Accoutrements – raw oysters are often served with various pairings to accent their flavor, including a mignonette sauce (here's a recipe), cocktail sauce, vinegar (usually a flavored vinegar), lemon wedges for squeezing juice on the bivalves and/or grated horseradish. With fried oysters, cocktail sauce and/or tartar sauce are common.

Adductor – the muscle that an oyster uses to open and close its shell; it is sliced through to free the meat when shucked.

Aphrodisiac – oysters have long been considered a food that increases sexual desire—at first due to their resemblance of female sex organs and later, after researchers found that amino acids and zinc in the oysters increase sex hormones.

Bayside – in the case of Virginia, oysters that are grown along the Chesapeake Bay, in particular the Bay side of the Eastern Shore, and are not as salty as seasides due to the Bay not having as high of salinity levels.

Bivalve – not just an oyster, but any marine or fresh water mollusk that has two shells, such as a clam or scallop.

Crassostrea virginica – the scientific name for the principal commercial oyster on the East Coast. Also known as the Atlantic or Virginia oyster.

Cup – the bowl-shaped part of the oyster shell (the other valve is typically flat) which is used for presenting an oyster on the half shell (which includes the liquor) or in a Rockefeller preparation. See “valve,” “half shell,” liquor” and “Rockefeller.”

Deadrise – also known as the Chesapeake Bay deadrise or the deadrise workboat is the official boat of the commonwealth of Virginia and is used extensively in fishing. The “V” hulled boat is traditionally wooden and features a sharp bow that gradually tapers. A small cabin accents the boat, which features a large working area aft. The design of this powered boat evolved from the sailing skipjacks. It has been a staple of watermen in the region since the early 20th century.  

Ethics – oysters lack a central nervous system, and some ethicists say they are similar to eating from the Plant Kingdom, making them acceptable for someone who otherwise has ethical concerns of eating animals.

oysters on the half shell

(On the) half shell – an oyster that is presented for consumption shucked and resting in one half of its shell, usually the cupped side (see definition above) , and typically in its own liquor. They are usually presented on a lipped tray filled with ice or rock salt with accouterments.

Hinge – the large, blunt end of the oyster shell where the valves connect.

Huitre – the French name for oysters, often seen on menus at fine dining restaurants.

Lip – the rounded, flattened part of the oyster shell, opposite the hinge.

Liquor – the briny liquid that surrounds the meat of the oyster within its shell.

Merroir – a combination of place and environment which serves to impart specific flavor characteristics to oysters, particularly through water alkalinity, minerality and salinity. See Virginia's 7 Oyster Growing Regions.

Mignonette – an accouterment for raw oysters consisting of a vinegar base and usually minced shallots as well as herbs and spices. Get a recipe here.

Mollusk – a soft, un-segmented bodied invertebrate usually enclosed in a shell.

Oyster – a bivalve mollusk that grows in salt and freshwater and is harvested for food; other types are harvested for pearls and for shell. Oysters are members of the family Ostreidae.

Oyster bar – see “raw bar.” (See 12 local bars for enjoying raw oysters.)

Oyster farming – the aquaculture process of oyster cultivation by oystermen, typically from spat/seed and often grown in flats and cages, as opposed to harvesting wild oysters.

Oystermen – individuals who make their living specifically or principally growing and/or harvesting oysters.

oyster knife

Oyster knife – a specially designed knife with a thick handle and short, stout blade specifically made for shucking oysters. (Here's how to shuck an oyster in 5 easy steps.)

Pea crab, oyster crab – a thumbnail-sized crab, often clear/translucent or with a reddish hue, that lives parasitically inside the shells of oysters and other bivavles. Pea refers to the crab’s size. They are found occasionally among oysters presented on the half-shell (see definition above) and are usually alive. These are not only edible, but considered good luck and a delicacy. A report in the Nov. 9, 1913 New York Times declares them “the epicure’s delight.”

Preparation – in addition to being eaten raw, oysters are typically consumed baked, boiled, broiled, canned, fried, pickled, roasted, smoked, steamed and stewed. Oysters are also served in shot glasses with alcoholic beverages, including beer and Bloody Marys, to create oyster shooters.

Raw bar – a restaurant or portion of a restaurant that specializes in serving shellfish, such as oysters, clams and shrimp, raw or simply cooked, such as steamed, and served with accouterments. Here are 12 local favorites!

R Month – folklore says oysters should not be eaten in months that end with an “R,” namely May through August. Before refrigeration and ready ice-at-hand, oysters would spoil more easily during this time, and there is some truth that in these warm weather months oysters are more susceptible to possible bacteria in the water, but oysters are available and delicious year-round, although in the summer they may not be as plump due to spawning.

(Oyster) Rockefeller – a dish consisting of oysters topped with a creamy sauce made with (traditionally) spinach and seasonings along with a gratin mixture and baked or broiled on the half shell. It was created in 1899 at Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans and the rich dish was named after the richest man in the country at the time, John D. Rockefeller. Another popular dish is Oysters Bingo.

oysters bingo

Seaside – in the case of Virginia, oysters grown on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Eastern Shore, making them saltier due to the high salinity of the sea water. See “bayside.”

Shellfish – various species of mollusks, crustaceans (like crab) and echinoderms (like sea urchin) that are harvested from salt and freshwater for consumption.

Shuck, shucking – the act of opening an oyster shell for consumption. (Here's a simple, 5 step guide to shucking oysters.)

Spat/seed – the oyster at its larval stage of growth.

Spawn, spawning – the breeding season for oysters, which occurs when water temperatures are warm and males release sperm and females release eggs, typically in summer months.

Sustainable, sustainability – the practice, in this case with seafood, of avoiding species that are either over-fished or caught or farmed in ways that may harm other sea life or the environment. The Virginia Aquarium operates the Sensible Seafood Program that offers guidelines for best choices of seafood in markets and restaurants based on sustainability.

Tastes – oysters vary greatly in taste depending on where they are grown (see “merroir”) and flavors often range from briny, buttery, fruity, metallic and salty. See Virginia's 7 Oyster Growing Regions.

Tongs – a traditional tool in harvesting oysters, tongs are a pair of long wooden handles with rakes/baskets at the end used to scoop up and gather oysters. Today tongs may still be used in the harvest of wild oysters (see definition below), but most oysters today are farmed (see definition above) in trays/cages. 

Valves – the oyster’s two shells.

Watermen – individuals who make their living harvesting fish and shellfish.

Wild oysters – oysters that are not cultivated by an oysterman and grow, usually in beds, often clumped together. Because of this, dredging is often a harvesting method, where a large scoop/rake is dragged along the sea bottom. Because of this often invasive harvesting method and other environmental issues, oyster farming is the preferred method of growing/harvesting oysters for sustainability. In fact, 95 percent of the oysters we eat are farm raised.

Here's some cool history about oysters in Coastal Virginia, and here are 12 local restaurants where you can find raw oysters.

Add your comment: