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.

Oyster shucking crash course


Fat Guy
 Share

Recommended Posts

Definitely want to bring your own knife. You never know what kind of equipment they're going to supply you with. That $10 will turn into a great investment. Bring some of your old side towels too.

And the advice to pick up a half dozen (Citarella's usually has a few varieties) and practicing shucking them is excellent.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

The knife pictured above is the one I use most of the time; long, tapered, white handle. The french type with a short blade works well too, but the main thing is that the blade be thick enough to survive the job. If your hosts have only one crummy knife and it bends the first time you use it you will be up a creek etc. Buy a good knife and take it with. By the time you are done with this party you will be an expert and will be glad to have it. If any salesperson tries to sell you a curved blade that looks more like an old grapefruit knife, stay away. And a second knife will come in very handy if someone at this gig knows how to open oysters and wants to help.

Take a little scrubbing brush. Usually they don't require much cleaning, but a quick once-over under briefly running water is good.

I've never heard of using a glove. It sounds like it could be awkward. I usually have a stash of old barwipes or even old washcloths--something thick to wrap around the oyster, hold it against the counter and protect your hand. You do need to grip firmly with your non knife-wielding hand.

The advice about smelling the oyster after you open it is good advice. If something LOOKS fishy or has absolutely no juice, definitely smell it.

If I can open oysters, anyone can. When the oysters are petite they aren't any match for a human, but I admit I struggle if they are really large. Remember when you first try to insert the knife into the hinge the knife will be pointing down toward the counter--not toward your hand. I find a little back and forth wiggle action lets the point get purchase and then slide in for the twist.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All of this advice is great. I'm feeling more and more confident by the hour.

Just to clarify the logistics:

I'll have no opportunity to practice or acquire my own equipment. I'm away in the country for the three days prior to this event. It's a miracle I even have internet access, but oysters no way. Then I'm driving from here to this party, where I'll have to shuck oysters with whatever equipment they have. I requested an Oxo knife but who knows what will be there.

It's not a huge party. Maybe 10 people. And there won't be formal service or stations or anything like that. I'll just go into the kitchen and shuck a few dozen oysters. There may be a couple of observers, or not.

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...

It's not a huge party. Maybe 10 people. ... I'll just go into the kitchen and shuck a few dozen oysters. ...

Especially since you may find that (initially) oyster shucking not a rapid process, I'd suggest that you request two large platters and plenty crushed ice to cover them.

While you are loading one platter, the other can be being emptied. (These processes are unlikely to take the same amount of time.)

Shiny metal trays look great adorned only with oysters and ice. Even if they do suffer from condensation and melt the ice faster. Otherwise, you might be thinking of a little adornment, at the very least some carved up lemon.

BTW, salting the ice will keep it colder, longer.

Since the hosts aren't familiar with opening them, its maybe worth ensuring that they are familiar with storing the things - even for a few hours. Coldest part of the fridge is essential. Damp is good (like wrapped in some wet newspaper). And depending on the climate, length of shopping trip, etc, an insulated cool box is no bad thing for the journey home.

Are the hosts sure to provide enough appropriate accompaniments? Personally, I think lemon is all that's needed (so at least half a dozen for 10 people + garnish), however Tabasco is a common request, and there are other preferences (sherry vinegar, finely chopped shallot ... ) {Wasn't there a thread on that specific topic somewhere here?}

If there are any present who are reluctant to participate, you might persuade them to try one gratinéed before moving on to raw. (Unless they are abstaining as a result of previous poisoning - it can take years to get the sensitivity out of one's system.)

If you are using an 'unguarded' knife, you may care to try holding the knife handle through (yet another) towel. This will guard your thumb and knuckles against grazing them on the shell. (Lemon juice on grazed skin detracts greatly from the pleasure of oysters ... )

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... 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. ...

I actually own a (gardening) glove that is made of Kevlar. Surprisingly inexpensive.

It protects against cutting injuries.

