Oysters are beloved by people all over the world. A sustainable and highly nutritional food choice, oysters are excellent sources of protein, low in fat, calories and cholesterol, and loaded with heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The crave-worthy bivalves comes in countless varieties, sizes and flavor profiles to suit all tastes. We offer a few varieties in our San Diego fish market and online store, including the Baja Nautilus – a full-bodied, briny oyster farmed in San Quintín on the west coast of Baja.
No matter the type, eating oysters is the easy part. The hard part for most people is getting them open! Allow us to assist with the following step-by-step. (Be sure to also check out the video at the end of this post!)
In order to shuck an oyster, you will need an oyster knife and a thick towel. Because opening an oyster can require a good deal of pressure, you may also want to wear a heavy-duty work glove on the hand holding the oyster.
Before you get to shucking, it’s important to understand the anatomy of an oyster. The cup is the domed outer side of the oyster shell and the lid is its flat side. Typically you open an oyster from the back hinge. Also keep in mind that oyster shells are brittle and splinter easily; if the shell splinters and the knife isn’t angled so that is pointing down toward the cutting board, you could easily lose control of the knife.
- Treating the oyster gently, place it cup side down on a towel on a hard, flat surface.
- Fold the towel over the oyster so that the back hinge sticks out of the towel.
- Secure the oyster in the towel with firm pressure, as you place the tip of the knife on either side of the hinge.
- Using equally firm pressure on the knife, push into the hinge and then twist to pry the shell open.
- Once you have popped the hinge, pry the lid open wide by inserting your thumb underneath it.
- With your thumb in place, gently slide the tip of the knife inside the oyster. Keep the tip of the knife slanted upwards and slide it along the roof of the oyster until it reaches the muscle that connects the two shells. Slice through that connective muscle, cutting it from the top of the shell without piercing the oyster itself.
- Once the connective muscle has been cut, lift off the top lid to expose the oyster.
- To dislodge the oyster from its cup, slip the tip of your oyster knife underneath the oyster meat into the muscle where it’s attached to the cup and slice through it.
Time to eat
Once you have dislodged the oyster from its shell, you are ready to serve or cook it. The meat of the oyster should appear plump, translucent and somewhat shiny. It should be surrounded by clear or somewhat cloudy natural juice, known as liquor, which should smell like fresh seawater.
Because oyster shells are fragile, you will often notice small flakes and shell fragments that broke off during shucking. Simply scrape them away without piercing the oyster. If you end up getting a little bit in your mouth, that’s okay. Just pick it out like you would a piece of cork from a glass of wine.
For all you visual learners out there, here’s an oyster shucking tutorial featuring our fishmonger Tommy Gomes and good friend, Chef Kat Humphus. Kat is the owner of the online classroom, Kat’s Kitchen Collective, and Savory Made Simple, a local meal delivery service. Before launching her current businesses, the Le Cordon Bleu graduate worked at acclaimed restaurants wd-50 and The French Laundry, ran her own catering company, and most recently was executive chef at San Diego’s BO-Beau.