New book charts Chesapeake Bay oysters, restaurants and raw bars

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Charting the different Chesapeake Bay oyster brands and tastes

To help oyster lovers and newbies navigate Chesapeake Bay selections, a third section includes a list of more than 70 Maryland and Virginia oyster growers and the brands they produce. A map of growing zones divides the Bay into 13 zones, with a salinity chart and taste chart to help explain the different brands' tastes — from sweet and buttery to briny — allowing users to easily order in restaurants based on their preferences.

While that may sound a bit complicated for the user, it's really not. The alphabetical taste chart makes it easy to look up each brand to see its salinity range and taste description.

The more than 100 brands of Chesapeake Bay oysters all come from one species. What makes them different is mainly where they are grown, Susan says, along with some other variations. At the top of the Chesapeake Bay, more freshwater flows into the oyster so its saltiness or salinity level is really low, Susan explains. In general, the lower the salinity, the more buttery the taste. At the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay or in the ocean is where oysters are the saltiest, such as the Chincoteagues.

Chesapeake Oyster Lovers' book coverOyster lovers who want to use the book to explore the different Chesapeake Bay brands should try them “naked,” Susan recommends. “Don't put any cocktail sauce or lemon on a few at first. This gives you the subtlety of the flavor without disguising anything.”

A little nervous about eating oysters? “Try them fried at first,” Susan says, although be sure it's at a restaurant that just dusts them with a little flour and flash fries them. “A good oyster house will not overcook them. Fried oysters help acclimate the mouth to the taste, but you're not eating them raw,” she says.

One last tip from Susan: Make sure the oysters are fresh.

“Chesapeake Oyster Lovers' Handbook” by Susan Elnicki Wade and Bill Wade may be ordered online at weloveoysters.com. The paperback is $23 plus $4 shipping.

By Crickett Gibbons

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