Best Oysters: A Chat with Author Rowan Jacobsen

Best Oysters: A Chat with Author Rowan Jacobsen

Newcity Resto |
Nov 4, 2016

Many of Chicago’s earliest restaurants served East Coast oysters packed in sawdust-filled barrels, sent by rail to the Midwest, and kept unrefrigerated for weeks or even months before serving. Sometimes people got sick from oysters, and this probably helped lead to a long period, decades actually, when fresh oysters were somewhat rare in Chicago. During the past ten years or so, all that has changed. We think the best place for oysters in Chicago remains Shaw’s Crab House (21 East Hubbard), one of the oldest and largest purveyors of fresh oysters in the city.

Recently, we were tasting some of Shaw’s constantly rotating selection of East and West Coast oysters with Rowan Jacobsen, author of “The Essential Oyster,” which came out earlier this month.

For your tastes, what’s the best oyster? What’s it look like and taste like?
It’s fairly large and firm, with ivory-colored flesh (an indication that it’s going to be sweet and rich). It should be briny without being bitter salty and it should taste like the waves at the beach.

Tell us about your first experience eating oysters.
I was twelve, eating them in a raw bar in Florida with my dad after a day at the beach. That first one was definitely a dare, so I, well, I swallowed hard. It was kind of scary, but to my surprise, I didn’t hate it. Pretty quickly I got really into it, and we’d always stop at the raw bar after a weekend beach trip. It felt very grown up and cool—and it still does!

Aside from books by people like you and Mark Kurlansky (“The Big Oyster”), what explains what you call “the current mania for oysters”?
I think as our world becomes increasingly digital, virtual and mediated, a food that still has a primal authenticity holds more appeal. It’s like a cold splash of ocean that smacks you out of your cozy life and reminds you that you’re a living, breathing alpha predator in a beautiful natural world.

How about a few varieties that are guaranteed to please?
Island Creek, Pemaquid, Hama Hama, Blue Pool, Shigoku, Kumamoto, but it’s very difficult to tell anything about an oyster from its name or chalkboard listing. Actually, for that very reason, I created a website called Oysterater.com that people can go to on their phones to get the 411 on specific oysters.

You mention that “oysters are best eaten raw,” yet oysters are regularly served with cocktail sauce and perhaps mignonette. To you, do these two sauces ever enhance the taste of a good oyster?
I used to be a real hardass about this, but I’ve mellowed. Both sauces eliminate the flavor of the oyster entirely, so if your goal is to fully experience the oyster, they just get in the way. On the other hand, both sauces taste great, so there’s nothing wrong with using them and enjoying them for that, although it’s a pricey way to enjoy cocktail sauce. In college, I used to eat a lot of “poor man’s oysters”—saltines with horseradish and cocktail sauce. They’re a lot cheaper and pretty tasty with beer.

I’ve chatted with Steve LaHaie at Shaw’s about chewing oysters: he does, and so do I. How did anyone ever get the idea that it’s not good to chew oysters?
That perplexes me, too. Not chewing is just for wannabe oyster eaters who aren’t ready to deal. It can be a good way to get newbies (especially kids) started, but it’s not respectable behavior for any fully formed adult.

You mention in the opening paragraph of your book, that “An oyster conveys its life experience directly to your senses.” Can you assess the health of a body of water by the taste of an oyster?
You can assess how much food is in the water. An estuary full of phytoplankton is going to make fat oysters. Some estuaries are over-nutrified, which leads to tons of phytoplankton, which leads to fat, yummy oysters, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the estuaries are healthy. But the oysters are!

Might the current mania for oysters lead to the overharvesting of specific kinds of oysters?
No, because oysters are all farmed. Like Doritos, the more you eat, the more they make!

We’ve been warned about the problems related to fish farming (pollution, opportunity to pass diseases fish-to-fish, etc.), but do those or any other problems occur with oyster farms?
Quite the opposite. Shellfish farming is the only farming I know of that involves zero inputs of any kind. You don’t feed oysters: they filter their food out of the water. Oyster farms literally improve the water quality of their bays. For that reason, oyster farming is encouraged by every coastal state and environmental group. One of the best things we can all do for the coasts is to eat more farmed oysters. So get busy!

Media Contact

Emily Clark pr@leye.com 773-878-7340

You May Also Like...

