Oysters are a welcome addition to any New Year’s Eve menu, and when you live in Maine, you have no excuse for not serving local bivalves. A very incomplete selection of your options, named for the cold, clear waters where they are grown, include Glidden Point, Pemaquid and Winter Point. This week, Homegrown has departed from its usual habit of highlighting one Maine-made item to shine a spotlight on the full bounty of Maine oysters. To help you prepare for your celebration, here is a short guide to buying and caring for them:
• A few growers sell directly to the public, and some oysters are sold online, but the simplest way to get Maine oysters may be at your local fish market. Many Maine markets now label them by the waters where they were harvested. If not, ask where the oysters came from to ensure you’re buying local.
• How are your shucking skills? “By and large, the larger the oyster you get, the stronger they’re going to be and a little more difficult to shuck,” said Dana Morse, a Maine Sea Grant researcher who works at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center.
• Cocktail-sized or regular? If you or your guests are oyster novices, if you’re feeling tentative about the experience, remember it’s easier to swallow a petite-sized oyster than a large one. The taste is the same. “The real difference in taste comes from one site to another,” Morse said, “and that, of course, is where the real joy is, trying out different growing areas.”
• When it comes to shellfish, the fresher the better. Morse advised that you transport them from the market on ice or in a cooler with a gel pack. At home, keep the oysters cold and out of standing water; oysters don’t like fresh water, of course.
• Oysters can stay in the refrigerator for seven days. Store them cup side down and do not pack them in ice. To help keep the oysters damp, place wet paper towels over them.