Food | November 2015
How to Shuck an Oyster
Tips for tackling the tricky oyster
Story by Christina Morgan | Photos by Casey Hilder
Think shucking oysters is a labor-intensive experience best left to culinary professionals? With instructions and tips from Donald “Bama” Matthews, head chef and kitchen manager at The Boiling Point Seafood & Oyster Restaurant in Southaven, you’ll be shucking on your own in no time.
Though it’s easy for him now, Matthews wasn’t always an expert shucker. He first got hands-on experience with oysters more than 30 years ago in an Alabama restaurant. “I had a guy who taught me,” he says. “Once he showed me, I caught on real fast. I could do it with my eyes closed now.” To begin, Matthews stresses the importance of wearing a metal glove prior to handling the oysters.Stone shaped, oysters come in various sizes, though most can be easily cupped in a palm of a hand. The shell’s jagged, and sometimes sharp, edges are capable of cutting through skin.
Therefore, holding the oyster with the metal glove is key. Also, always inspect the oyster to ensure it is fully closed. Tightly shut shells indicate the oyster is alive inside, which is necessary for consumption. Open shells signify the oyster is dead and no longer edible.
Cleaning the oysters is a multi-step and important process. “We rinse them three times before we sell them,” Matthews explains. With cold water, first clean the outer shell thoroughly to remove grit and sand. Then, after opening the shell, let the cold water wash over the insides. Lastly, spritz salt water atop the oyster before serving.Shucking the oyster occurs during cleaning, once the outer shell is free of debris. While some shuckers may use other types of knives, Matthews prefers a putty knife. Boiling Point co-owner Darrell Clements encourages this. “You want something a little dull because people are bad to cut themselves.” Shucking more than 60 oysters in roughly 20 minutes, Matthews explains what novices should look for in order to open the shell. “The back is raised up and the front end will be slightly open. That’s good, that’s what you want. It looks almost like a mouth or a beak.” Stick the putty knife into the front end opening of the oyster and flip up while twisting the wrist. “Turn it like you would turn a key lock,” Matthews continues. There will be a slight pop as the shell comes apart. From there, work the putty knife around the shell to loosen it entirely. Clements adds, “The ones you can hardly open, you don’t want to use. It’s not worth it.”Once the oyster is open, rinse again with water. Discard the back side of the shell, which will be the side with the thinner membrane. “The thicker the meat, the better tasting,” Matthews notes. He will also leave the oyster attached to its shell. “This tells the patron it’s a true fresh oyster.”
Co-owner Mario Alfonso says it is vital to keep oysters stored in a cool area. “After they’re shucked, we store them in a single row on ice and keep them below 41 degrees.” Alfonso notes serving raw oysters on ice has two purposes — keeping them cool, while also preventing them from sliding.
Rock salt can be used as a bed for char-grilled and baked oysters. Clements adds that shucked oysters can be stored in a cooler up to three days. Be careful not to freeze them, he warns.Receiving oysters from the Gulf of Mexico out of Louisiana, The Boiling Point serves oysters raw on the half shell, baked including the popular Rockefeller version, char-grilled and fried. Baked and char-grilled oysters can be served multiple ways with various toppings or sauces, such as bienville or parmesan garlic. “Everyone has their own way of eating them,” Clements describes. For example, Matthews prefers them baked with lump crab stuffing atop with fresh rémoulade, known as the St. Charles. Whereas Clements opts for a freshly shucked platter, with a squeeze of lemon and a combination of cocktail sauce and horseradish nearby for dunking and salt, Tabasco sauce and soda crackers alongside to finish off the one-bite process. “Sam Dye, the former mayor of Horn Lake, taught me how to eat them at an Ole Miss Football game when I was in my late 20s.” Or there’s always Alfonso’s way — not at all.