Oyster Season has Begun
Eating oysters on the half-shell is about as Florida as turning up the volume on a Jimmy Buffet song and grocery shopping in a swimsuit. You can enjoy them raw, steamed, baked, grilled, or fried year-round, although many folks still prefer to stick to the adage that oysters are best in months with an “r” (September through April).
How to Eat Oysters
While eating raw oysters presents a slight risk of a Vibrio infection, it’s still the most popular choice among locals and visitors. Typically served on a bed of ice, a freshly shucked raw oyster should smell like a light sea breeze. To eat, check that the oyster is detached from its shell, and then pick it up and tilt it, so the oyster slides into your mouth!
Steamed, baked, and grilled oysters are often enjoyed with Saltine crackers, a dash of hot sauce, and a squeeze of lemon. Oysters Rockefeller (topped with herbs and bread crumbs) or grilled oysters dusted with parmesan cheese and butter are also delicious.
If dining at a raw bar, pay attention to the oyster shucker. The speed and precision of an oyster shucker is an art form unto itself. And it just so happens that four-time U.S. Oyster Festival Champion and five-time Florida Seafood Festival Champion Honor Allen lives and shucks oysters in nearby Panama City Beach.
Why You Should Eat Oysters
Because they’re delicious! Sharing a tray of oysters is also a fun way to get the conversation moving. Need more convincing? How about all the health benefits? It turns out the small but mighty oyster is a nutrient powerhouse. High in zinc, manganese, copper, vitamins D and B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, oysters are a low-calorie way to treat yourself.
They’ve also been rumored (persistently) to help out in the love department. While science has yet to prove this, we can look back to the ancient Greek empire to see where this belief began. Aphrodite, the Goddess of beauty and love, was said to be born from the sea in an oyster. The word aphrodisiac is even derived from Aphrodite!
Where the Oysters are Harvested
The oyster industry in Florida has suffered from diminished water supplies and devastating hurricanes. Until a few years ago, 90% of all Florida oysters were harvested in nearby Apalachicola Bay! Because of warmer water temperatures in the Bay, the oysters grew much quicker and could be collected years before oysters in cooler waters could be.
But low water levels in the Choctawhatchee River led to a collapse of the wild oyster population, and in 2020 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ended Apalachicola Bay oyster harvesting until 2025. Local restaurants are supporting other Florida suppliers and receiving shipments from Louisianna until Apalachicola is allowed to begin harvesting oysters again.
The health of oyster beds is critical to local ecosystems too. Did you know that one little oyster can filter 25 gallons of water daily? Now think how many gallons of water an entire oyster reef filters in a day! It’s incredible. Distillery 98, a local vodka distillery, even uses discarded oyster shells in their vodka filtration process. Oysters also strengthen coastlines and create habitats for other fish and shellfish.
Where to Find Oysters
Along the Emerald Coast, you can find oysters on the menu at raw bars, seafood restaurants, and most fine dining establishments. You can even pick up a bag at most fish markets if you want to try baking or grilling oysters at home.
Enjoy these briny treats! Oysters are one of the Emerald Coast’s most beloved delicacies.
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