Those Fresh Oysters are Frozen

Carl Gussow, "Oyster Girl"

John Linn and I noticed something fishy about the "oysters on the half shell" we ordered from Jackson's Steakhouse the other night.

Our waitress told us they were Gulf oysters, which you know can't be safe to eat raw in August. The water warms up and makes those suckers ideal conveyors for a little bacteria called vibrio vulnificus. Between the vibrio, the possibility of hepatitis, and now even norvovirus, apparently, you have to be half crazy to eat raw oysters at all (I love raw oysters, so I fully accept the risk). Still, I couldn't believe Jackson's would knowingly serve potentially lethal raw shellfish. So I looked into what's going on with the Gulf oyster industry, and guess what?

Those fresh oysters are frozen.

Oyster processors in the Gulf states are now freezing oysters on the half shell to cut down on the possibility that we'll die from eating them. The companies swear they taste just as good as if somebody had shucked them fresh two seconds ago. But hey, click on the link above, and you tell me if you're likely to get a fresh-tasting oyster once it's been opened, washed, "glazed" and packed in a cardboard box, then thawed in some restaurant's fridge and kept sitting around for god knows how long.

I can tell you that the oysters served at Jackson's didn't have a drop of liquor; they were so dry they had to be scraped from their shell with a spoon (eliminating the head-thrown-back shell-to-mouth pose of the seriously fierce oyster swallower). If I'm paying $12 a half dozen (that's $2 per gulp) I want my shellfish hand-shucked on the premises, please.

And if it's not safe to eat fresh raw oysters in August, just don't freaking serve them!

--Gail Shepherd

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