In The Restaurants
Christmas Eve 2018: Chicagoland
Dec 7, 2018

If you are looking to dine out this Christmas Eve, we have restaurants that are open on Monday,…

read more >
In The Restaurants
New Year’s Eve 2018: Chicagoland
Dec 6, 2018

Do you have plans yet for New Year's Eve? We've got you covered with special dinners, parties and…

read more >
How To
8 Ways to Use Your Lettuce Gift Card This Holiday Season
Dec 3, 2018

Racking your brain for the perfect holiday gift? Here's an idea, how about a Lettuce Entertain You…

read more >
In The Restaurants
New Year’s Day 2019: Chicagoland
Nov 28, 2018

New Year's Day is a time for relaxing and we're celebrating with everything from brunch buffets to…

read more >
How To
How to Tackle Brunch at Shaw’s Schaumburg
Nov 24, 2018

Hey everyone! Kailley of Kailley Lindman Photography here! I'm a food-writer-turned-photographer,…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Where to Eat Lunch
Nov 24, 2018

For that one hour escape from your office, you want to make sure to make most of your lunch hour.…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Gluten-Free Friendly Restaurants
Nov 18, 2018

Finding gluten-free friendly restaurants has gotten a lot easier than it used to be. At Lettuce…

read more >
How To
Recipe: Shaw’s Pumpkin Pie
Nov 17, 2018

End Thanksgiving dinner on a sweet note with this iconic pumpkin pie from Shaw's Crab House.…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Late Night & Live Music with Lettuce
Nov 15, 2018

Night owls rejoice - select Lettuce restaurants and nightclubs offer everything from late-night food…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Here’s Where to Happy Hour
Nov 1, 2018

It's 5 o'clock somewhere! Here are all the happy hour deals at select Lettuce Entertain You…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Here’s Where to Brunch this Weekend
Oct 19, 2018

If you're anything like us, you plan your weekend around brunch. Here is your guide to all of our…

read more >
In The Restaurants
It’s Apple Season: Where To Eat ‘Em
Oct 16, 2018

Yeah, yeah, pumpkin this and pumpkin that, but let us not forget about our other favorite fall…

read more >
How To
Getting Saucy: 3 Pasta Sauce Recipes for Easy, Intermediate or Expert Chefs
Oct 10, 2018

October marks National Pasta Month which begs the question: what is pasta without the sauce? We're…

read more >
In The Restaurants
The Best Time of the Year: Patio Season
Aug 10, 2018

Warm weather is here, which means al fresco dining is too! We've rounded up the best patios at…

read more >
In The Restaurants
For the Love of Lobster: Shaw’s Lobster Festival
Jul 30, 2018

What better way for Shaw's Crab House Chicago and Shaw's Crab House Schaumburg to show some love…

read more >
In The Restaurants
4th of July 2018
Jul 3, 2018

It's that time of year to don your red, white and blue, fire up the grill and, of course, celebrate…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Somm Picks: Top Bottles Under $50
Jun 26, 2018

Searching through wine lists can be a daunting task. Thumbing through dozens of pages filled with…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Unconventional Wine Regions of the World
May 24, 2018

Everyone loves a great Napa Cab or Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, but lately, our LEYE Wine…

read more >
In The Restaurants
You Can Now Order a Whole Alaskan King Crab at Shaw’s Chicago
May 8, 2018

After a trip out to Akutan, Alaska last fall, the team from Shaw's Crab House in Chicago was in awe…

read more >
In The Restaurants
21 Dishes for Celiac Awareness Month
May 7, 2018

May is Celiac Awareness Month, so we've rounded up our favorite gluten-free dishes that you have to…

read more >
In The Restaurants
In Season: Spring Peas
Apr 24, 2018

Spring has sprung and with the change in the season, our chefs have beautiful green veggies on their…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Spring into the season with these dishes
Apr 2, 2018

The temperatures are rising and tulips are being planted, which could only mean one thing: spring is…

read more >
How To
Recipe: Shaw’s Lobster Mac & Cheese
Mar 22, 2018

Some say cheese and seafood never go together, but Shaw's Crab House challenges the naysayers with a…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Get a Slice for Pi Day
Mar 13, 2018

We all love a good pun, especially when it has to do with food! Mathematicians and foodies rejoice…

read more >
In The Restaurants
St Paddy’s Day 2018
Mar 1, 2018

St. Patrick's Day calls for corned beef, cabbage and all of the beer! Lucky for you, our restaurants…

read more >
How To
5 Steps to Live Your Best Brunch at Shaw’s Crab House
Feb 28, 2018

