East Coast vs. West Coast Oysters

Food, How-To
Photo: Leigh Loftus

Photo: Leigh Loftus

If you’re out at a restaurant and want to impress your date, know how to order oysters.

Like mastering a wine list, knowing how to order oysters is a skill acquired over time.

At the most basic level is to know the difference between East Coast vs. West Coast oysters.

Even though we live in Chicago without an ocean for miles, we are lucky enough to be neighbors with some of the most amazing restaurants in the country.

Bonhomme Hospitality Group, has several restaurants throughout Chicago including the former Pearl Brasserie, now home to Beatnik on the River.

We spoke to Matt Balikov, once dubbed Pearl Brasserie’s  ‘master shucker,’ to get the lowdown on the difference between the oysters from the left and right coasts.

“Oysters can be found in salt-water bodies around the globe from as north as Alaska or down to New Zealand,” said Balikov.

“Most oysters in the United States come from either coast. The major producers of West coast oysters are found in cooler waters in Washington, Northern California, and British Columbia, Canada. The East coast has oysters from every state along it, as well as, up into Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, Canada.”

East and West coast oysters are all cleaned, opened and served the same way.

However, due to subtle flavor differences, East coast oysters are best for recipes that require a higher salt content and a flatter shell for stability on a plate.

Balikov suggest that a fresh East coast oyster is a great garnish for a martini, especially one with a little cucumber flavor in the background. West coast are great for a recipe that has more sweet notes and cucumber flavors as well as in Asian-inspired recipes.

Along with their geographic origin, there East coast and West coast oysters differ in two ways: appearance and in flavor.

Appearance

In general, East coast oysters have smoother shells and rounder on the edges. They range from two to six inches in diameter, depending on the age, location and growth method of a specific oyster.

The coloration of the East coast oysters includes more shades of brown, green, and white.

Alternatively, West coast oysters will have more jagged edges with points and ridges on the shells, with more colorations of purple, white, green, pink, and black.

“There are however a few types of West coast oysters that are known as ‘tumbled,’ which is a process which simulates the wave action of rolling the oyster so the cup becomes deeper and the shell is smoothed out,” said Balikov.

Flavor

East coast oysters tend to have a higher salinity (saltiness), higher brininess, and more mineral notes than their Western counterparts.

On the flip side, the West coast oysters will range in salinity and brininess from high to low and will tend to have more notes of seaweed, fresh cut grass, cucumber, watermelon and overall, more sweetness.

“It is important to keep in mind that each and every oyster is different and their flavor profiles vary based on where they come from and the conditions in which they were grown,” said Balikov.

“Each person’s palate is different as well, so what I may taste in an oyster might be slightly different then what someone else may taste. No one is ever wrong in what they taste, and that’s the beauty of eating oysters.”

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