Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Fat Guy

Oyster shucking crash course

Recommended Posts

Some friends are looking to me, as a culinary authority, to shuck oysters at a party on Monday.

I've done it once before. It was an orgy of shredded bivalves and shattered shells.

I need your help. Please, talk me through it so well that I can pick up the knife and do it without embarrassment or a trip to the emergency room.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Get a good oyster knife: thick, not sharp but pointed, comfy handle.

Put the oyster curved side down on a towel folded four or five times, so that the joint is facing your knife hand. Fold the towel again over the top so that the oyster is encased in a towel in your non-knife hand. Hold it steady with that hand.

At about an 45 degree angle from the horizon, place the tip of your knife into the joint and push in, wiggling back and forth across the flat of the blade a bit, until you're about 1/8" in. Then, confident you're in that joint, wiggle a bit more and put a bit more pressure. You want to feel the knife wedging between the two shell pieces instead of chipping away one or the other.

When the knife is about 1/2" in, you should try to twist it. If you're in good shape, the twist will release the top shell from the bottom; you may have to push in a bit more or slide the blade away from the joint in one direction or another. The key is letting a bit of air into the oyster's little studio apartment, which will make it possible to slide the blade along the ceiling of the top shell. With luck and practice, you'll have an oyster sitting still attached to its bottom shell but free of the top.

The rest is easy: run the blade along the floor of the bottom shell to detach the oyster from the shell. Flick out any bits of shell and pray that you have a little liquor left.

As I'm no expert shucker, I also keep a bowl handy for screw ups; just dump the oyster into the bowl without worrying about shell fragments and later place the oyster in an extra shell, dribbling a bit of liquor over it while avoiding fragments.

It's just like getting to Carnegie Hall, dude.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Probably the worst thing for a beginner to do is to attempt to open the oyster in your hand. This is where the majority of the stab wounds occur and the best way to lose the liquor. Open each with the oyster on a cloth on the bench.

The video pointed to above is good but I'd add that it is best to dampen the cloth to give better grip and stability.

Once you have loosened the oyster from the shell by sliding your knife underneath it, flip the oyster over so that the best side is presented to the customer. Very experienced shuckers, of whom I do not consider myself to be one :raz: , do this in one movement.

Additionally, I'd get some practice in before the event. This has the added bonus of providing yummy bivalves to eat.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Okay I've watched the video and am absorbing these recommendations. I'll have no opportunity to practice, so any other advice is welcome.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You might want to fess up to your shellfishmonger and say that you're a novice. It's an imperfect science, but you can look for shells that have visible gaps at the joints, which tend to be easier to open. If you can't find the joint, you'll struggle.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm showing up at a house. The oysters will already be there, as will a knife and glove. I'm expected to transform the oysters into oysters on the half shell. No opportunity to practice, select, anything like that. I've just got to go in with the greatest possible amount of information and hope for the best.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The trouble with shucking is that there is no right on the first try. Often there are impaled extremities, or at best, blood and scars. :unsure:

I have a staff of expert shuckers at your disposal over the weekend. I'll be in Friday and Saturday mid-shift. You have my number. I can totally get you hooked up with a private tutorial if you need one. But you have to come to Philly to do it. The train or Chinatown bus makes this trip entirely feasible. We can make you better, faster and less injury prone. We have the technology. You can be the Six Million Dollar Shucker by Monday. You just have to show up.

Call me if I can help... :smile:


Edited by KatieLoeb (log)

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I shuck oysters with a glove and an oyster knife. I fit the oyster comfortably in my left hand: rounded side of the shell against my palm, flat side of the shell on top, the hinge of the shell close to my wrist. The oyster shape mimics the hand, if you think about it. I dig in with the knife at the hinge. If I'm feeling confident, I'll twist the knife to pop open the oyster. Then I aim to cut the muscle, which is located about where the fourth finger (the ring finger) is if you hold the oyster like this in the left hand. I swipe the knife underneath the top (flat) shell, then I cut the muscle from the bottom (curved) shell, and the oyster is done. I keep a damp towel nearby to wipe off the knife after opening each oyster. That keeps out stray bits of shell and grit from the next oyster.

Um, good luck. Also, Philadelphia is a great city to visit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The rest is easy: run the blade along the floor of the bottom shell to detach the oyster from the shell. Flick out any bits of shell and pray that you have a little liquor left.

