10 steps to shucking an oyster
Oyster shucking parties are totally underrated as far as theme parties go, like a crawfish fest made 400x sexier because, you know, oysters. But because you're not an otter, you might have no idea how to properly shuck without injuring yourself or others. We hit up the guys from Brooklyn's Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. for a step-by-step guide that'll have you popping mollusks in no time.
Step 1: Get the right tools
Oysters shells are designed to seal tightly against the intrusion of gnarly ocean. To deftly pry these suckers open, you’ll need the appropriate accouterments -- luckily, there are only two.
First: a washcloth or small towel to protect both your hand and whatever surface you shuck on. You’ll also need a shucking knife, which you can get at any fish market, and some hipper grocery stores. Don't use a regular knife -- it's too sharp and too thin, and'll give, costing you a finger, thereby making your next attempt at shucking even more difficult.
Step 2: Orient the oyster
The key to opening an oyster is manipulating its anatomy. Think more picking a lock than, say, removing a new toy from tenacious plastic packing. To start, make sure you're shucking top-side down. This sounds counter-intuitive -- the oyster's natural bottom side is flatter, and won't rock on a flat surface, while the top side buckles outwards.
But when flipped to the bottom, the top's curve serves as a sort of natural bowl for both the meat and salty “sea liquor" trapped inside, neither of which you want to spill.
Step 3: Use protection
Wrap the cloth around the thumb of your non-dominant hand. You’ll use this hand to steady the oyster as you drive the knife into its side like it's a zombie you're preventing from reanimating. It’s easy for the knife to slip and, if that happens, it’s going to head straight for what we’ll call the Helper Hand, hence the cloth.
Step 4: Grasp the nettle, breh
With your Helper Hand, grab the oyster, keeping anything in the line of fire (anywhere you’re pointing the knife) covered with the cloth. Then, with your dominant hand, grasp the shucker. Note: this is not something people actually call shucking knives, but what the shuck, let's do it.
Step 5: Find the sweet spot & keep at it
An oyster is shaped like a squashed circle; its hinge lies on its flatter side. Make entry there. To start, slide (don't ram, slide) the shucker in and turn your wrist as though you were revving a motorcycle. Saying "vroom vroom" at this juncture is highly not recommended.
Oyster shells are dangerously slick, so when sliding just apply light pressure at the hinge with the shucker tip. Wriggle with your wrist until the knife gets a bite. Then apply pressure against the hinge to pop it open. It will probably slip out. Do it again. Again, think of a lock and key situation. Once you get the knife into the right spot, the shell will give without much force.
Step 6: Sever the shell
Once you’ve gotten the oyster open at its hinge, the rest is a cinch. While you’ve already got the knife inside the shell, slide it around the remainder of the sealed edge to sever it. God you're good at this.
Step 7: Remove the flat half
Nobody eats "oysters on the full shell". If you oriented the oyster properly, the flat half should already be facing up.
Step 8: Sever the muscle and flip it over
Oysters’ muscles are firmly attached to both sides of their shells. You’ve already severed one of these anchor points. Now do the other by simply tucking the knife under the meat, slicing and detaching.
When you first learn to shuck, sometimes you accidentally stab the meat, particularly during Step 6. So, for the sake of presentation, you can now flip the meat over like a pancake so the up-facing portion is unblemished by your incompetence. Make sure you don't spill that sea liquor -- you'll still want your oyster floating in it, because it's flavorful, and because it's called "sea liquor".
Step 9: Eat the oyster
Congratulations. You’ve had your first shuck. Now just knock that little guy back like a shot.
Step 10: Become a pro
Did you know that oysters are capable of changing their sex? Or that west (left) coast oysters taste like cucumbers? There are even different kind of shucking handles made for tackling different varieties of oysters (seen here as some dope-ass beer taps).
For a little blob almost as low on the food chain as it gets, oysters can get pretty complicated -- but if you really want to get into this, your knowledge can evolve endlessly.