It’s prime time for oysters in the Northwest and parts of the rest of the country, pitching people into two distinct love ’em-or-hate ’em camps. If you dig these nutrient-rich bivalves, then you need to know how to shuck. It might seem like a daunting task, but there’s nothing to it. Here’s a step-by-step guide to safely shucking, followed by a demo on how-to.
1. For oyster shucking, you’ll need an oyster knife: a short, stubby blade with a stout handle for easy gripping.
- You need to exert a lot of pressure to open oyster shells, so pay careful attention to the angle of the knife and the positioning of the towel holding the oyster. For extra protection, wear a heavy-duty work glove on the hand holding the oyster.
2. Wrap the oyster in a towel and place it securely on a flat cutting surface with the hinge in the end of the oyster facing out. You want to place the tip of the knife on either side of the hinge. Using a good deal of pressure, push the knife into the hinge. Twist the knife from side to side in order to pry the shell open.
3. Oyster shells are brittle and splinter easily; if the shell splinters and the knife isn’t angled so that is pointing down toward the cutting board, it would be easy to lose control of the knife. Hold the oyster firmly on the cutting board to keep the oyster from sliding away.
4. Once the knife has popped the hinge, pry the lid open wide enough to fit the top of your thumb inside. Insert your thumb into the oyster to hold the lid open. Do not plunge the knife into the oyster once the hinge has popped.
5. At this point, slide the tip of the knife inside the oyster. Keep the tip of the knife slanted upwards and slide it along the roof of the oyster. The tip should not scrape the roof. It should glide along the roof until it reaches the muscle that connects the two shells, then slice through the connective muscle. Cut the muscle from the top of the shell without piercing the oyster itself. This will allow you to lift off the top shell, exposing the raw oyster.
6. Because their shells are fragile, there are often small fragments that break off in the process of oyster shucking. These little bits of shell can resemble sand, so scrape them away being careful not to pierce the oyster in the process.
7. Carefully slip the tip of the oyster knife underneath the body of the oyster into the muscle where the muscle meets the shell. Slice through it. At this point the oyster has been dislodged from the shell completely and can be served or cooked.
If you are planning to serve the oyster on the half shell but accidently damaged it in the shucking process, simply slip the knife underneath and gently turn it over. The flip-side of the oyster can be better looking than a damaged top.
The oyster should be plump and floating in liquid. This liquid is the natural juice from the oyster and is often referred to as liquor.
- Raw oysters on the half shell can be served on a bed of cracked ice or rock salt, with lemon wedges and bottled hot sauce, or Mignonette sauce–a shallot vinaigrette.
- When cooking with oysters, there are lots of possibilities. They can be baked, steamed, or grilled. And shucked oysters can be batter-fried, sautéed, used in soups or stews, or in special preparations such as dressings, poultry stuffings, or specialty appetizers.
- To keep oysters alive until you are ready to cook with them, wrap in a cool, moist towel and store them in a refrigerator. Oysters are good stored this way for up to two days.