Oysters—like a wine’s terroir—will taste of the unique environment in which they have grown. There are three main species of oysters on the west coast and the water where they live and the way they are grown creates a medley of flavors, shapes, and textures. Fresh oysters are a treat and can be found in most seafood markets in Northern California. The mollusks are best stored in a fridge or cooler, umexposed to air and not kept in a puddle of melting ice. They’re best enjoyed fresh from the water, but oysters have a one week maximum shelf life. Oyster shucking can be a tricky endeavor, but with a little practice and our helpful guide, you can easily master the craft.
Here’s some tips to safely shuck an oyster, so you can explore different types of oysters from the comfot of your home.
A few no-nos before we get started:
DO NOT use your bare hand. Always use a dish towel or a shucking glove
DO NOT point the oyster knife at your hand. Always point the oyster knife in parallel to your hand.
DO NOT use all your strength to push the oyster knife into the oyster. More on that later…
DO NOT jab, stab, or scramble the oyster. Treat the oyster with respect and you will be rewarded.
DO NOT leave a bunch of shell fragments on the oyster. It ruins the experience.
Oyster Shucking 101
Armed with your trusty dish towel and oyster knife, pick out your favorite oyster and figure out what end you want to attack. The bottom shell will have an upwards curl and will curve to meet the flat top shell. Where these two shells meet at the more angled back end of the oyster is the ideal spot to pry it apart. With a firm grip on the oyster, insert the tip of the knife into the crevice where the shells meet and begin to apply medium pressure while wiggling the oyster knife slightly. Again, don’t point the tip at your hand. The movement is more forwards than downward, and it’s not about force; it’s like getting a key into a lock that might need a little grease. With practice, you’ll learn the exact moment you have enough leverage to twist the knife to pop the back of the shell open. Just a twist will do, and you’ll feel the shells pop apart.
Once popped, remove the knife and wipe it on the towel so you don’t push shell debris and dirt into the oyster. Now using the knife, gently apply pressure upwards against the top shell to separate it from the bottom shell while gently severing the oyster flesh from the top shell until you reach the “foot”, the muscle that holds the two shells together. The foot is always located on the forward right side of every oyster. Once you’ve found the foot, apply pressure against the top shell while making a clean cut through the foot to release its hold on the top shell. Remove the top shell by flipping it forward; I find it lays the oyster down neatly and keeps the “mantle”—the frilly part of the oyster—tucked on top of the oyster. Flipping it forward slowly will also allow you to see if you’ve cut the foot completely before tearing the oyster apart.
Check the rim of the shell for any fragments or dirt and remove these. Wipe the knife off again to cut the foot below the oyster flesh to release it from the bottom shell. Now you can see the little circular muscle that holds the shell together. Carefully put the knife under the oyster (without stabbing the flesh) and with pressure against the bottom shell, make another clean forward cut to release the oyster. Double check for shell fragments and your work is done. Add whatever condiment you’d like (there are many)!
La Roja Grilled Oysters
One of our favorite recipes at Handline is our La Roja grilled oysters, which is a great excuse to fire up your grill in the summer! Add a spoonful of our California mole to your freshly shucked oyster along with a spoonful of garlic butter/ Put the oyster on the grill at medium-high to high heat for 3-5 minutes or until you begin to see bubbles. Let it cool slightly, add a splash of lemon, and sluuuurrrppp!
Want more seafood recipes? Check out our Rosarito’s Rockfish Ceviche!