Oysters are the ultimate beach vacation seafood: delicious, luxurious, and highly nutritious. But they’re often served loaded with butter, cream, and breadcrumbs, which is bad for the diet. What is the healthiest way to cook oysters?
Steaming is the healthiest way you can cook oysters without adding butter, rich sauces, or breading. Other healthy cooking methods are smoking, poaching, grilling, and in a stew. Frying is the least healthy way to eat oysters because of the added fat and breading.
People often enjoy eating raw or fresh oysters straight out of the shell. However, raw shellfish can contain harmful bacteria and viruses, so it’s wise to ensure your oysters are cooked in a way that keeps you safe and healthy.
The Healthiest Ways To Cook Oysters
Choosing a healthy recipe for cooking oysters is essential because oysters themselves are so nutritious, and you want to enjoy all the health benefits they offer.
Oysters are also sustainable seafood, making them an environmentally-friendly choice.
One aspect of cooking oysters healthily means ensuring that they are safe to eat, as urged by the CDC. Oysters are safe to eat when fully cooked, with an inner temperature of 145⁰F (63⁰C).
Choose fresh oysters from a reputable store. Ensure their shells are closed and discard any that don’t open fully when cooked.
Another aspect of healthy cooking methods for oysters includes the marinades, sauces, and toppings served with oysters.
Unfortunately, many recipes for oysters include indulgent sauces with cream, butter, or both. A popular yet unhealthy way of cooking oysters is to fry or broil them with breading and cheese. These recipes overwhelm the oysters’ flavor and add unnecessary calories.
Before looking at healthy cooking methods for oysters, let’s discover why oysters are so good for you.
What Are The Health Benefits of Oysters?
Oysters are shellfish whose hard shells conceal gray, plump, meaty morsels bursting with nutrition and health-giving goodness. They taste briny, like the sea, with a sweet butteriness.
These shellfish pack a protein punch and are an excellent source of vitamins, especially B12 and D, and minerals like zinc, selenium, and copper. Eating oysters also gives you heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and immune-boosting antioxidants.
Because oysters filter seawater, they taste naturally salty, so you don’t need to add much salt when cooking, keeping your sodium levels low.
Another benefit of oysters is that they are low-calorie, so long as you cook them in a healthy way. A serving of six medium-size oysters provides only 50 calories.
Steaming: The Healthiest Way To Cook Oysters
By far, the healthiest way to cook oysters is to steam them, as you get all the oyster’s flavor and the low-calorie benefits. Steamed oyster recipes have no rich additions, such as olive oil or butter.
Unlike boiling, steaming retains the natural juices of the oysters and leaves them tender.
The only disadvantage of steaming is that it takes some preparation – the oysters must be completely clean if you steam them in their shells, which we recommend.
Although you can buy special oyster steamers, you can use any steamer pan or basket.
To steam oysters, follow these steps:
- Scrub the rough oyster shells with a stiff brush and cold water to remove mud and dirt. Do not leave them sitting in the dirty water.
- Prepare a pot of boiling water or place boiling water in the base of the steamer.
- Put the oysters in the steamer basket upside down (flat side down).
- Steam the oysters until their shells open, which takes 5-10 minutes.
- Discard any oysters with unopened shells.
- Lay out the oysters on a serving platter and top with lime juice, Tabasco sauce, or raspberry vinegar and diced shallots.
If you want more flavor in steamed oysters, vary the steaming liquid. Add white wine, beer, garlic, or herbs to infuse the oyster meat.
Steamed oysters go well with fresh, light sides like corn, collard greens, and broccoli.
You can also add steamed oysters to other dishes, like chowders, stews, and pasta sauces.
Poaching: A Healthy Way To Cook Oysters
Poaching is another very healthy way to cook your oysters. It’s also straightforward and quick.
This cooking method differs from boiling in that the oysters cook in their own liquid over a low to moderate heat rather than submerged in water and cooked over high heat.
Shucked oysters (out of their shells) are best for poaching. You will need to shuck them yourself to preserve the liquid inside.
Here’s how to poach oysters:
- Open the oysters, saving the natural liquid.
- Wash and set aside the hollow shell section for serving.
- Strain the oyster liquid into a small skillet over low heat. Straining removes any remaining dirt and grit.
- When the liquid is simmering, add the oyster meat.
- Simmer the oysters, turning them regularly in the liquid until their edges begin to curl. Keep an eye on the skillet as oysters poach within a couple of minutes.
- Take the oysters off the heat and transfer them to their shells on the serving platter.
- Spoon over your favorite topping.
- Serve with small forks.
Poached oysters make an elegant starter to a meal. Try serving them Asian-style, with a topping of soy sauce, grated ginger, and green onion. Top the oysters with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and black pepper for an Italian twist.
Smoking: A Healthy Way To Cook Oysters
Smoking is a healthy option for oysters, adding no fat and infusing the meat with a savory, smokey flavor.
Delicious, smoked oysters take quite a while to cook, so be prepared to wait at least an hour and a half.
To smoke the oysters successfully, you’ll need to remove half of the shell – the smoke won’t penetrate through two shells. You can use shucked oysters.
The ideal wood for smoking oysters is cherry wood, which won’t overwhelm the oysters’ flavor.
Here’s how to smoke oysters:
- Preheat your electric smoker to 225⁰F (110⁰C). (If you’re using gas, pellets, or charcoal, ensure that you can maintain this temperature for the whole smoking period. Take care not to expose the oysters to direct heat.)
