This 101 on oyster shucking comes from HOMEGROWN’s flock tender, Jennifer, who is an equal opportunity raw and fried oyster eater.
Fresh oysters are one of the simplest, most delicious meals out there, with a couple of disclaimers. Number 1: You have to like them. (If that's a no-go, skip this 101 and proceed straight to the HOMEGROWN 101 library to find another project). Number 2: You need to know how to shuck them safely. I can’t help you with the first part, but if you’re already an oyster lover, or if you’re game to give them a fair shake, read on!
Whether you like your oysters raw with a spritz of lemon, baked Rockefeller-style, or fried, the first step—getting them open—is the trickiest. Once you’re in, you’re golden. The instructions below are based on some pointers I received a few years back from Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm, a family-run operation on Maine’s Damariscotta River. I had swung by Glidden Point’s farmstand to grab a dozen of their finest, part of an oyster-themed day trip that also included a stop at the nearby oyster middens and an oyster lunch at a local café. While at the farmstand, I picked up an illustrated postcard on how to shuck an oyster that has been on my fridge ever since. Number of oyster-related injuries in my household to date: zero. Safety first!
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
» fresh raw oysters (in their unopened shells)
» oyster knife (like the one pictured below) or, barring that, a paring knife
» oyster glove or oven mitt
WHAT TO DO
1. Thoroughly wash those suckers with a scrub brush or sponge under cold water. That’s it. Keep scrubbing—especially around the pointier hinge end, where grit tends to collect. (The hinge end is the end pointed downward in the second photo below.)
2. Put the oyster on a dishtowel rounded-side down and hold it in place with your nondominant hand. Scratch that: your nondominant gloved hand. Using your dominant hand, insert the knife at the oyster's hinge. While applying gentle force, press down diagonally and twist slightly to pry open the shell.
3. Working away from you, wiggle the knife blade up, along the inside of the top/flatter side of the shell. You’ll hit some muscle. Keep cutting until you're able to remove the top half of the shell. Discard it.
4. Slide the knife blade around the periphery of the underside of the meat, severing the muscle that connects the oyster to the bottom shell.
5. Tada! Your oyster is now fully detached, ready to eat raw or cook as desired. Some folks like horseradish or mignonette (aka grated shallots in vinegar) as a garnish, but I stick to spritzing the oysters with a lemon slice rather than covering up all of that great briny flavor. Serving oysters on a plate of crushed ice keeps them cold until they go down the hatch. Bottoms up!
OYSTER STORAGE: DOs and DON'Ts
» Fresh-out-of-the-water oysters can store for a week or so in the fridge—but why wait? The fresher the better.
» If you do refrigerate your oysters, set the temp between 33 and 40 degrees F. Cover them with damp paper towels and store them in the back of the fridge, farthest from the door, where the temperature will fluctuate. If you’re keeping them in a cooler, make sure the cooler lid is closed but the spigot is open so that melted ice water can drain.
» Fresh oysters are alive and should stay that way until you eat them. Don’t store them in a sealed plastic bag or any other kind of airtight container. They need to breathe!
» When shucking your own oysters, NEVER eat an oyster that’s already open. Trash it. It’s dead: no bueno.
» Do not freeze oysters!
» Do not let them get any warmer than 40 degrees!
» Do not store them in cold water! The flavor of that water will leech in and override their carefully controlled brine. Tap-water oysters? Brackish-pond oysters? No, thanks!
MORE OYSTER TIPS FROM HOMEGROWN.ORG
» Check out Cornelia’s recipe for oyster stew, shared as a comment to Torry's post on winter soups.
» Growing tomatoes? Rachel recommends using crushed oyster shells to prevent blossom end rot.
» Crushed oyster shells also work as a calcium supplement for chicken feed.
» Ditto for ducks!
» And don't miss John's ode to his local oyster facility, in Bluffton, South Carolina.
Got an oyster recipe or a shucking tip to share? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling! You might also be interested in 101s on how to gut fish and can tuna, and you can use the Find Good Food page to locate sustainable seafood near you. You can always find more things to cook, preserve, make, craft, plant, grow, and slurp in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
ALL PHOTOS: JENNIFER