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The mystery of mollusks has been perpetuated for centuries. The odd-looking creatures that live inside thick, rock-like shells have the ability to purify water, make beautiful pearls and provoke the attention of discerning foodies everywhere. It was James Beard who said oysters are “one of the supreme delights that nature has bestowed on man.” But don’t be shaken by their elitist reputation. Buying, shucking and baking your own oysters is one of those things you’ll be proud to add to your culinary résumé – and it makes great dinner conversation when entertaining guests.
Start your adventure at a reputable seafood supplier. They will likely have one or more types of live oysters in the shell available, depending on the harvest season. Buy oysters the day before or the same day you plan on preparing them – and only buy oysters that are tightly closed or that close their shells when gently tapped (the fishmonger behind the counter can test this for you). Also check that oysters feel heavy for their size and that they don’t remain open or make a hollow sound when tapped.
Continue your journey at a kitchen supply store to pick up a few tools: an oyster knife, cutting glove and a few seafood forks, if desired, to help you scoop the oysters off their half shell once it’s time to eat. Back at home, store the oysters in the refrigerator on a tray with the rounded “cup” side of the shell down. Cover the oysters with a damp cloth and prepare them within the same day.
Part of the lure of oysters comes from the way people choose to eat them. Adventurous diners prefer to eat them in their raw state. Though this poses the same risks that come with eating any raw food, purists believe it’s the best way to enjoy an oyster’s delicate flavor. While some believe it’s customary to let oysters “slide” down your throat without chewing, others would argue you should chew oysters to relish the full tasting experience.
Another delicious way to eat oysters is to bake them with a flavorful topping, such as in the preparation of Oysters Rockefeller, but I’m offering steps for both methods so you can choose. Our lightened-up version allows you to enjoy a decadent, salty, rich oyster with a little less of the heavy cheese and butter you’d indulge in at a restaurant , allowing the delicate flavor of the oyster to shine.
But of course, how you choose to eat them and with whom you share them with is up to you. After all, the world is your – well, you know!
What you’ll need to shuck oysters:
|Large bowl of water|
|Large, rimmed baking sheet|
|Oyster knife or flathead screwdriver|
Fill a large bowl with room temperature water and stir in 1 tablespoon of cornmeal. Place live oysters in the water-cornmeal solution for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours; refrigerate. As the oysters filter the water, they will take in the cornmeal grains and spit out any sand that they contain. Leave the oysters refrigerated in the water-cornmeal solution until they are shucked.
Spread an even layer of rock salt in a large, rimmed baking sheet. The rock salt will prevent the oyster shells from tipping as they bake. You can also use a large crumpled sheet of aluminum foil in place of the rock salt.
Fold a thick kitchen towel into quarters and hold it in one palm as protection for your hand from the oyster knife blade, in case it slips as you are trying to pry open the oyster. For extra protection, wear a cutting glove (available at kitchen supply stores) in the same hand that is holding the towel. In the towel, place one oyster, hinged end out and flat side up, and then squeeze it firmly. Using the work surface to anchor your hand, carefully and firmly pry the pointed end of the oyster knife into the small hole at the tip of the hinged end of the oyster. Gently and firmly rock the knife back and forth while pressing it into the hinge. Continue to press and turn the knife until the hinge pops. If you do not have an oyster knife, you can use a flathead screwdriver.
Continue to slide and turn the knife as you work your way along the lip between the two shells in order to pry the oyster open. Angle the knife toward the top flat shell, taking care not to puncture the oyster inside. Slide the knife along the top inner side of the shell to sever the membrane that connects the oyster to the shell.
As you loosen the top shell, pull the two sides of the shell apart to expose the oyster. Use the knife to fully loosen the oyster from the connective membrane on top and below the oyster. Be careful not to tip the shell so that the oyster and oyster juice remain in the “cup” of the bottom shell.
Use the knife to slide the oysters and juice into a bowl. Discard the top flat shells. Thoroughly wash and scrub the bottom “cupped” shells. Dry the “cupped” shells and place them on the baking sheet with rock salt.
Spoon one oyster back into each clean shell. If eating oysters raw, they can be served at this stage with lemon wedges, horseradish, hot sauce and mignonette. If baking the oysters, top each oyster with ingredients and bake as directed.
Get the Oysters Rockefeller recipe.
Now that you’ve learned to shuck oysters, why not brush up on a few more Better Cook skill builders?