The simple beauty of a few dozen oysters is not something I get to enjoy very often. They don’t exactly give them away in restaurants and just having six as an expensive starter won’t do much to ensure that this phatso walks out full at the end of the night. Well, why you don’t you just buy some yourself when you are in the mood for them phatman? I was trying to get to that but you asked me that three sentences into my article! As much as I like to lecture readers on the importance of trying new things and being fearless in the kitchen with attempting new techniques and all, I do have a few kitchen fears that have stopped me from mastering some culinary skills. Shucking oysters is one of those things. Maybe it’s the fact that I tend to be impatient in general and feared being quickly frustrated and giving up. Maybe it was the creepy dude I met at a fish mongers’ place in P.E.I. who, when I was looking for someone to show me how to shuck oysters, showed me his hideously mangled hand and said in a haunting voice,”Oh, I used to shuck oysters…hehehe”. That would be my luck too. Invite some people over for a sexy dinner, buy some fancy oysters, and chuck the meaty part of my palm right off. So, until now, I just never tried it and only enjoyed oysters from time to time.
But a few months back I stumbled upon Poissonerie Sherbrooke and the immensely friendly co-owner, Kosta offered to show me the technique anytime. I was heading to my good friends’ place for dinner on Friday night and his mom, visiting from France, is an oyster addict. Since she has welcomed me and cooked fantastic meals for me in the French countryside on more than one occasion I figured risking losing the palm of my hand to shuck some oysters for her would be the least I could do. I called the fish monger ahead of time and was told there would still be plenty of oysters at the shop when I passed by later in the day. As my luck would have it once I got there I was incredibly pressed for time so I was able to ask for a dozen Malpeques and a dozen Raspberry Point oysters (both from the oyster capital of the world; P.E.I.) but I needed to split as soon as I got there so I would be left to my own devices when it would be time to shuck. At the very least, my buddy that I was visiting knows how to do this, or so he claims, so I should make out ok.
I should note here that once you get home you are supposed to give a quick scrub to the unopened oysters and all that before you get to shucking but the three of us were more excited than Bruce Jenner at a botox sale so we got to cracking these suckers open within seconds of saying hello to each other. Alright time to get started! The two main things you need are: a shucking knife(if you haven’t got one I suppose a butter knife would work ok too) and oysters. Simple as that. I would suggest also to have either a thick, rubber glove or a thick kitchen towel on hand unless you don’t mind fileting your hand. Always use protection people! Feel free to bust out a fancy platter too with some crush ice laid out to wow your guests with a professional looking presentation. We knew these would be gone in less time it took to open them so we didn’t really bother with that. We just crammed them straight down our faces. In truth, the mere act of serving someone oysters on the half shell at home should be impressive enough that a big sexy presentation of them isn’t really needed. But if you are opening them before people get there then ya, ice those bad boys!
I have to admit that I was nervous about this. I can recall an evening with a friend (who you all now know and love as the Sasquatch) where I had just received my brand new, fancy knives and I wanted to demonstrate to him how amazingly sharp they were by chopping up some vegetables. This was, of course, after a vigorously celebrated happy hour just before. One less fingertip and two less pints of blood later, he was indeed impressed with the quality of knife I bought but much less so with the skill in which I wielded them. The gallons and gallons of blood I lost sent him into a blood lust that I am still not comfortable discussing but let’s just say he isn’t allowed to stay over anymore. Anyway, what the hell was I talking about? Oh yes, oysters. Ok so I would prefer to keep my hand intact so I’ve got a nice thick towel that I hold the oyster with. From there I take the shucking knife in my other hand and wiggle the point of it into the hinge of the oyster. You can actually feel when it gets in there good. Once it is in you twist that knife good and the oyster should pop open easily enough. Your work still isn’t done though! Now that you’ve got it opened you need to run the knife along the top of the shell to fully separate the oyster muscle from the shell. Discard the top half of the shell and now with the knife just make sure that the oyster is fully loosened from the shell. While it may be comical to watch someone try to shoot back an oyster that is still partially attached to the shell you really don’t want anyone to fight with it and make a mess of themselves. Well, maybe if you enjoy the misery of your friends you do but I didn’t want to do this to my friends’ lovely mom from overseas. Wow this has gone better than I expected! I was convinced that I would fail at this epically. I am not popping these out in lightning speed but within 10 minutes all two dozen are opened. Then seconds later all two dozen are shamefully gone.
A few tips to keep in mind when attempting this:
1) Keep as much of the liquid from the oyster as possible-so much of the sweet, salty flavor comes from it!
2) Make sure you do not have shell fragments left with the oyster. I would imagine a shell fragment stuck at the back of my throat might be mildly unpleasant
3) A few of your oysters may have a fair amount of sand in them-do NOT discard those ones-the sand can be rinsed away and the oyster is still good to eat
4) Do not hold the oyster up against your chest or stomach-one slip and you’ll have a shucking knife 3 inches deep into that well earned gut!
If you have never tried oysters and aren’t sure if you would like them I would think that so long as you like sushi, seafood, or amazing things then you should be fine. I recommend that the first time you try them to eat them au naturel, maybe just squeeze on a little lemon, so you can get a good sense of what a good, fresh oyster should taste like. If you are a little nervous about what the texture will be like or if you are sensitive to that kind of thing, then don’t even bother with chewing it and just slam it back like a shot. If you see that you like the taste then let the next one linger for a bit and by the time you get to the third one feel free to chew away. From there, you can have them all kinds of ways like in a shot glass with a little hot sauce and vodka, with a nice mignonette(pretty much a salad dressing), or even in a beer. I like to keep it simple and just use a little fresh lemon on top and slurp away. Although I do also enjoy them with a mignonette with red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and finely diced shallots. There really isn’t just one way to make mignonette though. It is a recipe as varied as any salad dressing so if you can think of something that seems interesting then give it a shot. As I am writing this I am thinking that maybe something with an Asian flare to it might be good. Something like diced ginger, lime, cilantro and rice vinegar. Damn! I just might give that one a shot soon!
I’m actually a bit disappointed in myself that I waited so long to try this. If fear of failing, or maiming yourself, is what’s stopping you from giving this a shot then let me assure you that while I can’t shuck at the obscene speed of a pro, this was much easier than I was expecting. I must say that watching a pro do this is humbling, especially now that I’ve tried this out. If you live near an oyster bar I hope you go there often and pay respect to these artists. It is an impressive skill they display. Feel free to ask them questions too! There’s nothing better than learning from a pro. As always, I do like to hear from you all so send me your (hopefully positive!) feedback to which i will say “Aww, shucks!” Ok, even I thought that joke was bad. On that slightly off-key note I leave you, hopefully running to get some oysters!
Categories: Phood Philosophies