Shucking Oysters

  • Clive
  • 05/12/2012 3:14 pm
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Stage 1:  If you are inexperienced at this, then it is best to use a tea towel, folded a couple of times, to make a soft bed to support the oyster, and to protect your non-knife hand, as in the picture.   Place the oyster the flat side up, so that the curved side nestles into the towel.  You might also choose to wear a neoprene glove, or similar, to protect your non-knife hand in case you slip.    More experienced oyster shuckers hold the oyster in their non-knife hand, with or without a glove.  I wouldn’t recommend the latter, unless you are practised and are thus very confident that you won’t slip and stab your hand!

Stage 2:  There is only one part of the oyster where it is easy to insert your oyster knife.   An oyster knife is short and sturdy, with a sharp point.  Other similar knives will do, but you can’t beat having the right tool for the job!      You insert the knife at the pointy end of the oyster.   You should find that there is a small gap in the shell there, just wide enough to get the tip of your knife in.   There won’t be a gap anywhere else around the oyster.    When the tip of the knife feels secure in the gap, wiggle it from side to side and rotate it to lever the hinge open.  The hinge should break with an audible crack.  The dangerous part is then over!    Keep the oyster level, as you want to preserve the brine in the lower half of the shell, and not spill it all out.  The biggest mistake make by novices is using too much force, and then slipping and harming themselves.    If you get the technique right, only a small amount of force is needed in the right place to insert the knife, and the twist is what unlocks the shell.

Stage 3: You now need to release the oyster from the top half of the shell, without butchering it into an untidy mess, so tip the front of the knife up very slightly as you work around the outside of the shell. You only need to cut it near the edge of the shell, so don’t push the knife in too far, otherwise you will damage the oyster.   When the top shell is released, discard it, again keeping the bottom shell level to retain the liquid.






Stage 4: The final stage is to release the oyster from the bottom shell, again with minimum damage to the flesh. Remember to keep the shell level to prevent spilling the brine in the shell.


Oysters can be served in a variety of ways, but probably the most popular is to place the opened oysters on a bed of ice on a large tray, and eat them raw.  They can be eaten as is, or with a light dressing such as a tiny splash of Tabasco or chilli sauce, lemon, or a shallot and vinegar dressing.  It is important not to overpower the oyster with too much dressing, as the flavour of the oyster will be masked.

Hints:  If the oyster is open, and doesn’t close up when you give it a light tap, then it is dead, and should be discarded.  Also, place the oysters in the freezer for 2 minutes before you shuck them, and they will be easier to open.   For best quality, the oysters should be a fresh as possible, having been kept cool since harvesting.


Oysters Information from J. Sheekey Fish by Allan Jenkins and Tim Hughes:

Native, flat oysters (Ostrea edulis) are in season from September to April, and are at their very best in November, at the end of spawning.  The finest come from the historic oyster beds of Whitstable in Kent and West Mersea in Essex.  When buying them, ensure that they feel full and heavy in the hand.  These oysters are best eaten raw, otherwise known as “naked”.

Rock or Pacific Oysters (Crassostrea gigas) are available all year around and from all corners of the British Isles.  They are bigger and bolder than Natives, but lack their complex flavour, and are better cooked.  Try Oysters Rockerfeller (baked, topped with herbs, breadcrumbs and butter sauce), or as a Christmas treat, serve them poached in a champagne sauce with scrambled eggs and vinegar, as they do at J. Sheekey.

J. Sheekey Fish is published by Preface at £25.  You can buy it from The Week bookshop for £20: call 0843 060 0020, or visit .


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