All restaurants that specialize in seafood would have an incomplete menu if they did not include oysters in it. Considered a delicacy by many, oysters are eaten both cooked and raw and are thought of as one of the most famous and loved seafood. It is also a popular food choice in coastal areas where locals consume it on a daily basis.
Aside from being delicious, oysters are also consumed because they are packed with proteins, minerals like vitamins A and C, calcium, etc. Furthermore, they have a low-calorie content. Hence, oysters can be part of the diet of people who love seafood, promoting good health and fitness.
Oysters, which have been cultivated by humans for ages, are best eaten in the winter months (September through April) in comparison to the summer months since this is their spawning season. Around this time of the year, the oysters become too mushy and are much less sweeter than usual. Altogether, they do not make much of a delicious treat during this time.
Another interesting fact about oysters is that they can be of the same species but may taste different from one another. This is because oysters pick up their flavors from the water surrounding them when filtering it. Not all sea waters will have the same amount of salt or nutrients which eventually causes the oysters to taste different from one another.
The oysters, though mostly salty and sweet, can also taste buttery, metallic, etc. Other flavors are available too where the oysters taste like cucumbers, melons, mushrooms and so on.
The Best Oysters Out There
If you are looking for the most appetizing oysters for a meal, always try to pick any from the five given below:
- Pacific oysters: The most common type as it is harvested on a huge scale. It tastes sweet with a shell that is more grooved and pointy.
- Kumamoto oysters: These oysters are sweet too with a hint of nuttiness, harvested mostly in Japan and the West coast.
- Atlantic oysters: Mostly cultivated in the Mexican Gulf.
- European oysters: The flavor of these oysters is quite unique because it has a delicious seaweed and mineral taste.
- Olympia oysters: These tiny oysters, which were once considered extinct, are characterized by their sweet metallic taste.
As mentioned before, this tasty seafood can be consumed in either its raw form or when it has been cooked. Whether you prefer your oysters uncooked or cooked, one thing you will have to do before you eat them is to shuck them. This is the part where you get rid of the oyster’s outer shell, more commonly known as an oyster’s shuck.
This is indeed a tricky task and generally needs a lot of practice to be able to shuck the oysters as well as retain the brine or liquor inside. While beginners find themselves worried and confused during the process, many others are clueless about how to choose the best oysters and what tools to use.
Well, no need to worry anymore because we have all the answers to your questions!
This is undoubtedly an important part of the whole process because what is the point of shucking them if they are not fresh? Also, you do have to buy the ones that will be worth your money not only in terms of freshness but the amount you are getting.
Pick oysters that have the shells shut tightly. This usually means that the oysters are alive which they have to be in order to be eaten. If you are unsure, gently tap the shell of the oyster. A live oyster will tightly shut itself closed due to the motion you made. A dead oyster, on the other hand, is bound to have open shells and will not make any moves to enclose itself.
You can obviously use your nose to inspect them further. Oysters that are live and fresh should smell briny but sweet at the same time. Also, its smell should be identical to the scent of the sea breeze. Any oyster that gives off an unpleasant, fishy odor needs to be tossed away as it has gone bad for sure.
A recently harvested fresh oyster is supposed to be filled with brine which makes it relatively heavy or weighty. So when you look for oysters, choose those that seem heavy and avoid those that are light. The light ones have little or no brine left which means they are old enough that the liquor has dried up and are most probably stale. They will also sound hollow when tapped.
As a side note, remember that oysters need not be bought ahead of the time you plan to use them. They taste best when they are fresh so get them the very day you want to eat them. Otherwise, later on, many might go stale if not stored properly which will certainly be a waste of your money.
Gathering the Necessary Tools and Supplies
In order to shuck the oysters, you need a few things that are a must. Without these, it will be next to impossible to work on the oysters. The tools include a pair of heavy gloves, a brush with firm bristles, and an oyster knife (also known as oyster shucker). You could definitely go for another knife but make sure it is hardy with a heavy blade, unlikely to break. A table knife or a screwdriver with a flat head could be good substitutes. In order to keep the oysters fresh until you use or eat them, you will also need ice.
