We gather oysters from many different farmers. Some of our oysters (like the one pictured above) come from Sweet Amalia Farm in Cape May, NJ, or Maxwell Shellfish in Port Republic, NJ. There are many different types of oysters, and every farm has a special name for theirs! Most oysters that are native to the East Coast of North and South America (from the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada to the Yucatán Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico) are called Eastern oysters. Oysters are filter feeders that eat by sucking in water and capturing little pieces of algae and plankton. In the process, they clean their surroundings. A single adult oyster can reportedly filter 50 gallons of water a day!
Storage and Cleaning
- Store live oysters in the refrigerator at 40 degrees F if they are not to being cooked immediately.
- Put your oysters in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Place them deep side down (to retain their juices) in the mesh bag or an open container. Cover the oysters with a damp towel or layers of damp newspaper. It’s best to use your oysters within 5-7 days, but they will often last for 7-10 days in the fridge. Flavor is best the earlier you consume your oysters. All oysters should be alive right before consumption. An open shell that will not close to the touch usually indicates the oyster is dead. You can keep raw shucked oysters in the freezer for up to three months, then thaw and use them for cooking. Don’t freeze them in their shells!
- To clean oysters, they need to be "purged," another word for removing sand or grit that may be inside the clam shell.* Sort through oysters and discard any open ones that don’t close when tapped. Handling the oysters with care, put them in a large bowl, pot, or other vessel of salted, room-temperature water. Set aside for 20 minutes. Remove the oysters from the bowl, discard the dirty water, and add a new round of salted, room-temperature water. Put the oysters back in the bowl and set aside for another 20 minutes. When done, thoroughly scrub each oysters with a small brush to remove grit from the exterior. Your clams are ready for cooking!
*Note: Though purging helps ensure your oysters are grit-free, you may decide it’s not worth the effort. George Mathis, third-generation farmer, doesn’t feel strongly about the need to purge — you get to taste the bay, he says! Either way, even if you don’t purge, it’s worth it to give the outside of your oysters a good scrub, since much of the grit is lodged in the crevices of their shells.
- Oysters can be eaten raw, baked, grilled, or shucked or left whole and put into pastas, soups, etc. Check out our recipes page for inspiration!
More on oysters
Lifecycle? Females can produce up to 100 million eggs during a spawning event, but only a small fraction (maybe 1 in 1000) survives. An Eastern oyster larva starts out swimming freely in the water column. As it matures, it develops a shell and a “foot.” Eventually, it settles to the bottom, finds a hard surface to attach to, and metamorphoses into a small adult oyster, also known as a “spat.” It takes 2 yrs for a spat to become a market size oyster!
What kind of places do they live in? Oysters prefer to grow in brackish water, where salt and fresh water mix. They live in huge colonies known as reefs. Reefs provide important shelter for fish.
What eats them? Sea snails, crabs, flatworms, fish, starfish, skates, and rays all eat oysters.
Any other fun facts?
The Eastern oyster is the state shellfish of Connecticut.
Many Eastern oysters change sex over the course of their lifetime, especially from male to female. Most spat are male, while most older oysters are female.
Some oysters produce a gooey substance which coats irritating sand or grit trapped within its shell. This substance hardens into a smooth ball... a pearl.
Oyster shells are usually oval or pear-shaped, but will vary widely in form depending on what they attach to.
Oysters carry the unique flavor of the place they came from, reflecting the water they grew in, the algae they ate, the strength of tides that washed over them, the seafloor, rainfall, temperature, and more. This flavor is called an oyster’s “merroir” (pronounced mare-wáh).
Oysters are loaded with nutrients, including protein, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iron, selenium, and vitamins B12 and D.
Photo: @sweetamaliaoysters, Sweet Amalia Oysters from Sweet Amalia Farm
Last updated: 01/3/2023