Since You Asked: Oysters are ready all year

Instead of the typical barbecue, I liked the idea of an oyster roast featured in one of your recent papers. But I found the story's timing (May) a bit odd. I thought oysters were supposed to be eaten only in months with an "R" in their spelling. Is that right?

— Andy W., via email

That old wives' tale, which predates refrigeration, perpetuates perhaps the biggest misconception about eating oysters. A more modern take on the topic is that algae blooms, which can contaminate oysters and other shellfish, rendering them unsafe for consumption, are more likely in warmer weather.

But conscientious commercial production of oysters should make them safe to eat year-round. Oyster farmers chill the bivalves to at least 40 degrees almost immediately after harvesting. Maintaining that temperature from harvester to seafood broker to retailer keeps oysters safe to eat.

In fact, aficionados of Oregon oysters claim that peak flavor is in summer months when lighter rains don't dilute saltwater so much or churn up silt that ends up in the bivalves' bellies. Several Oregon towns — including Coos Bay, Winchester Bay and Newport — boast oyster farms.

Even shipped from coastal waters, oysters have a relatively long shelf life: about two weeks after they've been shucked. Packaging — usually a glass jar or clear plastic tub — should have a "sell by" date. Because oysters still in the shell usually don't come with a "sell by" date, it's important to buy from reputable sources.

Despite their inclusion on high-end restaurant menus, oysters also are less expensive to prepare in the home kitchen than many other seafoods.


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