The shellfishermen and women in the OysterFest shucking competition can turn out 24 perfect oysters on the half-shell in just a couple of minutes. They sure do make shucking look easy! And while it’s not all that hard, it does take a lot of experience to get really fast. It helps to have a decent oyster knife and to open the oysters thoughtfully and carefully, keeping in mind that you are using leverage, not force, to open the shells. We think the instructions in Jasper White’s Cooking from New England are really helpful for beginners, and with his permission, we’re including them here:
At least one hour before opening, scrub the oysters under cold running water. Place them flat on a pan in the refrigerator, allowing them to relax. Remember, they are living creatures; too much shaking or handling will make them tense and harder to open.
Hold the oyster, flat side up, in a cloth or towel, pressed firmly against the work surface. Do not try to open an oyster in midair as you would a clam. Keep your hand out of the area where the knife could slip: I have seen an oyster knife go right through the palm of a hand.
Place the tip of the knife in the Achilles heel [the hinge] and turn your hand as if you were turning the throttle of a motorcycle, pushing in with steady pressure until you feel the snap. Now give a full twist to make enough of an opening to slide the knife along the top of the shell, cutting the muscle. The top of the shell is now off and all that is left to do is cut the bottom muscle. Keep the oyster level at all times, so as not to lose any of the juice. Always serve on crushed ice, which holds the oyster level and keeps it cold.
From Jasper White’s Cooking from New England (illustration by Stephen Schindler). Reprinted with permission from Biscuit Books. Copyright 1998 by Jasper White.