Shuck Oyster Bar
Put thirty people in a room, ask them what is on their bucket list and you will likely get thirty different answers, each response backed by personal reason and a reasonable purpose. I continue to experience a life well lived, and peace and tranquility suit my needs more than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, but oddly enough my bucket list involves just that, a bucket. Seafood has been a significant part of my diet, probably a result of having lived near the ocean all my life. As much as I love sushi, ceviche and most raw fish, the first time I tried oysters, I was not a fan. As time went by, and after a few visits to New Orleans, I began eating the mollusks by the dozens. Along with a new found favorite food, my constant search for new dishes to make and any excuse to buy new kitchen gadgets, I decided to master shucking at home. The goal; I could have my fill of baked, chargrilled or just raw, chilled oysters with a simple mignonette any day or night of the week. I’m pretty handy around the kitchen and have a beautiful collection of knives, but watching raw bar chefs shuck by the bucketful was something I never attempted, therefore, a great thing to add to my bucket list.
“The goal is for the fish to be no more than one day out of harvest to be optimal for ocean-to-table dining.”
Sonny Nhoung, the manager at Shuck Oyster Bar in Costa Mesa was kind enough to educate me on the do’s, don’ts and whys of oyster shucking. Before my hands-on lesson, I learned about the multitude of different types of oysters Shuck brings to their customers. There are an impressive thirty variations of oysters per day coming from upwards of 300 locations per year, with an average of four deliveries per day. The goal is for the fish to be no more than one day out of harvest to be optimal for ocean-to-table dining.
Sonny educated me on the basics including the meat to shell ratio, that oyster meat should be visually plump and opaque, and that the shell should not be dense and never should it crumble in one’s hand. We chatted and then got down to business.
The team at Shuck Oyster Bar doesn’t use chain metal gloves; they wear latex kitchen gloves to protect their hands from the salt water and use a simple oyster shucker and a small terry cloth towel to prop the oyster to prevent it from moving about and risking cutting the fish or oneself. Keeping one’s fingers intact is a huge, and much-appreciated priority. He shucked, and then I shucked. The first few were challenging and frustrating, but in the end, I was successful and, no fish or fingers were damaged during the time I spent behind the counter.
There is a reason shucking doesn’t look easy; it isn’t easy. There is a definite learning curve and a delicate process of entering the shell and removing the meat without cutting the oyster, or your hand. Breaking into the shell to get to the meat requires a firm, steady hand as well as the right supplies, which are readily available online or at most kitchen or restaurant supply stores. Gloves of some sort are a must, and although I didn’t wear anything heavy-duty this week, I think until I truly master the technique, I will opt for a thicker glove. After breaking into the oyster, the finesse continues as you have to slice along both the top and bottom of the shell to loosen the meat, and check for and dispose of any debris that may have been floating in water in the shell. Once this is done, the oyster on the half shell is placed on ice to stay cold and the process is repeated until the entire order is filled, which seems to take much longer than it does to consume the fruits of your labor.
The options on how to eat and order oysters are endless, from raw with a squeeze of lemon, spicy cocktail sauce or a pickled mignonette, to breaded and deep-fried, to chargrilled with butter and parmesan. And, of course, the classic century-old Oysters Rockefeller dish, baked with spinach, onions, parsley, garlic, spices, butter and breadcrumbs.
If purchasing oysters to shuck at home, make sure to get them as fresh as possible from a reputable fish market or seafood restaurant. Or keep it easy and pull up a seat at your favorite raw bar and let the experienced chefs serve you. Will I be running out and shucking oysters anytime soon? Maybe. Am I glad I learned how? Definitely. My bucket list has another check mark in front of it, and that is something that continues to make this fantastic life worth living.
Shuckin’ Oysters in 3 Easy Steps
- Grip the oyster firmly in a clean terry cloth towel and insert a knife into the hinged edge. Twist to open the shell.
- Run the knife along the inside of the top shell, cutting the muscle that attaches the oyster to the shell.
- Lift off the top shell, then slide the knife under the oyster to cut the second muscle.
Can You Name All Five Species of Oysters?
- Pacific Oysters or Japanese Oysters
- Kumamoto Oysters
- European Flat Oysters
- Atlantic Oysters
- Olympia Oysters
Our Picks For The Best Oyster Knives
- R.Murphy Knives, Daramiscotta Oyster Knife, $37
- Dexter’s Sani-Safe Oyster Knife, $16.50
- Victorinox New Haven Style Oyster Knife, $12.21
- Oxo Good Grips Oyster Knife, $8.99
Article by Marla Lackey for Sauté Magazine. Photography by Joan Fuller Photography. Read the original article here.