Whether fried, grilled, roasted, steamed, served in a stew, or eaten raw, Virginia’s Tidewater oysters deliver clean, nuanced flavors and firm, slippery textures.
These beloved bivalves have been on the menu in this region for centuries. When Virginia Company colonists landed in 1607, they came across Native Americans dining on oysters. More than 400 years later, oysters remain one of the region’s most delectable culinary calling cards.
“Oysters are like wine,” says Bruce Vogt of family-run Big Island Aquaculture and president of the Virginia Oyster Trail, which offers maps to oyster farms and restaurants at virginiaoystertrail.com. “Where they’re grown impacts on the flavor.”
Bivavles harvested along the Eastern Shore have a burst of salt. At Tangier Island, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, the constant water movement gently bathes the oysters with a hint of saline without turning them into salt bombs. And in the upper Chesapeake Bay, the oysters are rich and sweet with a light, creamy taste.
With such an abundance of magnificent mollusks, it’s no wonder that Tidewater chefs delight in finding wonderful ways to serve them.
We asked 4 of the region’s tall toques to share their favorite oyster dishes. Plus, pro tips on how to eat an oyster.