Shucked fresh oysters!
Oysters on the half shell is one of the all time most popular appetizers. Shucking skills do come with experience. I have personally shucked over 20,000 oysters during my career as a chef.
A cheap department store oyster shucking knife is a lousy tool to choose. The best oysters shucking knives can be found at restaurant supply stores. Honestly, Dexter Russell makes both the best oyster shucking knife and the best clam knife. The steel is high quality and I have never seen any Dexter Russell steel break, even at the busiest Florida seafood restaurants.
Oyster shucking is done on a sink area that has fresh cold water flowing. The Dexter Russell oyster knife has a white colored handle that is easy to see. The handle has a non-slip texture and the end of the handle is wide, so pressure can be applied from the palm of the hand. The best part about these shucking knives is the safety feature! Dexter Russell oyster knife handles are buoyant and the white handle can be seen floating in an oyster washing tub.
Oyster knifes that do not float, inevitably end up in sinks that are filled with muddy oyster water. Two hands are used to swoop mounds of oysters out of washing water, so an oyster knife that sinks to the bottom has a very good chance of stabbing straight through an oyster shucker's palm and end up sticking out of the back of the hand!
I have seen many hands pierced by oysters knives that did not float! A knife wound in muddy oyster water almost always means that the victim will be contaminated with some strain of hepatitis. An employee that comes down with seafood hepatitis, hepatitis A or hepatitis B, by law must be restricted from the workplace, till they are cured. A short handed crew in a busy seafood restaurant is never a good thing!
Protective gloves work to an extent, but sooner or later a few oysters require extra shucking pressure. That extra force applied is enough to drive an oyster knife through a protective glove. Shuckers that wear gloves, tend to get overconfident and they do not remember to press a stubborn oyster against a wooden block, when applying extra pressure with a shucking knife. Experienced pro oyster shuckers like myself tend to only use a folded wet towel in one hand to grip oyster shells. That way all stubborn oysters have to be held against a wood block while prying with the shucking knife. I have been scraped a few times, but I have never suffered a serious wound, while using the old fashioned gripping method.
Experience is the only way to develop the skill of reading where to place the shucking blade on the shell, before prying. A shucker knows where to pry when shells are soft and easily broken, just like knowing where to pry when oyster shells are hard as a rock. I personally go for the heel point of the shell and pry the upper shell from the lower shell, just enough to slide the shucking knife against the inside of the top shell to sever the attaching mussel. Then I break the top shell free by popping it off or twisting it off. The oyster is rinsed before severing the muscle that attaches the oyster to the bottom shell. That way the oyster is not washed out of the shell and down the drain of the sink!
When the bottom shell is ugly or bulky, then the oyster must be served on the top shell! Ugly shells and damaged shells make for ugly presentations.
Shucking oysters sounds easy right? Well, it is easy if you learn from a pro! After some experience, you will become what in Florida we call, "A Bad Ass Mother Shucker!"
These are the basic steps! Read the section above if you are in the dark about oyster shucking.
Blue Points and Virginia oysters are some of the best oysters to eat on the half shell. Apalachicola oysters are among the best. Do not choose oysters from regions that have pollution problems or recent oil contamination problems! By recent, that means within the last 20 years! That is a fair warning for those who prefer Gulf of Mexico oysters!
The object is to leave the meat totally undisturbed or undamaged when shucking. There is nothing better than a good shucking knife for oysters.
Always pry the oyster at the heel of the shell to get it to open slightly.
Glide the shucking knife against the top shell as a guide for the knife to cut the muscle that attaches the meat to the shell.
Remove the smaller top shell first.
Rinse the oyster with cold running water.
Sever the muscle under the oyster meat from the larger bottom shell.
In this blog picture are six perfectly shucked oysters with absolutely no damage. That is the objective to seek!
Always shuck oysters to order. Shucking oysters ahead of time causes drying and possible bacterial contamination.
Note: Pro chefs and restaurants, by law must save shellfish ID tags for 6 months.
Thai Lemon Fish Sauce:
This sauce is simply bottles Thai Fish Sauce with lemon juice and lemon zest. The sauce is like a Japanese Ponzu in a way, but there is much more satisfying umami flavor.
Place 1 ounce of Thai fish sauce in a ramekin.
Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
Add 1 tablespoon of water.
Add 1 teaspoon of simple syrup made from palm sugar or regular sugar.
Stir the ingredients together.
Add long thin strand of lemon zest as a garnish.
Oysters on the half shell with Thai Lemon Fish Sauce:
Place a bed of dandelion greens on a plate.
Place the ramekin of Thai Lemon Fish Sauce on the center of the plate.
Arrange each oyster on the plate and tuck a small lemon wedge under the edge of each oyster, so the oyster does not rock or tip.
I should have given shucking lessons to the last restaurant that I ordered oysters at in Chicago. The oysters were shucked ahead of time, they were damaged and getting old from sitting in open air in a refrigerator. The chef at the over rated restaurant really missed the boat when it came to his fresh seafood training!
The hostess asked if I was "overjoyed" with how great the food was. I told her the truth. The over priced oysters were terrible!
I was disappointed with the quality of the food, considering the place was a recommended Chicago fine dining restaurant. The duck liver mousse that I had was very bland and it tasted only tasted like whipped lard.
The hostess proceeded to argue with me, as a customer. That is a big "no no" in the restaurant business! Especially when considering that I was a culinary arts instructor and a 20 plus year chef. The customer is always right!
Anyway, the oysters at that Chicago restaurant were not good and there was no good reason for me to write a favorable review of that restaurant in this blog. At least in Las Vegas, oysters are perfection shucked to order, even at a buffet. Las Vegas has the strictest shellfish regulations in the country.
Florida is where I learned my seafood handling skills. Take pride in a perfect shucked oyster! Its not an easy accomplishment. When an oyster is torn while shucking, the juices all escape and the oyster looks like a mess. Practice, makes the perfect shucked oyster!
Sometimes you are rewarded with a natural pearl while shucking too! Natural pearl must be removed before serving the oyster. Finders keepers!
Choose fresh, unopened, good smelling oysters. If the shell smells bad then the oyster is not far behind. Bad raw oysters can cause illness, so use good judgement.
Raw oysters! Yum! ... Shawna