A well-shucked oyster is a thing of beauty: it's undisturbed and peaceful, brimming with liquor, a succulent morsel waiting to be slurped. Like building a campfire, shucking an oyster is a skill that seems complicated and intimidating, but is actually very simple and empowering. Plus: it's a great way to make friends. Show up with three dozen oysters and an oyster knife, and you'll be the life of the party. Read on for some basic tips for how to hinge-shuck an oyster, or check our video here. Happy shucking!
Step 1: Gather Your Gear
1. A good oyster knife. Yes, it is possible to shuck with a screwdriver, but doing so increases the likelihood that you'll injure yourself or mutilate the oyster. So: just buy a knife.
2. A towel or dish cloth. A towel serves several purposes: it protects your hands from the knife in case the knife slips, it gives you something clean to use to wipe the blade free of mud or shell, and it soaks up the liquid released by the oyster, keeping your housemates happy.
3. Heavy Duty Gloves. It's important to wear a glove on the hand holding the oyster, because even if the knife doesn't get you, the shell might. Wearing a glove on the hand holding the knife is up to you. Beware that you don't end up like us, though, with boxes and boxes of left handed gloves, and not a righty to be found.
Step 2: Meet the Oyster
1. From the top. Oysters have a pointy hinge end and a cupped rounded edge. The hinge, or the umbo, is the only place where the two shells come together.
2. And from the side. Oysters have a cupped rounded side and a top flat side.
This matters ... because if you're holding the oyster with the hinge towards you and the cupped side down, the adductor muscle is on the right side of the oyster. The adductor runs through the oyster, connecting the top shell to the bottom shell. Read more about oyster anatomy here.
Step 3: Action!
1. Get in position Wrap the oyster in a towel and place it on a non-slip surface, with the cupped-side down and the hinge towards you.
2. Use the Knife Applying gentle pressure, insert the knife into the hinge until it's stuck, about a quarter inch. You don't need to press too hard. Once you have leverage, you can pop the hinge open by twisting the knife as if it's a key in a car lock.
3. Cut it free Clean the knife of any gunk or shell, and slide it inside the oyster along the inside of the top shell, scraping the adductor muscle off the top. Remove the top shell, kick out any shell particles you see, and then sever the bottom portion of the adductor muscle.
Be Safe Do not shuck the oyster while it's in your hand. Do not press too hard, this is about finesse not strength. As you shuck, be aware of where the knife is going to go if it slips (ideally, into the towel).
Think of it this way Shucking basically consists of two parts: first you get the knife in the oyster, and then you cut the oyster free from its shell.
Flip it? To be sure that you've fully released the oyster you can flip it over, a move that for some reason is known as the Philly Flip. Note that shucking snobs frown on the Philly Flip, and proceed accordingly.
Be wise Just like in life, if you find yourself working hard at something and not making any progress, take a step back and re-examine your method. It may be you need to change the angle of the oyster knife, or that your knife isn't in the right place. Either way, don't just press harder, because that's when you're more likely to injure yourself.
Success A well shucked oyster is one that's free of shell and undamaged. It's possible to shuck the oyster cleanly, we promise! (And if you do cut the oyster a little bit, just flip it over, nobody will notice.) Happy shucking!