How to Shuck Oysters

How to Shuck Oysters

Removing oysters from their shells (shucking) is not difficult, but it does take practice. The thickness of the shell depends on the type of oyster. Belon oysters, native to France, are difficult to shuck because they have a thin delicate shell that breaks easily when you try to open it.

Regardless of the type of oyster, you should always protect your hands with rubber or cloth kitchen gloves, because it's easy for the oyster knife to slip or for you to cut yourself on the shell. Using a basic oyster knife is the best way to shuck oysters. Or failing that, you can maneuver with a table knife and then a screwdriver. Don't under any circumstances use a sharp kitchen knife.

As you might expect, the fresher the oyster, the more difficult it is to open. One trick that works is to heat the oysters in a microwave for a few seconds, just long enough to heat their shells. Or you could place the oysters in the freezer for about 5 minutes, which also lulls them into relaxing their muscles.

You can shuck oysters two ways. The fastest way is to hold the oyster in one hand and open it with the other, but that takes practice. If you're a beginner, learn using a towel. The technique isn't important; however, try not to cut up its (or your) flesh in the process.

Take an oyster and place the curved part of its shell in the palm of your hand. The halves of the oyster shell are tightly closed, and it can be difficult to pry them apart with a knife. Locate the seam, insert the point of the knife into it, and wriggle the knife back and forth. If you're successful, the oyster shell will open a crack and you will be able to finish the process using your hand. Be sure to hold the oyster level at all times so that you don't lose its liquid. Next, run the knife along the top shell to release the oyster into the bottom half of the shell. Pull off the top shell and discard it. Scoop out the oyster flesh with the knife.

If you're timid about the process, try the towel technique. All this means is that you use a kitchen towel to hold the oyster. Shield your hand with a kitchen towel, grasp the oyster, hold it down on the kitchen counter. (The towel will keep it from slipping.) To find the seam, look at the back of the oyster where the hinge is. Insert the knife in the hinge and pry up the shell to separate the top from the bottom shell. Then, follow the instructions above. Or, kitchen supply stores sell a protective half glove.

Raw oysters, served on the half shell with cocktail or hot sauce and a lemon wedge, are the number one oyster preparation at our restaurants. We also find that Green Tabasco is a sensational condiment with oysters because its pickled, hot flavor brings out the oysters' briny taste. If you prefer your oysters cooked, try scalloping, stuffing, or braising them in a stew.

From the "Legal Sea Foods Cookbook" by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, Illustrated by Edward Koren

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