But the small print on the package made clear that it does not provide protection against "penetration".

'Cut-proof' does NOT mean 'Stab-proof' !!!

I'd want to check the detail before trusting anyone else's glove.

And actually, overall, I think it'd be safer not to use a glove.

...

I've never heard of using a glove. It sounds like it could be awkward. I usually have a stash of old barwipes or even old washcloths--something thick to wrap around the oyster, hold it against the counter and protect your hand. You do need to grip firmly with your non knife-wielding hand.

... Remember when you first try to insert the knife into the hinge the knife will be pointing down toward the counter--not toward your hand. ...

Katie, it sound like you, chrisamirault and I prefer to push down into the oyster against the support of the counter-top and not towards your holding hand.

The gloves seem to be used by those who take the oyster in the palm of their hand ... which necessitates pushing directly towards your holding hand. You need a stab-proof (not a cut proof) glove for that. For example -

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. ...

I firmly agree with nickrey that this is NO WAY to start.
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.

...

MUCH the safest, as nickrey says, is to start with a cloth/towel, pushing the knife under and away from your holding hand.

And then to push with the shoulder/trunk muscles (stiff arms) rather than to make the push with the arm -- its all about making a short and safely constrained and directed motion. And so not stabbing yourself.

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm thinking if I use the countertop/towel method AND a protective glove I can avoid a trip to the emergency room, even if I shatter every oyster.

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

FWIW, our guys use disposable gloves on one hand and have thick rubber bands wrapped around the handles of their personal shucking knives for grip.

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You need a stab-proof (not a cut proof) glove for that. For example -
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. ...

That's an important distinction about gloves. They should be specially designed for protecting your hand while shucking oysters, not just something at the hardware store.

There's a chain mail glove and a rubber mitt that are intended for shucking shellfish.

Chain mail glove: http://www.cooking.com/products/shprodde.asp?SKU=162133

Rubber mitt: http://www.gifts.helpmeshop.org/product/Oyster-Mitt.html

I've used both, though I own the rubber mitt and use that one at home.

thanks for the reminder, Dougal.

Edited by djyee100 (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't have a ton to add to what's been said, but I do have these two things:

- It really isn't terribly difficult, contrary to what all the detailed advice above seems to indicate. It just takes practice to do it efficiently. You'll figure it out, no problem.

AND,

- Drinking and does not an efficient oyster shucking make. Alcohol makes the process a lot slower and marginally more difficult. So if you were tempted to 'loosen up' a bit for this party, you might want to think twice.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had a dozen oysters a month or so ago. Oyster shucking virgin and all that but armed with several eg searches and a real live Oyster knife (no glove) and a side towel happily shucked same and wife and myself had a feast w/o blood sweat or tears. Finding the "keyhole" (as noted in several threads) on the ass end of the oyster is in fact the key. Find that, wiggle in, and a quick twist will suffice.

Some oysters will likely prove recalcitrant. No matter. Set those aside to revisit once their brethren have been taken care of. They too will succumb.

Shuck, (sniff if dubious), slurp and enjoy.

Edited by 6ppc (log)

Jon

--formerly known as 6ppc--

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm thinking if I use the countertop/towel method AND a protective glove I can avoid a trip to the emergency room, even if I shatter every oyster.

Sorry if I wasn't explicit - with a good towel/cloth, I'm not sure a chainmail glove would give additional protection. And I feel that it might give a less secure grip.

The chainmail glove (linked above by djyee100) lists at $139.

If your hosts could return such a thing unused, for a refund, it'd be a nice present. Hence, I'd suggest going with the cloth only the first careful, tentative time.

Incidentally, in the illustration of the chainmail glove, the oyster knife has a smaller version of the knuckle guard that I was enthusing over. Even if that blade is WAY longer than needed to reach the centre of the top of an oyster shell ... (and thus IMHO adding unnecessary risk of injury).

