Oysters: the weird things that look like rocks in the seafood section of the grocery store. Nobody actually buys those, right? Wrong. If you’ve never had a raw oyster, the first thing you must do is go to Swan Oyster Depot, which is located on Polk, between California and Sacramento. It’s a great place to have your first bite of briny goodness. This place is terrific; all the shellfish is awesome, but the oysters are the reason to go. Swan’s only has seating for about 15 along the bar, so the line is usually out the door (fortunately, the employees tend to offer those waiting a beer or glass of wine so they have something other than the oddities of Polk St. to take in). Swan’s tends to have about 6 types of oysters at any given time; most are local, but some are from Canada, the East Coast, etc. I recommend getting a variety because you can really taste the difference when you have them side by side. The service is great and it’s a really fun place to grab some seafood. Unfortunately, the wait is usually pretty long and it’s a little pricey, about $12 for 6 oysters (note that Swan’s is a great deal compared to other seafood restaurants), and they only take cash.
So, now that you’ve followed my advice, gone to Swan’s a couple times, and fallen totally in love with oysters, what do you do? Clearly, it’s a bit unreasonable to pay $2+ for an oyster and the novelty of Swan’s is wearing off. Here’s my advice: buy an oyster knife. They’re easy to find and pretty cheap too (I got mine at Whole Foods for $8). There are plenty of reputable seafood mongers in san Francisco (Sun Fat Seafood, Whole Foods, Bi-Rite, etc.), so buy some oysters and get shucking. So far, Emily and I have only bought from Whole Foods, but that’s just because the prices are actually very reasonable and they’re convenient. On our last trip, we got a few Kumamoto for $1.3 each, some Blue Points for $1, and some Tomales Bays that were on special for $0.9 each.
Now that you’ve got your quality oysters (which are definitely alive, right?) and your oyster knife, you’re ready to shuck. First, rinse the bivalves in some cold running water, and be sure to keep them cold during this whole process, i.e. shucking, sitting around prior to eating, and eating itself. For safety’s sake, hold the oyster in a towel and use your dominant hand to gently insert the knife into the oyster. I’ve found that finesse is better than force when shucking oysters; if you’re too aggressive, you’ll likely break the shell which will leave shrapnel in your pristine oyster.
After you’ve separated the shells, carefully scrape the oyster from its shell leaving as much of the briny liquor as possible. Place the halved oysters on a chilled plate and eat plain, with some lemon, or with mignonette (recipe follows). Some crusty bread with Emily’s homemade butter and you don’t need anything else.
One Small Shallot, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
About 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Combine all ingredients and let sit until ready to use (a couple hours ahead of time is best for flavors to meld).