We’ve been gearing up at Southern Season to celebrate National Oysters on the Half Shell Day on March 31. There’s just one problem: Not all of us know how to shuck an oyster.
We asked Chef Ricky Moore of Durham, North Carolina’s acclaimed Saltbox Seafood Joint to show us – and you – how to shuck oysters like a boss.
“It’s not that hard,” says Moore, who grew up enjoying fresh seafood in coastal New Bern, North Carolina. “The most important thing is to buy the freshest local oysters you can find. Once you find an oyster knife that feels good in your hands, and you learn how to pry open its hinge, you’ll be good to go.”
Moore appreciated the heft and elegance of shucking tools produced by Carolina Shuckers. Each tool is hand-forged by North Carolina artisans Kirk Davis and Michael Waller.
“A good oyster knife is engineered to open a shell like a can opener,” says Moore, who will teach a Chef Meets Farmer class on cooking fresh catch with Locals Seafood on May 16 at the Cooking School in Chapel Hill. “You could shuck oysters all day long with one of these.”
While a heavy glove can protect your hands from injury, Moore prefers to grasp a closed oyster between folds of dishtowel. Be sure to have plenty on hand as they’ll get wet and dirty.
Set the oyster down on the dishtowel with the rounded side up. The indented, hinged side should be facing you. Secure the oyster in place by folding the towel over the shell and pressing down. Poke the point of your oyster knife into hinge, pressing just enough to slide in about ½-inch of the tip. Grasp the knife firmly and twist the handle a quarter-turn until you hear a pop.
“The goal is to keep all that oyster liquor inside the shell,” Moore says as he pulls back the dishtowel and gently pries open the oyster, revealing a plump mollusk surrounded by ocean-fresh brine. Moore uses the oyster knife to scoop under the oyster, releasing it from the shell. If necessary, use the tip of the knife to remove any dirt or shell fragments.
“Next, you want to eat it,” he says with a grin, tipping the shell to his lips as the oyster slid into his mouth. “That’s all there is to it. Just keep repeating until they’re all gone.”
While the oysters were outstanding as is, Moore also suggests trying them with a great hot sauce – like bourbon barrel-aged Red Clay from Charleston – or making a simple mignonette. Once you’ve made the recipe below, feel free to tweak it with different acids (maybe a champagne or sherry vinegar) or substitute the parsley for cilantro or other fresh green.
“For me, the mignonette needs to be a pourable mass; not quite a paste, but you want to drizzle it on and let the oyster liquor loosen it up,” he says. “It brings a fresh flavor that pairs beautifully with the oyster.”
Ricky Moore’s Mignonette
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or a favorite vinegar)
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1½ tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced chives
Freshly grated black pepper
Blend all ingredients in a small bowl until well combined, then drizzle over raw oysters.
If the oyster liquor is not salty enough for your taste, add a pinch of sea salt to the mignonette.
Note: As with any raw food, there is some risk associated with consuming raw oysters. Purchase oysters from a reliable seller and avoid consuming them raw if you have a chronic illness.