Knowing the Oyster Parts
Shucking oysters becomes quite a difficult task if you have little about its parts. The pointed tip of the oyster houses the hinge. This is the muscle holding and attaching the flat shell and the curved shell together. The flat shell is the top of the oyster while the curved shell is the bottom of the oyster. The opening of the oyster is undoubtedly the side facing the hinge.
Cleaning the Oysters
Before you get down to the task of cleaning the oysters, put the gloves on. This will save you from cuts and wounds that are inevitable when shucking the oysters as their shells are super sharp. They could be simple rubber or canvas gloves or any other type that is in general strong and heavy enough to protect your hands.
Once you have put the gloves on, take the brush and start cleaning the exterior of the oysters. A methodical scrubbing should be enough to get rid of the dirt or ocean grit stuck to the shells. Use cool water to wash away the scrubbed off grit. This step will not only make sure that the oysters are clean but it will also give you another chance to see if the oysters you picked are still fresh and safe to eat.
Maneuvering the Oyster
Knowing how to hold an oyster properly will prove to be much more helpful than you would expect. It will certainly make it easier for the oyster to be shucked. Pick up an oyster with your non-dominant hand and hold it firmly with your fingers against your palm. Make sure your palms are cupping the curved bottom of the oyster and not the flat top which should be facing upwards. The opening of the oyster should be against your fingers and its opposite side, the hinge, should be positioned in your direction.
You could easily follow the directions given above or you could use another method that is equally effective. For this process, put the oyster on a flat surface, on its curved shell with its flat shell facing upwards. Use one of your hands to grasp the oyster firmly and hold it against the even surface.
Shucking the Oyster
Grab a hold of your knife and with as much force as needed, push the knife into the hinge. With the knife lodged between the two shells, direct the knife towards the bottom of the cup-shaped shell. Once you get that right, flex your wrist in order to twist that knife in between the two shells.
This twisting of the knife should break the hinge and what previously connected the shells will no longer be able to hold the two in place together. Once you hear a snap after twisting the knife, rest assured that the top and bottom shells are now separate from one another.
However, the shells are not actually completely separate. To get that task done, work the knife to the other side of the oyster, little by little, by twisting the knife as you go. Keep the blade of your knife close to the top shell instead of the bottom one while you continue separating the two. This is a risky work so be mindful of your motions.
Also, do not be too vigorous because the shells are most likely tightly clamped together and you may end up losing your grip on the knife and hurting yourself in the process.
The shells are also prone to snapping and shattering easily. So avoid using unnecessary, excess force to get the job done. Furthermore, be gentle and careful so that the shells remain unbroken and undamaged as much as possible even though a few small pieces may find their way inside the oyster.
Stop yourself from tilting the oyster sideways or any other ways as a matter of fact, while you do this. You are also not allowed to turn it upside down. Doing this will only lead to one thing – you losing the brine inside the oyster as it finds its way out of the openings that you made earlier.
Pulling the Oyster Open and Serving it
Once you have carefully gotten all the sides open with the twisting of your knife, it is now time to pull the two apart. Hold the oyster firmly so none of the brine is lost when you finally have the shells apart. With the oyster open, take a good look at it. Most often than not, there will be some meat attached to the top shell. This meat you can detach from the flat top using the knife. Feel free to do the same for the meat inside the cup-like shell before you serve them, in case it seems like a hassle for anyone who plans to have it.
Drop the meat in its original cup, in the liquor, once the meat has been separated and you are ready to serve. As for the brine or liquor, pay attention to them too. It should not have a murky or clouded appearance and neither should it smell anything outside the usual sweet and salty scent. If it does, then it is a clear sign that the oyster is inedible.
With all the shacking done, you will need to put the oysters in the ice that you had gathered earlier. This will keep them fresh even as the oysters are being served.
Wrapping up now, we can guarantee you that there is no other faster way to shuck oysters. It is quite a sport, requiring great diligence but with effort comes success. The first few times will be a real test but at one point you will get the technique, the dexterity improving by each minute. Then you will be able to enjoy your oysters in no time at all. Squirt some lemon to give them a special flavor or go for shallot vinegar. Both taste equally great when paired up with oysters.
If you seem unsure, look for recipes that will satisfy you and make use of those oysters that you so painstakingly shucked and enjoy the true delicacy your way!