One of the greatest things about life in the Bay Area is the ability to slip out of the city and within an hour be sitting somewhere with an amazing view, a great glass of wine, and fresh seafood. And one of the best places for those three things is Nick’s Cove. With adorable rustic cottages that jut out over the bay and a top notch restaurant headed by Chef Joshua Seibert, Nick’s Cove is the perfect place to cozy up with your sweetie by the fire. But if a seaside getaway isn’t on the cards, you can channel a little Nick’s Cove romance on Valentine’s Day with a round of oysters thanks to Chef Josh’s expert advice.

Oysters can be intimidating. How do you pick out great, fresh oysters?
In choosing an oyster to purchase, here are some things to keep in mind: make sure the oysters are clamped tightly shut. If they are open at all, the oyster is dead. Also smell the oyster, if it smells fishy, it is no longer fresh. Also make sure the oysters are being kept on ice. They should remain well-chilled until you use them, and while you shuck them. Look for oysters with a nicely rounded bottom shell, so that there is more liquor and meat inside. Also take into consideration where the oyster is from. East Coast oysters tend to be larger, saltier and brinier, and taste like the sea. West Coast oysters are much smaller, softer and creamier. I go into some of my favorites below.

If you have the luxury of knowing the oyster farm and where it is located, try to choose oysters that are farmed closer to the mouth of the bay – because they are closer to the ocean, they will get the most food and nutrients. For example, Marin Miyagis and Hog Island Oysters are two of my favorite local oysters for this reason. The farther down the bay you go, the less meaty and salty they will be because they are feeding on leftover nutrients in the water.

After you pick out your oysters, how do you open and clean them?
First make sure to get a cut-proof glove or kitchen towel folded over several times as well as an oyster knife so you have less of a chance of hurting yourself! Scrub the oysters first to get rid all of the dirt and loose parts of the shell. Prepare a plate with crushed ice and sprinkle salt on it. This is where you will place your freshly shucked oysters. Also have a garbage bag nearby to throw the discarded shells.

When you shuck the oyster, take care to keep oyster cup side down, so that you can retain as much of the liquid inside as possible as you shuck. Nestle the oyster in the towel, so that the hinge is pointing out of the towel towards your shucking hand, and hold that oyster firmly in the towel with your non-dominant (non-shucking hand). Work your oyster knife into the hinge, patiently wiggling it until the tip is between the top and bottom shells. Twist the knife up and down and rotate it. Eventually the top of the shell should pop, and you should be able to put your knife inside the shell to pry the top from the bottom further. Clean off your knife and insert it back inside the oyster to cut the muscle that connects to the top and bottom shell. Simply sweep the knife along the top of the inside of the shell until the top shell is able to be removed completely. Throw away the flat top shell, and look at the oyster. It should look clear and fresh and not smell fishy. If it looks and smells good, free the oyster from the bottom of the shell using your clean oyster knife, and being careful not to spill the oyster liquor as you do so.

Chef Josh’s Favorite Oysters
Drakes Bay Oysters – Creamy with a nice briny flavor. I like their medium size. They are bigger and brinier than most West Coast oysters so they are able to stand up to the strong flavors in my spicy oyster shooter.

Miagi – Delicious and small. Nice salinity and quite creamy. I would not cook these, they are better enjoyed raw.

Kumamoto from Humboldt – The smallest we carry, very plump, and relatively mild with a hint of melon. Very clean flavor.

Steamboat from Washington – Small, like Miyagi with a deep-cupped grey-green shell. Very mild and earthy with a cucumber-y crispness.

Bluepoint – My favorite East Coast oysters. On the larger size with a round shell, and are quite full-flavored with a medium level of salinity. Great for summer grilling and can hold up well to sauces. Great raw as well!