Arguably one of the most iconic brunches in Chicago is brunch at Shaw's Crab House. If it's not on…

read more >
In The Restaurants
This One’s For Our Indecisive Diners
Feb 26, 2018

For all of you indecisive order-ers out there - the "I want to order one of everything on the menu"…

read more >
In The Restaurants
New Happy Hour at Shaw’s Crab House in Schaumburg
Feb 22, 2018

Introducing happy hour at Shaw's Crab House in Schaumburg, with brand new (full-sized) seafood…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Lettuce in Love: Weddings with Lettuce Parties
Feb 13, 2018

It's almost Valentine's Day and love is in the air. Believe it or not it's a tale as old as time (or…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Where to go on Valentine’s Day 2018
Feb 4, 2018

Have you made your Valentine's Day plans yet? It's right around the corner and there's lots of…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Mardi Gras 2018: Let the good times roll!
Feb 4, 2018

It's that time of the year again to don your favorite feathered mask and live it up like you're in…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Valentine’s Day Dishes Designed for Two
Feb 1, 2018

February 14 marks a day when it's appropriate, if not preferred, to share your food "Lady and the…

read more >
How To
12 Days of Holiday Cookies
Dec 4, 2017

‘Twas the first day of the holiday season, one of cheer and treats The best month to warm up by…

read more >
How To
How to Host Friendsgiving
Nov 1, 2017

Friendsgiving (n): the turkey-centric festive feast held by your chosen family - your friends - to…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Shaw’s Oyster Fest is BACK for 2017
Jul 29, 2017

Oyster Fest is headed home. This year, to mark its 29th annual celebration, Shaw’s Crab…

read more >
How To
Grill Out Like a Chef
Jul 1, 2017

You’ve heard it a hundred times before, but summer grilling season is in full swing! We tapped our…

read more >
In The Restaurants
A Few of Our Favorite Brunch Dishes
May 15, 2016

[caption id="attachment_4528" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Brunch at Tallboy Taco[/caption]…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Chicago Restaurant Week 2018
Jun 11, 2010

Been dying to try one of our spots but were waiting for a sign? Well, Chicago Restaurant Week is…

read more >

Recent Posts

How To
Recipe: Osteria Via Stato’s Cranberry Cello
Dec 10, 2018

Sipping on Osteria Via Stato's Cranberry Cello is always a great idea, and we're here to help you…

read more >
In The Restaurants
An Italian Christmas: Where to Enjoy the Feast of the Seven Fishes
Dec 7, 2018

In southern regions of Italy, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is the customary meal on Christmas Eve…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Holiday Happenings Throughout December 2018
Dec 7, 2018

Kids are out on winter break,  the smell of baking spices filling the air and holiday tunes…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Christmas Eve 2018: Metro D.C. Area
Dec 7, 2018

Happy Holidays everyone! We are here to help you celebrate Christmas Eve with delicious meals around…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Christmas Eve 2018: Las Vegas
Dec 7, 2018

Celebrating Christmas Eve in Vegas? Here are a few of our restaurants open on Monday, December 24.…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Christmas Eve 2018: Los Angeles
Dec 7, 2018

It's time for Christmas Eve in sunny California! Spend your holiday with us at one of our Stella…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Christmas Eve 2018: Twin Cities
Dec 7, 2018

Twin Cities, Christmas Eve is just around the corner and we want to help you celebrate. Big Bowl and…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Christmas Eve 2018: Chicagoland
Dec 7, 2018

If you are looking to dine out this Christmas Eve, we have restaurants that are open on Monday,…

read more >
In The Restaurants
New Year’s Eve 2018 Twin Cities
Dec 6, 2018

Celebrate New Year's Eve in the Twin Cities! Wildfire and Big Bowl will be open on December 31 to…

read more >
In The Restaurants
New Year’s Eve 2018: Las Vegas
Dec 6, 2018

Ring in 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip! From special pre-fixe menus to having your favorite burger,…

read more >
In The Restaurants
New Year’s Eve 2018: Los Angeles
Dec 6, 2018

Celebrate New Year's Eve at one of our Stella Barra Pizzeria locations! Perfect for the entire…

read more >
How To
How To Build the Ultimate Gingerbread House
Dec 6, 2018

Looking for a fun, holiday activity to keep the kids busy? How about try your hand at building the…

read more >
Lettuce Consulting Group

Grow Your Business

Learn More
Career Opportunities

Join Our Team

Search Jobs
Latest Articles

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign Up Now

Lettuce on Instagram

Checkout our feed @lettuceentertainyou!