According to some of the experts, even rinsing the oyster should have little effect; evidently, the oyster shell immediately fills again with the oyster's brine.

That said, the first thing you really want to do is to rinse and perhaps even give a bit of a scrub to the shells before attempting to open. Lots of sand and muck on the outside that you don't want on the inside.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For me, the hardest part of the chucking is getting the knife those first milimeters into the joint. Often, it is not obvious at all where the joint actually is (at least with the french/dutch Fine de Claire I usually eat). In those situation, just push the knife in where you think the joint should be. A little violence goes a long way and you can always clean up the shell fragments afterwards...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Should have added, sniff each oyster as you open it.

Off oysters tend to be fairly easily recognisable and not something you want to serve to people.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The knife is key.

Quite literally.

But an inappropriate knife is very dangerous.

My oyster knife was very cheap (in France). It works very safely for oysters, but has no other uses. (Though it might be good for opening paint tins.)

It has an arrowhead blade. Symmetrical. Two edges, not terribly sharp. Just less than an inch at its widest and an inch and three quarters long.

The (symmetrical, wooden) handle is short enough to allow me to push with my palm on the end of the handle - to drive the blade in at the hinge.

But its most glorious feature is the finger shield at the top of the blade. This is a miniature version of what you might expect to see on a sword. Its curved, and asymmetric, with a belly on one side that protects the fingers from hard, skidding contact with the sharp and serrated edge of the shell. I can push pretty hard and be quite sure there is no risk of skinning my knuckles against the shell.

I'm not an expert, but I can open oysters. Undramatically.

For my quantity, a chainmail glove would be very expensive -- AND I'm not sure it would give me a secure grip.

What does work for me is a towel, like a strong cotton dishtowel -- so thin enough to use folded over, but not super thin.

Damping the towel helps the grip, but it'll get damp anyway. And it'll get messy. So not a job for your best towel.

My non-expert method works quite well for non-experts !

I set the oyster on the towel, flat side up, hinge toward me, on the kitchen worktop (very stable and around waist height).

Then I fold the towel back over the oyster, grip the shell from above (through the towel) with my open palm and flick the rest of the towel back over my gripping hand.

The oyster is sitting snugly in a pocket formed by the towel, and my gripping hand is above the oyster. {ADDED} Only the hinge part of the oyster shell is visible.

Then I locate the hinge point with the point of my blade, work it in until it nestles correctly, and then, pressing down with my palm and gripping to stabilise the oyster, drive the knife in at an angle, downwards - against the worktop and friction.

Bear in mind that you're aiming for a motion of only an inch or less. Its just a jab - and I think I do it more with a motion of my back muscles, than an arm movement. An arm motion would (if it slipped) be a long motion -- 'bringing my weight over it' is a much better constrained application of force.

Once the blade goes in, relax, adjust the towel and your grip, and slide the knife around to both sides as described above.

The big thing is that I'm NOT driving the knife directly towards my gripping hand; the knife dimensions, the folds of the towel and that brilliant fingerguard make as sure as possible that I'm not going to do any damage to myself.

Not the most elegant method, but it works and since adopting it, I've had no dramas at all.

Last point - have your dish of crushed ice prepared before you start opening. You want something to nestle the open shells into, to keep those uneven objects level, retaining their juice.


Edited by dougal (log)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Last point - have your dish of crushed ice prepared before you start opening. You want something to nestle the open shells into, to keep those uneven objects level, retaining their juice.

Or rock salt.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oysters are attached to their shells at two points, at the hinge (via the hinge ligament), and at the adductor muscle (there is a third muscle, but it is so weak that we can pretty much ignore it for now). The main thing you're trying to do at the hinge is to sever the hinge ligament, which takes surprisingly little force. If you find yourself really forcing at any point your knife is probably in the wrong spot. Once you've inserted your knife and severed the ligament, twisting the knife slightly to give your knife some room to work up to the adductor muscle should be relatively easy. Without taking your knife out of the shell, you can then work your way up to the adductor muscle making sure to follow the top shell with your knife to avoid damaging the meat as described above (if the hinge is facing you, the adductor muscle is on the right hand side of the oyster so make sure you run your knife along that edge).

PS: Don't bother sniffing. I find it looks ridiculous (as well as potentially unsanitary), and wastes precious time. If an oyster is dead, believe me, you won't need to stick your nose in it to smell it!


