Ooh, my favorite!

How to shuck an oyster
December 11, 2012, 9:37 am
Filed under: Entertaining, Food, Seattle

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It’s funny that we all think of oysters as a summer staple, but truly they only start to come into their real season when the weather and the water cool down. Makes sense enough, so as hard as it is, I forgo oysters on the half shell during the warmer months and often look forward to the holidays to make up for precious lost time. Since ’tis the season to entertain you might want to consider trying your hand at shucking and serving some fresh local oysters for your guests. Or if the thought of that is too daunting, try practicing for a nice date night at home.

Some quick tips:

–  If you’re going the party route, plan for 2-4 oysters per person (raw or baked). Limit to small gatherings until you’re confident enough to power through big batches.

–  Start with Kusshi or Kumamoto varieties as they are easier to shuck, and are the perfect starter oysters for people who aren’t yet fully adventurous.

–  My neighborhood Taylor Shellfish at Melrose Market has the most wonderful staff. If you head in before the afternoon/evening rush they’re always willing to give you a quick shucking demo.

PNW oysters


If you buy your oysters the day before you plan to serve them, they will be fine to sit in the refrigerator overnight but there are a few things that you’ll need to do to make them happy during their stay:

1. Line a baking sheet with a wet (filtered water is best) kitchen towel.

2. Arrange the oysters in a single layer.

3. Place another wet towel on top of the oysters and make sure that all are covered.

4. Place in the refrigerator and check to be sure the temperature is no more than 35-degrees.

Note: Each shell should be closed, but if any are open they should close when tapped. If not, discard!

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–  Kitchen towel

–  Oyster knife

–  Shucking gloves (optional)

1. Fold a kitchen towel into fourths lengthwise. Create a little cradle for the oyster by folding the narrow towel into thirds and then creating a handle for the left hand.

2. Place the oyster cup-side down and use your left hand and the handle of the towel to hold it in place.

Note: If you’re nervous, pick up a pair of shucking gloves.
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1.  Insert the tip of oyster knife into the hinge at the back of the oyster. There’s an indented notch that’s easily identified above on this Kusshi.

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2.  Using pressure (as opposed to force) gently, but firmly guide the tip of the knife to the spot where the knife can fit past the notch and gain more leverage, then twist the knife to pop the hinge.

3.  Gently run the knife along the top of the shell to separate it from the muscle, being careful not to pierce the body or lose too much of the liquor (juice) as you work.

4. With the top shell removed, the body needs to be separated from the bottom. Gently run the knife under the body of the oyster and separate it again.

5.  A true sign of a proper restaurant/chef/shucker: as you’ve separated the body from the bottom cup, flip the body with the knife. Why? Because it looks better.

6.  Check for shell pieces. Smell each oyster before plating. If anything smells off toss it! (Another note of importance: never swallow a bad oyster. Spit it out immediately and grab a piece of lemon to rid the taste in your mouth. Trust me, you’ll know when you’ve got a bad one.)

Note: As you practice popping the hinge you will break a few shells when the knife isn’t quite deep enough. It can be unnerving when you hit that first bit of resistance as it feels like there’s not a spot where the knife can fit, but with practice applying the right amount of pressure you’ll get the hang of things. I, too, am still practicing.

Tip: Use the towel to wipe the knife as it gets dirty or as bits of shell get stuck

Oysters, mignonette, fresh horseradish

Serving & Eating

–  Ask for a bag of shaved ice when you buy your oysters. I much prefer oysters served over ice as opposed to rock salt.

–  Serve naked or with lemon wedges and a basic mignonette: finely minced shallot, red wine vinegar, black pepper.

–  For a special touch: freshly grated horseradish on the side. (My fave!)

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