Fresh oysters can be hard to find regularly since they're seasonal. Freezing means you can have a treasure trove of them even when they're out of season. Because of texture changes and food safety issues, it's best not to eat eat frozen, fresh oysters raw; but they're excellent for cooking and can be used in soups, stews and omelets.
Choosing Fresh Oysters
Choose only oysters that have a tightly closed shell, or ones that close when lightly tapped. Oysters with open shells are no longer alive and should be discarded. Look for oyster meat that's moist, with a plump appearance and a mild, fresh smell. Contrary to popular belief, oysters should not have a fishy smell.
Shucking and Draining
While oysters can be frozen in the shell, shucking helps conserve freezer space and makes for less work later on when you cook the oysters.
To shuck an oyster, hold it wrapped in a kitchen towel in one hand and, using your dominant hand, insert the tip of the shucking knife at an angle into the base of the oyster. Push in using medium pressure and then twist the knife upwards, levering the shell open. Slide the knife along the top of the shell to remove it, and then along the rim of the oyster meat to separate it from the bottom cupped shell. Drain the liquid through a sieve and reserve it for freezing, and set the shucked oyster aside.
Freezing and Storage
Freeze shucked or shell-on oysters as quickly as possible to minimize textural changes. Shucked oysters need to be frozen submerged in their liquid (or water if there isn't enough liquid left from shucking). Store them in airtight, sealed freezer containers, with no more than a half-inch of head space, to protect from freezer burns. Stored correctly, frozen, raw oysters can last 4 to 6 months in the freezer.
If you're freezing oysters in the shell, wash them thoroughly and place them into freezer bags.
Using Frozen Oysters
Defrost frozen oysters overnight in the fridge, or submerge the container in cold water until defrosted. If you're defrosting in water, use the thawed oysters immediately. Oysters thawed in the fridge can stay in there for two days.
Because the texture changes after freezing, and for food safety, frozen oysters should only be consumed cooked. Add them directly to your favorite seafood chowder or stew to make a luxuriously silky, brine-rich soup. The frozen oysters can also be steamed with black-bean sauce or sautéed garlic, ginger and green onion for a hot Asian-inspired appetizer.
David Grimes has worked professionally as a chef since 2002, in settings as wide-ranging as a corporate caterer and as a sous chef in a Michelin-starred French restaurant. He has been writing about food since 2009 and published in "Time Out New York" and "Food and Wine" magazine.