I’m so sick of my own cooking.

I used to enjoy the act of preparing a meal, getting lost in the repetitive physical motions of prep work. Modifying a recipe with what I had in the fridge felt like a low-stakes yet rewarding challenge. But I’ve cooked more meals in the last six months than the previous few years combined, and it’s exhausting.

I crave meals that I’m not adept or patient enough to execute on my own. And yet, like many of you, I’m not willing to eat at a restaurant anytime soon, even outside. The persistent threat plus quarantine fatigue means takeout and delivery are my saving grace. But that puts some dishes like raw oysters in an awkward position.

Fried oysters travel just fine, as proved by meals I’ve brought home from Saltbox Seafood Joint and Skrimp Shack (both in Durham). Raw oysters aren’t as straightforward. The more confident among us can order a raw oyster kit from Locals Oyster Bar. The business—which has Raleigh and Durham locations—will sell you a straight-tip oyster knife for $12 or a pricier commercial version. No doubt that’s perfect for some of you, but if I snagged a bushel and attempted this DIY approach, I’d end up at urgent care. Too much work and too much risk.

That’s where an innovation from Saint James comes in. The Durham seafood restaurant takes the work out of the equation by shucking the raw oysters for you, replacing the top, and vacuum-sealing them. Then they surround the bag in ice and seal it again, keeping the oysters snug and fresh for easy transport home.

“We get it; shucking’s dangerous,” chef Matt Kelly explains in a demo video on the Saint James website. “It was an idea I thought of to save my ass.”

His concept is pretty basic, really, but the results are jarringly satisfying. At home, I cut the outer layer, dumped the ice into a bowl, and then opened the inner seal, nonchalantly stacking the oysters on top. 

Tipping one back and slurping, I could almost hear the ocean’s gentle roar as the salty contents hit my tongue. I haven’t experienced anything on par with the luxuriousness of these bivalves since COVID hit. I might’ve teared up slightly and untensed my shoulders while splitting half a dozen with my wife. It was a rare moment of forgetting, of being transported to the pre-pandemic era.

Saint James offers a couple of street-side seats underneath its awning, but with free curbside pickup delivered to your car, I see no reason for the added risk. Until the pandemic clears, it’s vacuum-sealed or bust for me.

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