Oysters on the half shell Japanese Oysters and Oysters Cubano are just a few of the offerings at Boss Oyster in Apalachicola Florida.
Charles Walton IV / Food styling: Vanessa McNeil
Sharing the Wealth
We have been generous with this tasty resource, at one time shipping huge numbers of oysters from the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico to satisfy the appetites of the country's interior.
Al Sunseri, whose family operates P&J Oyster Company in New Orleans, says that until 1961, "Railway Express shipped our oysters in barrels [with ice] to 48 states, Canada, and Mexico. The trains would pick up barrels three times a day. Now we use trailer trucks--we don't need to be close to the trains to ship. We still sell to a number of states, but not as many as we once did."
The oyster lovers among us must be happy that fewer oysters are being exported. After all, they feel passionately patriotic about these stony emissaries, whether small and salty or large and sweet. And in true Southern style, their popularity is all about loyalty, respect, and, naturally, good food. We presume that being cooked and eaten will be the oysters' finest hour (at least in our eyes), and we will lovingly enjoy every moment with them.
So take time this month (perhaps the best of the year for enjoying oysters) to schedule a small feast.
But Are They Safe?
Cooked oysters are generally safe to eat. Raw oysters, though, can harbor a variety of ills, among them Norwalk virus, which causes stomach upset, and hepatitis (though such occurrences are extremely rare). In the last decade, a naturally occurring bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus has caused serious illness and death in a number of people. The seafood industry has come up with ways to treat raw oysters to kill the bacteria, called post-harvest processing or PHP. Oysters can be frozen, treated with hydrostatic pressure, or pasteurized. Oysters treated this way are designated virtually bacteria-free by the FDA. If you are concerned about eating raw ones, ask your seafood market to order post-harvest processed oysters. In a restaurant, ask if the oysters have been post-harvest processed. If not, order cooked oysters instead.
This article is from the February 2005 issue of Southern Living.