There's relatively little risk of the oyster shattering (never done that myself, yet), but there's a pretty high probability of the knife point slipping out of the hinge niche (especially if the target isn't gripped for immobility) -- and its the sliding blade (with force behind it) that represents the danger to the holding hand. Similarly, its in slipping past the oyster that you can graze your knife-hand-knuckles.

Its not hard to physically demonstrate the technique in person - but its much harder to explain safe technique in typed words. Let alone very few words!

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I started shucking oysters when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old. No gloves and with a crappy dull paring knife, and only because my Dad wasn't fast enough to open the oyster for me. No cuts, no stabbing and I quickly became a fast oyster shucker in the family. I guess you can call it greed. LOL

But most Filipinos would open an oyster with their bare hands and a short knife (usually handmade).

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The three times Paul and I have shucked oysters, it has been glove less, and using tools from the tool box (but remember, we must have about 100 screwdrivers of all sorts of widths and thickness of all sorts of lengths, as well as all sorts of power tools (which we didn't use) at our disposal, and it was no big deal. We opened and slurped, and it sure was fun!

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The party is tomorrow. I'll report back tomorrow night or Tuesday, depending.

Good news: Oxo oyster knife acquired.

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The party is tomorrow. I'll report back tomorrow night or Tuesday, depending.

Good news: Oxo oyster knife acquired.

We actually liked a screwdriver better. Craftsman, of the short (short shaft with a nice wide in diameter handle) with a flat wide blade better (best of all, we owned it so no extra purchase; think multi-tasking).

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just did a test run on 3 oysters.

Not good.

They're very flat and wide with brittle shells.

Last-minute advice?

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...

Last-minute advice?

Search for that niche in the hinge!

Once the blade is in, relax and slide the knife to both sides to cut the muscle rather than trying to pry and force it apart.

Getting the blade in is the hard bit, and the more accurately you have the niche, the easier it goes in.

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Okay so a quick report on what transpired today:

We arrived at our friend's house in Sag Harbor, NY, to find 4 Oxo oyster knives, 4 protective gloves and 96 oysters. Why were there 4 knives and gloves? Because I was going to teach a little class, I learned.

I took three oysters off into a quiet corner. These were local oysters from somewhere around Sag Harbor, very flat and wide with fairly brittle shells. I destroyed two of three shells and got one open with acceptable results.

A little while later, my three "students" joined me in the kitchen. In a confident tone I recited all the oyster-shucking wisdom I learned here. Then I demonstrated. My demonstration oyster opened beautifully, forever establishing my expert credentials. This was not undone by the oysters I later wrecked, or by the deep stab wound I inflicted on myself later on.

We shucked about 5 dozen of the oysters, yielding about 4 dozen good ones, which we put on platters with seaweed to stabilize them.

3695965889_5565ca1751.jpg

I also made a mignonette sauce with vinegar and vermouth reduced by half, mixed with minced shallots and the liquid from the ruined oysters.

I then took the remaining 3 dozen oysters and threw them on the grill. When they opened up I put them in a pot and poured in a sauce made from the remaining mignonette with half a stick of butter whisked in. A number of them got eaten before I had a chance to take a photo.

3695952211_cc110806e6.jpg

The remainder of dinner consisted of brisket that had spent most of the day in the smoker, a salmon spread made from the Le Bernardin recipe and a whole bunch of other savory stuff not pictured (including a magnum of '82 Bordeaux). Cheese and several courses of dessert followed.

3695950175_12f6ec80a4.jpg

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd call it a success. Amazing what you can learn on internet forums.

Last time I was in Sag Harbor I'd planned a seafood dinner, and a friend I was visiting mentioned that he'd seen some good looking oysters in the fish market, but by the time I got there, the clams looked better, so I got three dozen littlenecks, only to learn that my friend was allergic to clams and his wife was somewhat ambivalent about bivalves in general. At least the chowder froze well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Certainly appears as if it worked out OK. Except for the stab wound, of course. :unsure:

Looks like a lovely feast.

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...