In the southern United States, the most common species of oysters goes by many names: Chincoteague, Apalachicola, Kent Island, and Blue Point—which is actually a generic term for all Atlantic oysters—but there are many different varieties from specific coastal areas. The old rule of thumb, “Only eat domestic oysters during the months which an ‘r’ in their names,” is still a good general guideline. It’s not that oysters are inedible or poisonous from May through August, but their texture is a little soft and mushy. In the fall and winter, they taste much better. The elegant, delicate, delicious oysters from America’s west coast—particularly Washington—are the best in the country. There are three basic types in the Northwest: Pacific (brought from Japan in the 1920s), native Olympia (sometimes called native Pacific), and the European flat type (belon). The only oyster indigenous to the West Coast, the Olympia is a tiny oyster with mild flavor and a slightly metallic aftertaste. The Pacific oyster is most common now and is often marketed under the name of the bay from which it came, reflecting distinct flavor nuances.
While the actual aphrodisiac properties of oysters are up for debate, these delicious half-shells are so tasty that it really doesn’t matter. The flavor alone earns them a coveted spot at the Valentine’s table. As for preparation, Pan-Roasted Oysters are a relatively easy way to appreciate the briny, delicate flavors of these shellfish.
First find 20 in-shell shucked oysters with the oyster liquor reserved. If fresh oysters aren’t readily available, a 10-ounce jar of shucked small oysters should do the trick. Drain the oysters, reserving the oyster liquor. Place the oysters in the top of a double boiler. Measure the oyster liquor and add enough clam juice to yield ½ cup liquid.
Add this to the saucepan along with 1 cup half-and-half, ¼ cup chili sauce, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1 ½ teaspoons paprika. Place the saucepan over simmering (NOT boiling) water, being careful not to let the pan touch the water. Cook, stirring constantly, until the oysters are slightly firm to the touch, their edges have curled and the liquid is hot. This will only take 2 to 3 minutes. DO NOT LET BOIL. Season with some celery salt and spoon into soup plates. Sprinkle with snipped chives.