- Shuck the oysters, retaining their liquid in a bowl.
- Add a little salt to the bowl and marinate the oysters in the liquid for 15-20 minutes.
- Wash the hollow half of the shells.
- Drain the oysters and place an oyster in each half shell.
- Lay the shells directly on the grate or in a grilling basket.
- Smoke the oysters for 90-120 minutes until they are no longer slimy.
- Serve the oysters with a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
Apart from being a healthy and succulent snack, smoked oysters make a delicious addition to a tomato-based pasta sauce or pizza topping.
Grilling: A Healthy Way To Cook Oysters
You can grill oysters for a similar smoky flavor if you don’t have a smoker.
Grilling is a quick cooking method, and you can cook the oysters in their shells directly on the grill itself. The heat and steam of the grill will cook the oysters and pop the shells open.
Here’s how you grill oysters:
- Rinse the oysters, discarding any that are open.
- Set your grill to medium-high.
- Lay the oysters on the grill with the flat sides of the shell facing upwards.
- Close the lid of the grill. Cook the oysters until firm, which takes 3-5 minutes for small oysters and 10 minutes for large ones.
- When the oysters are done, the shells will pop open. The shells don’t open to the same extent as mussels and clams.
- Using tongs, place the oysters on a serving platter.
- Remove the flat upper shell from the oysters before serving.
Instead of the usual decadent, buttery toppings, serve the grilled oysters with a healthy tropical salsa: combine finely diced mango, white wine vinegar, a little chopped red bell pepper, and freshly ground black pepper.
You could also dab the oysters with spicy barbeque sauce or a grating of Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.
Oyster Stew: A Healthy Way To Cook Oysters
Making a hearty stew with oysters is an excellent way to gain all the taste and nutrition without adding unhealthy fats.
Most recipes for oyster stew cook oysters with celery, onion, and garlic in a creamy, sherry-soused sauce. For a healthier version of oyster stew, replace the milk with cream and enjoy the benefit of added vegetables.
Here is a simple way to make an oyster stew. Adjust the quantities to suit your needs:
- Melt olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stew or soup pot.
- Add finely chopped onion and diced celery and cook the vegetables over a gentle heat until soft.
- Clean and open your oysters, keeping the liquid aside.
- Strain the liquid to remove any grit.
- Season the translucent and tender vegetables with either thyme, salt, and pepper, or, if you like a zingy stew, with paprika. Cook for a minute.
- Add the strained oyster liquid and some wine, sherry, or hot sauce, if desired.
- If you want potatoes in your stew, add diced potato cubes and cook for 15 minutes until tender.
- Add milk. For a thicker stew, make a white sauce, but don’t let it boil in case of curdling.
- Stir in oysters and any additional herbs, and bring to a simmer.
- Once the pot is simmering, remove it from the heat. Add chopped celery leaves, parsley, or chives and set aside for five minutes to ensure the oysters are cooked through.
Serve the oyster stew with crusty bread or freshly baked biscuits.
Healthy Tips For Cooking Oysters
However you decide to cook your oysters, there are some essential tips for preparing and cooking oysters that will help to keep you healthy.
Healthy Tips For Buying Oysters
- Never buy oysters that are already opened or don’t close when you touch them. These oysters are dead and can harbor bacteria.
- Fresh oysters don’t have a strong fishy smell but smell like the ocean.
- Healthy oysters are plump and opaque. Withered oysters are not suitable to eat.
- Avoid oysters with broken shells.
- Oysters should be sold on heaps of self-draining ice.
Healthy Tips For Storing Oysters
- Keep your oysters refrigerated in their shells until cooking.
- Store oysters on a flat tray covered with a damp towel, hollow sides down.
- Do not store oysters in a bag or tub of water.
- Avoid cross-contaminating the oysters with other raw fish, chicken, or liquids.
- Use oysters within 24 hours of buying them.
Healthy Tips For Shucking Oysters
- Always wash the outer shells of the oysters thoroughly before shucking.
- If possible, wear plastic gloves to protect your hands.
- It is easy to cut yourself when shucking oysters, so put them in the freezer for a few minutes, as it makes them easier to open.
- Use an oyster knife to sever the flat top of the oyster’s shell from the cupped or hollow base. It’s best to insert the blade at the pointed, not rounded, end.
- Wiggle the knife a little until the shell pops open.
- Carefully cut the oyster muscle from the shell by scraping the knife along the inside of the flat top shell.
Healthy Tips For Easting Oysters
- The CDC recommends eating only cooked oysters because of the risk of vibriosis, a food-borne illness. Raw and undercooked oysters can carry the vibrio bacteria, which isn’t killed by lemon juice, hot sauce, or alcohol.
- People who are immune-compromised or suffer from liver disease, blood disorders, cancer, or diabetes must avoid eating raw oysters as they are most at risk of vibriosis.
- Do not overcook your oysters, as they will become tough and chewy. The shells will open slightly once they are cooked.
- Throw out any unopened oysters.
Oysters are a sustainable, naturally nourishing seafood filled with protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats. To access these nutrients, it is best to choose a recipe for oysters that doesn’t involve cooking in heavy fats or serving them with cream and butter. Steaming is the healthiest way to cook oysters, but poaching, steaming, and grilling are also beneficial cooking methods.