Food & Drink

A Field Guide to Southern Oysters

Oysters in the South are all of the species Crassostrea virginica, but even the slightest differences in water temperature and salinity create distinct varieties, changing an oyster’s texture and taste. That means each one is like a little capsule of local flavor.

In the new book, Appreciating Oysters: An Eater’s Guide to Craft Oysters from Tide to Table, oyster connoisseur Dana Deskiewicz—who splits his time between Durham, North Carolina, and New York City—shares 85 slurp-able oysters from around the United States. Here, he provides a dozen of the South’s finest varieties, from Maryland down the East Coast, and all the way through the Gulf.

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Ace Blade
Ace Basin, SC
Where the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers meet and flow into the larger St. Helena Sound in the South Carolina Lowcountry, you’ll find this notably long and slender variety with a zingy salt bite.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Black Duck Salt
Hog Island Bay, VA
Among the many varieties of oysters found in the Chesapeake Bay region is this silky smooth treasure “with a delectable vegetable broth flavor—Mirepoix style,” Deskiewicz writes.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Chincoteague
Chincoteague Island, VA
A substantial shell houses a dense, blond-toned meat with a whisper of silt and wet earth, subtle liquor, and the distinctive saline-sweet brine of the coastal Virginia region.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Choptank Sweet
Choptank River, Chesapeake Bay, MD
Choptank Oyster Company produces more than a million oysters per year, and has several million oysters sitting in the bay at any time. This one has a liquor that nearly overflows its shell, an oyster with a bright cream flavor and light texture, and a salty, bay-grass finish.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Hollywood
Patuxent River/Chesapeake Bay, Hollywood, MD
A black and white shell and deep cup cradle the oyster that floats “in a crisp and mildly sweet liquor. Subtle hunts of cucumber sweetness accompany the delectable plump meat.”

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Holy Grail
Hooper’s Island, MD
Robust and earthy, with a “just after a spring rain” quality hinting at garden soil, this Maryland favorite comes from Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture Company—a producer that is helping develop a sustainable oyster industry in the region.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Little Bitches
Magotha Bay, VA
A bartender at Henlopen City Oyster House helped Cobb Station Oysters come up with the memorable name for these plump, subtly floral bivalves. Their shell looks tidal slapped, and the flavors of seagrass linger.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Louisiana
Houma, LA
Nutrient-rich estuaries served by the Mississippi and Atchafalya rivers inform the taste and versatility that make Louisiana’s oysters a culinary classic—enjoyed raw, fried, chargrilled, Beinvilled, and Rockerfellered, as well as dropped in stews and gumbos. Marks of a good Louisiana oyster are hefty meat that floats in a balanced briny liquor.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Murder Point
Portersville Bay, AL
The story goes that in 1930, two oystermen fought over a spot on primo harvesting beds, and when one shot the other, the gems from the area were dubbed Murder Point oysters. A clean, elegant shell is filled with golden meat, crisp liquor, and an overall fresh-churned buttery taste and texture.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Point aux Pins
Grand Bay, AL
These beautiful varieties begin life in the Auburn Shelfish Laboratory, grow, and are then moved to feed on the nutrient-rich waters of Grand Bay, Alabama. Notes of creamed spinach flavor the beefy oyster’s silky texture.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Ship Shoal
Magotha Bay, VA
The wonderful woodland-accented brine of these fat and juicy oysters comes from the mix of the Occohannock Creek and Magothy Bay waters where they sit. “Take notice of the shells that carry a weather-beaten look,” the author writes. They are “characteristic of the tidal grooves of the Chesapeake Bay.”

photo: Dana Deskiewicz

Sweet Jesus
Patuxent River/Chesapeake Bay, Hollywood, MD
This memorably-named variety hails from St. Mary’s County, home of the National Oyster Shucking Contest. The meaty oyster needs a good chomp, and is surrounded by bountiful liquor with classic, subtle saltwater sweetness.

photo: Dana Deskiewicz