Oysters are one of the most famous delicacies of Northwest cuisine—but they’re only enjoyable if you can open the shell. With winter being the perfect time to hunt for oysters, these tips from Taylor Shellfish Farms oyster shucker Michaela Martin-McSweeney will have you shucking like a pro in no time.
1. Choose the freshest specimens.
You want an oyster with a lot of liquid (known as liquor) in its shell, something oysters lose toward the end of their life. Test for this by firmly tapping the handle of your knife against their shells. A hollow ring indicates the oyster is past its prime.
2. Have the right tool.
A proper shucking knife is critical. Although a sharp point is important, the blade itself doesn’t need to be especially sharp, as long as it’s sturdy enough to stand up to the twisting motion needed to pop the shell hinge open.
3. Hold it close.
Hold the oyster in your left or right hand with the hinge in the 6 o’clock position. The more cupped side of the shell should face down and the flat side up. Let it rest on your fingers and upper palm for control. Consider using a glove, which helps you grip, and prevents cuts from, the rough, knobby shell.
4. Choke up.
Hold the knife by the blade—about 2 inches from the tip—to give yourself the control you need to reach the “lollipop stage,” where the knife is just deep enough in the hinge to stick but not deep enough to nick the stomach.
5. Know your anatomy.
Note the location of the hinge, the hole at the base of the shell, where you first insert the knife tip. Be careful not to jam it too far because just inside is the oyster’s stomach; puncturing it will ruin the flavor. Once the hinge has popped, note the adductor muscles that connect to the shell. Sever the top one with a slice forward along the shell and finish by cutting the bottom adductor with a counterclockwise scooping motion to detach oyster from its shell.
6. Save the liquor.
Keep your hand still and level so you lose as little of that precious juice as possible.
7. Don’t be shy.
This applies to every stage of the process. Oyster shucking is hands on—messy but worth it. So, crack some open, slurp them down and enjoy.