At the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Island Creek Oysters Lifestyle Seminar, hosted by Island Creek Oysters founder Skip Bennett, chef Jeremy Sewall, and Union Square Hospitality Group wine director John Ragan, guests had the opportunity to sample five oysters from all across the country paired with white wines, and the message was clear: Don’t be afraid!
“Oysters have gotten a bad rap, because people used to get sick from them,” said Bennett. “Getting sick after eating an oyster is actually a lot less common now. They would have to be severely mishandled, which is incredibly rare because there are now very strict FDA standards.”
There’s actually an organization called the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HAACP) that controls oyster health, and they don’t let anything that’s potentially harmful get through. “The biggest indicator of a dangerous oyster is if it’s completely dry when you eat it,” said Bennett. “That means that bacteria has been allowed in. And if it smells like anything other than the sea, don’t eat it.”
If you’re still nervous about trying an oyster, Bennett can assure you that there’s nothing to fear. “The probability of getting sick from an oyster nowadays is far less than getting sick from eating broccoli, or spinach,” he said. “People are just afraid because it’s one of the few things you eat that are still alive.”
But to those who take the leap of faith, the rewards are endless. “Don’t be afraid,” Bennett reiterated. “It’s going to taste like the beach smells.”
One word of advice? "Don't add cocktail sauce, whatever you do!," he said. " Cocktail sauce was invented mask rotten shellfish. Nowadays, it's like adding Coca-Cola to a fine wine."