Edited by Mallet (log)

Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lots of good advices here. I'm no expert but one thing I've learned over the years is that you need a good supply of clean towels. Wet towels are very useful to get a good grip on oysters while dry one will help you keep a clean working surface.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Last point - have your dish of crushed ice prepared before you start opening. You want something to nestle the open shells into, to keep those uneven objects level, retaining their juice.

Or rock salt.

Yes, rock salt provides a nice base, but its better IMHO for cooking (like under a grill with a teaspoon of cream and a pinch of ground parmesan in each oyster) than for party presentation.

One can prepare the dish/platter with the oysters closed, displaying the things safe on/in their ice, until the time comes for opening.


"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Some friends are looking to me, as a culinary authority, to shuck oysters at a party on Monday.

I've done it once before. It was an orgy of shredded bivalves and shattered shells.

I need your help. Please, talk me through it so well that I can pick up the knife and do it  without embarrassment or a trip to the emergency room.

In case you get a bushel of obdurate oysters don't forget to arm yourself with an ordinary beer can opener, hammer and pliers. :raz:

From Julia Child's Kitchen, page 165

Julia Child & Company, page 112

Good luck.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Some friends are looking to me, as a culinary authority, to shuck oysters at a party on Monday.

I've done it once before. It was an orgy of shredded bivalves and shattered shells.

Steve, why didn't you JUST SAY NO!


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

if the event is not tonight, just go and get a couple for yourself to play with and eat. It's really not that hard. I got an OXO knife and used a towel, no glove. I can't remember which kinds of oysters I had, was two or three different ones, including the small Japanese ones. I was very worried that I'm gonna make a mess, but it worked out fine. Once the blade slides in, go slow, wiggle, jiggle, and move around, and it'll open. Then remove shell pieces if any fell in and loosen the oyster.

Since all the equipment will be supplied this is more for the general public, you can get a glove made for fishing that's "cut proof". Not as strong as chain mail, but it's made of some woven metal with - I think - silicone covering, and it's pretty cheap. Any good fishing store should have that.

But really, there's no need for that much force. I try to find a spot in the hinge area but also am happy to take any other location that looks promising, then just press and jiggle, a good oyster knife will get in with not too much force (most of the time).

I do hope that you're supposed to do this before the party starts, otherwise you'll be busy shucking while others are busy eating and standing in line (reminds me of a wedding I was at) and that's no fun. If you have to do it in front of an audience, don't fall into the "I have to perfom" trap, that's when fingers fly. At that wedding we had a very funny guy who shucked an oyster in probably a second or two, all the while looking at and talking to you. You do NOT want to try that.

Have fun!

Oliver


"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm lucky enough to have a friend who farms oysters. When he comes over to parties, he'll bring a couple 5-gallon pails full. We usually stand around shucking for half an hour or so, and the platters empty out just about as fast as we can fill them. However, it's not all that bad, for a couple reasons. First, you're shucking, so you get first dibs when you decide you want an oyster. Second, and by far more importantly, people's interest wanes pretty rapidly (inconceivable I know), which leaves you with a bucket full of oysters. I can tell you there's no better feeling in the world than realizing you've lost count of how many oysters you've eaten.

Incidentally, oyster knives have some subtle differences, and which one you prefer probably comes down to personal preference. I like a longer blade that tapers at the edge like this one. The Oxo looks a little shorter, but it would probably be fine. Whatever you do, just don't confuse that one with their clam knife.


 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Should have added, sniff each oyster as you open it.

Off oysters tend to be fairly easily recognisable and not something you want to serve to people.

A dead oyster will feel noticeably lighter than a live one. When you open it, it will smell unpleasantly like low tide. Toss it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that a good knife works wonders. The OXO knife is very good; I replaced two duds in a row with it. Avoid the beer can opener at all costs. I love Julia and all, but it's just too thick at the tip to be of any use (unless you've struggling with a paper clip or something).


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

an earlier posting to scrub the oysters is a good idea - avoids a lot of crap getting into the oyster, especially at the joint where you first stick in the knife.

after scrubbing, i put the oysters into the freezer for about 15 minutes, until they are almost comatose (?)..... and in that state, less force will be needed to twist and open them at the joints


It's dangerous to eat, it's more dangerous to live.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...