How to Shuck Oysters
How to Open an Oyster
Fresh oysters on the half-shell are delicious and nutritious, and you can enjoy these tasty seafood treats at home. While the shells may look imposing and impenetrable, with a good oyster knife and a little technique, you can open an oyster quickly and safely. And the taste of their fresh meat and briny liquid is worth the little effort required to split open the shells.
A Healthy Choice: Oysters are high in calcium, iron, and protein.
A delicious plate of oysters starts with buying fresh shellfish. Oysters are available year round and fresh oysters are shipped around the country from their coastal waters. When shopping for oysters, only buy live oysters from a reputable fishmonger (preferably from a local source). Properly handled oysters have tightly closed shells and are stored cold or on ice but are never frozen.
When shopping for oysters, look for oysters with tightly closed shells or snaps shut when its shell is tapped lightly. Do not buy any unresponsive oysters with an open shells, which indicates that the oyster is dead or dying and is unsafe to eat. A fresh oyster has a tightly closed shell, feels heavy for its size and does not have a fishy smell. Once you have purchased your oysters, keep them refrigerated or on ice.
Here are a few tips for shucking oysters.
How to Shuck Oysters
Let's Crack Open An Oyster!
Start by cleaning the outer shells of the oysters with a stiff brush under cold, running water. Keep the oysters in the refrigerator on a tray, arranged in a single layer until ready for shucking.
Lay a folded dishtowel on a cutting board. Place an oyster on the towel, cupped side down with the hinge facing towards your knife hand. Fold the towel over the top of the oyster, leaving just the hinge exposed.
Shucking oysters is easy with an oyster knife. Every oyster shucker has their favorite oyster shucking knife and each will tout the design benefits of their personal choice in weaponry when it comes to "splitting rocks". Some shuckers favor an oyster knife with a long, thin blade while others prefer a wide, stouter shaft. A few renegades even boast of shucking oysters using can openers and screwdrivers. And each shucker has their own unique style and method of shucking oysters.
Often, the oyster knife design of choice reflects the size of native oysters commonly found in the shucker's local waters. Smaller oysters give way to thinner style knives while larger shells demand a broader blade. But serious shuckers from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast and across the South all agree: the cheap, stamped steel imports are for amateurs and tourists, and only a quality oyster shucking knife will do. The blade must be made of stainless steel for durability and embedded soundly in a hardwood handle for leverage. The blade shaft must be rigid at the hilt with just a hint of flex as it narrows towards the tip. One edge is sharp for slicing through the oyster muscle while the other is blunted for scraping out the delicate meat.
Protect Your Hands!
Do not attempt to shuck an oyster while holding it in your hand. Even if you are a skilled oyster shucker or wearing a protective glove, trying to open an oyster with a sharp oyster knife while holding it in your hand might easily result in a trip to the emergency room. Safety first!
Place your other hand on top of the towel, grasping the oyster firmly and pinning it against the cutting board. Insert the tip of the oyster knife into the hinge of oyster, working it into the shell with a gentle back and forth motion. Done properly and with a little practice, the hinge will pop open.
Run the cutting edge of the oyster knife around the edge of the shell, slicing though the muscle connecting the shell halves. Gently use the blunted side of the blade to scrape around and under the meat of the oyster, taking care not to spill the tasty oyster liquor.
Add your favorite oyster hot sauce or a squeeze of fresh lemon, and enjoy!
To Shuck Oysters, You Need...
A Good Oyster Knife
This is a good, basic knife for shucking oysters and opening other shellfish. The stainless steel blade is stout and broad, and the comfortable handle offers good leverage for twisting opening stubborn oyster shells.
And A Good Glove
A protective glove is essential for shucking oysters, and come in handy for a variety of other cutting and slicing jobs. The glove gives a good grip, resists cuts from sharp knives and is easy to clean.
How To Shuck Oysters
How do you like to eat Oysters?
A Simple Cocktail Sauce
Some Like It Hot
Though simple and very basic, this cocktail sauce recipe is very tasty and goes well with oysters and clams on the half shell, shrimp and crab claws.
Adjust the amount of horseradish to suit your taste; some like it hot while others prefer less heat to let the sweetness shine through. Mix up a batch ahead of time, and let it chill thoroughly in the fridge before serving.
- 1/2 cup - Ketchup
- 2 tablespoons of prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
- 1/4 tablespoon of Fresh lemon juice
- Hot pepper sauce
- Mix the ketchup, horseradish and brown sugar in a small bowl.
- Stir in the lemon juice, then a few drops of hot pepper sauce and taste. For a hotter flavored cocktail sauce, add more horseradish.
- Chill before serving.
Did You Know?
- Oysters are found in shallow, coastal salt water environments around the world.
- Oyster are bivalve mollusks, and are closely related to clams and scallops
- An oyster bed is a dense colony of oysters growing together in the same area.
- Oysters are filter feeders, straining nutrients from the water.
- The Eastern American oyster and the Pacific oyster are two of the most commonly harvested oyster.
- The same type (species) of oyster will taste differently depending upon where it was raised.
- Oysters have the ability to change their sex.
- A female oyster releases up to 2,000,000 eggs in a single season.
- Oysters are harvested commercially or raised in oyster farms. The Romans farmed oysters as early as 1,000 BC.
- Oyster farming actually improves the water quality
- The main threat to oyster populations is the quality of the water; oysters are very susceptible to pollution. Oyster numbers have declined in some areas, or disappeared completely, due to coastal pollution.
- China is the largest producer of farmed oysters.
- The Chesapeake Bay is the largest body of oyster producing water in the United States. Pollution and silt formation has drastically reduced the native oyster population in this important habitat.
Oyster Farming Photo by Saoysters (Public Domain)
Can Chesapeake Bay oysters make a comeback? - Video Bonus: Grilling Oysters
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna