Raw oysters on the half shell have seen an explosion of popularity in the 21st century. New selections are making their dayview each year as new boutique farmers enter the fray and try their hand at cultivating oysters. And more restaurant menus now offer raw oysters than ever before. If raw oysters are on your menu then proper technique and presentation are essential to making your guests happy. Oyster lovers are aficionados by nature…they know a quality oyster and will pay more in time & money simply to visit the best oyster house. If your technique is better than the guy across the street then customers will come to you instead, even if the oyster selection is identical.
How to Shuck Oysters – Presentation is Everything!
Let’s start with the finished product first. To the right is a slide show depicting the 7 common errors people make when serving oysters. The rules for a properly shucked and presented oyster are as follows:
- the oyster should be fresh (obviously!!), cold, and not in spawn
- the shell should be scrubbed clean before shucking
- the shucked oyster should be presented neat and “clean” in the bottom shell
- the shell the oyster is served in should not be broken
- the oyster should not be pierced or stabbed
- there should be no mud or pieces of shell
- the bottom adductor muscle must be fully severed
- the oyster should be placed naturally in the shell after shucking (not off-set or askew)
- although it can be placed on the top shell, it is essentially frowned upon because then there is no liquor
- if it is dry (no liquor) then it is old…don’t serve it
- display the oysters level on ice, rock salt, whatever. Do NOT set the oyster at an elevated angle as the precious liquor will spill!
When it comes to shucking an oyster, there are essentially two basic ways to do it: the Lip Shucking method and the Hinge Shucking method. Lip shucking is also called “Bill Shucking” or “Stabber Style Shucking”. It involves entering the shell through the outer lip by the adductor muscle. First the upper adductor muscle is cut, then the knife is slide under the oyster to cut the lower adductor muscle. It is best to use a thinner, smaller oyster knife such as a Chesapeake Stabber. The advantage of lip shucking is that it requires less force and is safer because it avoids all the heavy prying, pushing and twisting which hinge shucking requires. The disadvantage is that it damages the shell, making it unsightly for presentation on the half shell. It also tends to leave more shell debris in the meat of the oyster.
The lip shucking oyster style is commonly recommended for European (Belon) Oysters and Olympia Oysters. This method is especially useful for shucking the flat-topped Virginica oysters of the East Coast.
Hinge shucking is probably the most common and popular method of shucking, especially in restaurants, because it leaves the bottom shell, or cup, intact. Enter the oyster through the hinge at the back of the shell by placing the point of the knife into the hinge. Move your knife around until you find the groove or notch into which your knife slips the deepest and “grabs an edge”. We are talking about maybe 1/16th of an inch here, it is where your knife fits the tightest. Now twist your blade and the top shell will pop. Do not push and force your knife, as this will result in piercing the oyster meat, and maybe the palm of your hand as well. Once you have popped the shell, move your knife along the top of the shell until you reach the adductor muscle and cut it. Now do the same thing along the bottom shell to sever the lower adductor muscle.
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