For most, oysters are a happy-hour lure, never an at-home indulgence. But, as illustrated by Chef de Cuisine Victor Marin of New York’s Mermaid Oyster Bar, shucking bivalves is simpler than it seems. The flourish of a quick shuck is a surefire way to impress friends and family, and visiting a local fishmonger, or even purchasing directly from nearby oyster farms, guarantees a better, fresher product. (For the landlocked, there are a number of outlets that ship fresh oysters overnight.)
Variety is essential to appreciate the nuances that local waters bring to different oysters. “The water where the oyster is harvested gives it its flavor,” Marin says, noting that East Coast oysters tend to be saltier, while West Coast varieties are creamier and sweeter. For this reason, Marin suggests trying several varieties, and multiples of each, to compare flavors.
1Prep your bivalves. Run the oyster shells under cold water to remove any grit and pat them dry. Fresh oysters are consumed raw and while still alive. A broken or open shell suggests that the oyster is dead or is otherwise unsafe to eat, so make sure that none of the shells are cracked or open in any way.
2Grip the shell. Hold the oyster in your non-dominant hand with the flat side of the shell facing up and the back of the shell (where the two halves join) toward your body. Use a dish towel or cloth napkin to protect your hand from any sharp edges on the shell or accidental knife slips.
3Shuck. Wedge your oyster knife into the hinge at the back of the shell (known as the “umbo”) about a quarter of an inch. Gently twist the knife back and forth using your wrist, as if opening a door. With a bit of effort, the oyster will open up. Slide the knife around the side of the shell until the two halves of the shell are fully separated. Discard the flat side of the shell.
How to Make a Mignonette
1. Combine 2 cups red wine vinegar, 1 finely chopped shallot and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in a small bowl.
2. Stir and let sit for at least 30 minutes, until flavors have melded and shallots are pickled.
3. When ready to eat, top your oyster with the mignonette using an oyster spoon (about a quarter of a teaspoon).
4Flip the oyster over. Gently run your knife along the underside of the oyster, severing the tendon that connects it to its shell. Flip it over, careful not to spill any of the brine.
5Quality check. If your oyster is sticking to the shell or doesn’t have any liquid, toss it. “If it has a lot of juice inside, that means it’s rich in flavor. If it’s dry, that’s not good,” Marin explained. Oysters should appear hydrated and surrounded by brine. Remove any pieces of shell or grit from the oyster and rest it on a bed of ice.
6Indulge. Pick up a shucked oyster and tip the bowl toward you, guiding the oyster and its brine into your mouth. To best appreciate the nuanced flavors of different species, start by eating one straight up. Follow it up with another oyster, topped with a small spoonful of mignonette or cocktail sauce to further enhance the subtleties and salinity of each variety.
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