How To Open An Oyster 2.0

I feel as being a "food blog," my site is outstandingly poor when it comes to photography, especially considering how photogenic a perfectly shucked Oyster truly is. To shuck an Oyster is easy; to do it well is another story. Trying to convey this in words is difficult. Enter A.Rizzi of Global Eats, savvy photo food-porn veteran.

We planned this on a whim. "Shit, why don't we break down properly opening an 4505 Meats does with butchery." This book really was the muse for this idea. So, we found ourselves creating an ad hoc photo set and shucking Oysters at 11 p.m. on a school night. Hopefully, a picture says a thousand words.

To begin, which knife to use? I first learned how to shuck Oysters with the curved-tip Virginia style knife. However, once I started using the Boston style, I never looked back.

It really is the most versatile shucker. Certain knives have their niches like the Galveston shucker with big Gulf Oysters or the French style with European Flats, but the Massachusetts knife can tackle everything from dime-sized Olympias to mammoth Fanny Bays. If you're in the market, I recommend the pictured above Dexter-Russell 4-Inch Blade.

Now, what to do with your newly purchased knife?

First, I cannot stress the importance of a protective glove or at least a towel enough. DO NOT shuck an Oyster unprotected like I am in the picture. The bare hand approach was purely for the aesthetics. Having done it quite a few times, trust me when I tell you that an Oyster shucking wound is not fun to deal with. So be safe. I'm sure all Moms would agree.

1. Every Oyster has a flat side and a cup side. Place the cup side in the firm of your palm with bill (mouth) facing outward. The hinge (backside of the Oyster) should be facing towards you. This is where you will place the knife.

2. Affectionately known as the "lollipop-method," you want to insert your knife into the hinge until the knife can support the weight of the Oyster on its own. Thus, it looks like a Tootsie Pop when held vertically. The hinge is actually a ligament that you are puncturing. Make sure that your knife is firmly set in this position before moving on.

3. If you succeeded in step 2, then step 3 should be easy. It's a simple twist of the wrist. Like turning a doorknob, gently rotate the knife sideways until you hear a pop. Now remove the knife and clean off any excess shell or debris.

4. This is the most difficult part. "A perfectly shucked Oyster looks like one that has never been touched by a knife." This is the step where that is determined. If you're right handed and your knife was at 12 o'clock when entering the hinge, now turn it to 9 o'clock. Hold the Oyster up to eye level so you can see inside. The goal is to peel away with Oyster's partially attached mantle from the top shell without cutting it. "Shave" the top shell until you've reached the adductor muscle on the upper right side. Again, shave this muscle away and remove the top shell.

5. The same adductor muscle you just cut from the top shell is attached to the bottom shell, as well. Insert your knife at 2 o'clock on the Oyster to separate the bottom muscle with a quick shave, flush to the bottom shell. This provides easy slurping for the consumer. In Europe, due to Oyster fraud, the bottom adductor sometimes comes attached. This is to ensure you're not receiving a fraudulent Oyster placed in a familiar shell. However, in the States, a bottom attached adductor is highly frowned upon. Nobody wants to attempt an Oyster-slurp and come up empty handed.  It's quite embarrassing when a guest has to start prying, forking, or even tonguing to get an Oyster out of its shell while the precious liquor is spilling.

6. The result: a perfectly shucked Oyster. No scars, no bruises, no nonsense. You may hear that "flipping" an Oyster is the proper approach at this point. I staunchly say no.  If the idea is to present a Oyster as it truly is in the shell, then why Alice-in-Wonderland-it by flipping. You can always tell an Oyster has been flipped if the adductor muscle is on the left side of the shell (bill away from you).  Most commonly, the shucker flips to hide some sort of damage on the top side of the Oyster.  I've certainly done it, but in my opinion, it's amateur, at best.

Quick note, the Oyster pictured is a Rocky Nook from Kingston Bay, Massachusetts. Beautifully briny up front (not as strong as a Chatham or Orleans Oyster), creamier than your average Cape Cod style, and an incredible shellfish/lobster stock finish.

Paying homage to Global Eats, Stay Bi(valve) Curious.

The SF Oyster Nerd


  1. The tsunami that followed the March 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan apparently devastated a major part of the Japanese oyster industry. See the article in the "Christian Science Monitor":

    SF Oyster Nerd, do you know how important the Japanese oyster industry is for North American producers? I read somewhere that as late as the 1950s, the Drake's Bay oyster operation used to import seedling oysters from Japan. I assume that Japan was/is a vital center of the worldwide oyster industry. Let's hope and pray that the oyster tradition in Japan will survive this adversity.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jason. It's quite a sad situation in Japan right now and my thoughts go out to all people affected by the quake, Fukushima incident, and tsunami.

      The Japanese importation of oysters and larvae was very important to the US Pacific industry in the early 20th century, as you said. Drakes Bay even took their style of farming (long-line) from the Japanese model. Currently, beyond canned oysters, I don't believe Japanese oysters make it to our shores much. It's illegal to import live oysters to the U.S. from anywhere other than Mexico, Canada, and Australia and New Zealand. I'm unsure if this applies to oyster larvae, though. Most farms get their larvae from US or Canadian operations now-a-days.

      However, with the exception of the native olympia and the occasional virginica, every single oyster grown on the Pacific US coast is a Japanese species, either sikamea (kumamoto) or gigas (standard pacific). They were imported here for consumption and planting around a century ago, and have simply taken hold. Certainly without these species, the Pacific US oyster industry would not be in existence.

      Let's all hope that Japan fully recovers from this horrible tragedy, and that all the fishermen and oystermen get the support they need to get back on the seas.