Oysters are a much-loved shellfish that are best enjoyed raw. To do that, you first need to get to the delicious flesh inside. What is shucking? Shucking is the process of opening the shell to get to the goodness within.
Shucking an oyster should be done carefully – you don’t want to damage the delicate flesh inside or lose any of the juiciness, and you must take care not to injure yourself during the process.
Read on to find out the best way to shuck an oyster so you can enjoy this fresh ocean treat as quickly as possible.
How To Clean Oysters
Before you get to the tricky part of opening your oyster, you’ll need to give it a clean first, to make sure none of the ocean grit gets in. Slurping down a fresh oyster is rather ruined if you’re picking bits of sand out of your teeth afterward.
Naturally, you want to eat your oysters while they’re still alive – unless you plan to cook them, in which case, you want to be sure to cook them alive.
To determine whether or not your oyster is alive when you pry open the shell, you can scrape the prongs of a fork over the outer edge of the flesh. If the oyster shrinks back in its shell, you know it is alive.
If you find an oyster with an open shell, throw it away. If the shell is damaged or open, it means that oyster is dead.
- Take each oyster individually and rinse it under running water.
- Scrub the outsides of the shell with a stiff brush as you rinse, to remove all the debris and dirt.
How To Open Oysters
You’ve got your fresh oysters sparkling clean and ready to go, so what’s next? Do a little bit of prep to get ready for shucking, so you’re not fussing around between oysters grabbing things you forgot.
You will need:
- A dry, clean tea towel or cloth.
- Your best Oyster knife – don’t try to use your average kitchen knife for this task – they can easily snap, ruining a perfectly good knife and potentially causing injury. Make sure the knife has a sharp point.
- Shucking gloves – oyster shells are sharp, and so are shucking knives! We recommend buying specialized shucking gloves that may even have a layer of Kevlar to protect you against accidentally stabbing yourself. Don’t rely too heavily on this, though – take care.
Other items that can be helpful include:
- A specialized shucking board to help you hold the oyster steady.
- A trash bag for discarding the top shells
- A clean towel to wipe up any missed bits of mud or broken shell.
- Your presentation pan, plate or platter ready and filled with crushed ice.
- Wrap an individual oyster in a cloth or tea towel and set it on a countertop or specialized board with the flatter half of the shell facing up. You should be looking directly at the hinge (the point where the shells are firmly joined together.)
- Hold the oyster firmly and insert the tip of your shucking knife into the small hole you will see in the hinge.
- Twist the knife to snap the shells apart. With more stubborn oysters, you may need to work the knife further in to get more leverage to pop them open.
- Run the blade of the knife back and forth along the edge of the upper shell. This will sever the muscle holding the shells together. Take care not to break the shell – small pieces may fall inside but try to keep it as whole as possible.
- Be careful not to tip the lower shell. Lift the top shell off and you will see the oyster flesh and liquid (liquor) inside the lower shell. You want to be careful not to spill the liquor – it’s a good idea to open your oysters over a shallow dish or bowl to catch any spills.
- Your last step will be to remove the “black beard” you will see on the main body.
- If you want to make life easier for your guests, use the knife to separate the oyster flesh from the base shell, so it will easily slide out.
- Place the oysters in their half shell with their natural liquor on a bed of crushed ice to keep them fresh. Now you are ready to serve.
Prepare Quickly And Then Savor
When you know what you are looking for, you won’t buy spoiled or dead oysters. When you store your oysters correctly and prepare them quickly and skillfully, you can be sure of serving safe, tasty dishes at their best.
While most scientists say that oysters don’t feel pain, the fact that they shrink away when you touch their flesh does tell us that they feel something. It certainly can’t be pleasant to be doused in lemon juice or hot sauce or cooked alive!
Remember that quick, skillful preparation of all seafood is best practice in terms of your own safety and enjoyment. Do take the time to practice your shucking skills and strive to perform all your preparations quickly and skillfully. It’s better for you and kinder to the oyster!
When you eat your oysters, slow down and savor! Be sure to take a few moments to truly appreciate the intense nourishment and enjoyment you are receiving.