Every weeknight over the course of a year, I slaved over a fryer full of hot fat, frying dozens upon dozens of oysters at Roosters: A Noble’s Grille early in my culinary career. I counted out shucked oysters soon to be plated on the house oyster salad alongside strips of roasted red pepper, chopped hard-boiled egg and dollops of bacon-balsamic dressing. One by one, I scooped them into a bin of seasoned flour, shook off the excess with a sifter and dropped them, one at a time, into the sizzling oil. I watched as each nugget bobbed below the surface and popped up, creating a symphonious whirlpool. Watching the skirt of flour cast out and then dissipate into a translucent net of gluten around each gobbet was a calming joy amidst the tickets being yelled across the kitchen and the chaos of cooking on the line.

Fried oyster appetizer from Cristina Gray’s in High Point (photo by Nikki Miller-Ka)

Oysters are not pretty to look at. Before the shell is opened, shades of burnt sienna, black and mottled green coat the outside. Once shucked, the strange, oblong-shaped gray mass looks to be something that should be discarded rather than slurped, sipped or slipped out of its shell. If you’re lucky, you may find a small calcified bit of calcium carbonate, also known as a pearl, inside your mollusk of choice.

It’s downright romantic.

It’s a common misnomer that oysters are aphrodisiacs. According to a 2017 article in Smithsonian, there is no scientific proof that oysters are an aphrodisiac. It isn’t so much about what oysters do for you, as much as how they make you feel.

The ritual of shucking and consuming oysters can be a sensual experience. Fresh oysters lie plump and turgid in the shell. Moist and soft frills give way to firm meat that brims with briny, natural juices. The scent is reminiscent of the seashore while the shell is a curvaceous, voluptuous vessel that holds the promise of a coastal treat. There’s a mystery amid the distended, juicy folds of the delicate meat that resembles feminine sensuality. It’s sexy. And delicious.

The preparation of oysters is simple yet varied. Raw, steamed, chargrilled or fried, each cooking method lends itself to releasing different qualities of the mollusk. Oysters take on the characteristics of their environment, which show up in their appearance, texture and taste profile. Just like coffee cherries or grapes pick up resonance from the land they are cultivated in, oysters are the same.

Oyster salad from Milner’s in Winston-Salem (photo by Nikki Miller-Ka)

Raw is the simplest form. While there are raw bars all over the Triad, White and Wood presents a fresh take on this delicacy with cilantro, chopped Fresno chile, shallots and a squeeze of lime.

At Coast in High Point, Chef Jeremy Feder prepares a host of different oysters on the menu, but the BBQ oyster is the most unique. Lacquered with a tangy barbecue sauce tinged with a hit of liquid smoke and herbed butter, it’s grilled just until barely cooked, coagulating the protein and garnished with parsley.

Fried oysters are the most common in the area and there’s a reason why: It’s quick, it’s easy and oysters are 100 percent more aesthetically pleasing once coated in a crispy batter. The fried-oyster appetizer at Christina Gray’s in High Point is one of the most interesting preparations in the area.

Below is a list of some of the more ambitious preparations of oysters in the Triad. The list goes beyond the boilerplate Rockerfellers, Casinos and Calabash-style options:

  1. Coast, BBQ grilled oyster
  2. Magnolia Blue, Nashville hot oysters
  3. 1618 West Seafood Grille, Shrimp and oyster slider
  4. Milner’s, Oysters and grits; Fried oyster salad with chow chow, tomato remoulade
  5. Reel Seafood, Oyster tacos
  6. Roosters: A Noble Grille, fried oyster salad with bacon balsamic dressing
  7. White and Wood, raw and roasted oysters
  8. Cristina Gray’s, Fried oysters with black eyed pea succotash and garlic prawn sauce

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