excess air from the freezer bag or other airtight plastic container. To thaw, leave them in the refrigerator for 24 hours; do not refreeze thawed oysters. For best quality, use frozen oysters within three months of freezing.
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Kelly McCoy has been writing for lifestyle blogs and online publications since 2010, specializing in recipes and techniques for the home cook. She holds a B.A. from Boston University and J.D. from the University of Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.