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How to Shuck Shellfish

Updated on July 30, 2009

Back in the good old days in the 1800's shellfish shucking was a very challenging and tedious task. Men back then, responsible for shucking oysters, clams and scallops had to rely on their quick handling skills in order to earn their decent living. It was not unusual therefore, to find several piled up shells in front of the homes of these hard workers . Several immigrants were responsible for shellfishshucking and many Cape Verdians were recruited by various demanding shucking plants. According to the book Good Tidings, byBarbara Brennessel, a proficient shellfish shucker was able to shuck between 500 to 800 oysters in an hour!

The definition of the verb ''to shuck'' is to simply '' to remove the shell''. Nowadays, anybody equipped with the right tools and using the correct technique may shuck shellfish. It is important to note that not all shellfish is shuck in the same matter. An oyster is shuck in a different manner than a clam. Also, different types of shucking knives are available depending on the type of shellfish shuck. Following is the standard way to shuck shells along with the utensils needed.

In order to shuck shells therefore you will need:

-A Shucking Knife

-A scrubber


-A bowl

Step 1 You Should Shuck Only Shut Shellfish

Before starting to shuck any shellfish you want to make sure you only shuck live shellfish. Why waste time on a dead oyster? In order to do so you must check for liveliness. A good way to know is by tapping on a semi-open shell to check if anybody is home. If the shellfish is alive and well, it will quickly shut. If it does not react, discard it as very likely the shellfish is dead. Another good way to check for liveliness is by dropping the shellfish on the counter. Upon hitting the counter, it should shut once again.

Step 2 Give the Shellfish a Good Bath

Now is the time to clean up those shells. Wash the shells under tap running water and then grab a good firm brush with firm bristles and scrub down the shells. You want to remove all the seaweed that tends to deposit on the shells.

Step 3 Shuck

In order to shuck you can wear gloves or use a towel to protect your hands. A pot holder will do as well. Place the bowl under the shellfish you will be working on to collect the juices which may be used at a later time. Grasp the shellfish by sitting the deeper side of the shellfish on top of the palm of your hand. Slip the edge of the shucking knife in the shellfish hinges with a back and forth movement and then with a twist pop the shellfish open. Carefully collect the meat by scraping both the top and bottom shells. Now the seafood is ready to enjoy.

*Warning: Even though the process in theory may appear to not be much challenging, it may take some practice to master the decent art of shucking shellfish. Do not get discouraged: with lots of practice and time, you may become an experienced and looked after, shucker.

*Consideration: if the process of shucking shellfish appears to be too daunting, there are fortunately short cuts: the most obvious is to ask your fishmonger to shuck the shellfish for you and the least obvious is to simply place the shellfish in a pot and allow them to open naturally.

Step 4 Enjoy the Gifts of the Sea

While oysters are great simply savoured with a spritz of lemon, nowadays there are more and more oyster bars serving a variety of sauces and dips. Oyster crackers are a classic that are often served as well. Such crackers were invented back in 1847 by Adam Exton, for the purpose of dipping them in oyster soup. Indeed, these crackers have the great quality of holding well in soups without getting soggy.

As seen, the art of shucking does not need to be intimidating nor daunting. Once you get a hang of it, you will get better and better. If the work seems to be a bit challenging or tedious, it is important to note that the task of shucking shells quickly is forgotten and pays off once, these deliscious fruits of the sea are enjoyed.


Good Tidings -The History and Ecology of Shellfish Farming in the Northeast by Barbara Brennessel,

Deglon 6-Inch Oyster Knife, Ocean
Deglon 6-Inch Oyster Knife, Ocean

Deglon's 6-inch oyster knife in ocean blue will get you to those oysters quickly and easily


Nice and Easy..


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    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin

      Very interesting. I love shellfish, but I'll the shucking to the experts. I just prefer to eat them!


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