Shucking oysters at home doesn't have to be daunting! With the right tool, technique, a little practice, and an easy-peasy mignonette, you can serve up this rustic yet elegant delight anytime you fancy.
My love for fresh shucked oysters must be in my DNA. Growing up in the Seattle area, my Greek immigrant grandfather – my Papou – was a spice and coffee salesman and a well-known derby-winning salmon fisherman, who loved all things seafood. As the story goes, Papou would walk down the shore of Hood Canal and gather up a whole bucket of oysters. Then he’d sit down on the pebbly beach, shuck and eat them all right then and there in one sitting – until the seawater and bits of shell and sand were dripping down his chin and onto his chest! I think of that image every time I eat an oyster, of his relishing in this simple pleasure, and smile. To me, oysters taste like the sea – they taste like home.
Mostly, I’ve enjoyed fresh oysters out at restaurants – either outdoors with a glass of white wine by day, or at a bar having a martini before being seated for dinner at night – but it wasn’t until the pandemic shutdowns in 2020 that my husband and I decided to give shucking them at home a go. To refresh my memory, we watched a handful of videos including this one from Jaques Pepin sharing his method, and this cut-to-the-chase 60-second version focused on shucking from America’s Test Kitchen. Then we headed to our local Monterey Fish Market where we knew we could buy a proper shucking knife, and gather up a variety of uber-fresh oysters – Miyagi, Beausoleil, Kumamoto, Hog Island Sweetwaters – being some of my favorites. It is essential that you buy the oysters fresh from a reputable fish monger. If you don’t have one near you, considering ordering online from outfits like Hog Island Oyster Co. or consult this informative article from The Spruce Eats for others. Shucking takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it is rather satisfying to do yourself! My husband usually does the shucking, while I prepare the classic mignonette of just crushed peppercorns, good red wine vinegar, minced shallot and chives – I don’t want much else interfering with the luscious briny taste of the oyster – so for me, keeping the mignonette simple is key. Placed on a chilled platter with ice and lemon wedges, oysters are elegant and rustic at the same time – my favorite combination. I hope you’ll give it a try!
Fresh Shucked Oysters and Classic Mignonette
- oyster knife
- oyster glove or thick tea towel
- 12-18 fresh oysters a few varieties per person
- 1 tbsp shallot minced
- 3 tbsp red wine vinegar high quality recommended
- 1/2 tsp peppercorns crushed or coarsely ground
- 1 lemon cut into 4-6 wedges
- 2 tsp chives or parsley finely chopped
- 2 cups crushed iced for platter
- 1 handful seaweed or parsley on stems for garnish, optional
Prepare the oysters:
- Cover a platter with crushed ice. (Add seaweed or parsley for decoration if desired. Leave room for the small bowl of mignonette.)
- Rinse oysters and place in a shallow bowl.
- Put your oyster glove on your non-dominant hand OR position thick tea towel folded in thirds long ways on your work space, lay your fingers flat on one end, tuck your thumb under, and gather up the tea towel to protect your non-dominate thumb.
- Hold an oyster in the glove, or place the oyster on the towel against your protected thumb, with the flat side of the oyster up, cupped side down, and stick the knife into the hinge - the pointy end. Push in and wiggle then turn vertically and pop the shell open. (You may remove your hand from the towel if using, until the next one.) Discard flat top shell, wipe knife on towel.
- Release the muscle underneath the meat by running the knife along the bottom, keeping the juices in the shell. Place on platter, nestling them in the ice so they keep their juice, and repeat with the rest of the oysters.
Prepare the mignonette:
- Coarsely grind, or crush with the bottom of a pot, about 1/2 tsp peppercorns and put in a small decorative bowl with a little spoon.
- Stir in shallot, red wine vinegar and chives (or parsley). Stir with a little spoon and place on platter with oysters.
- Add lemon wedges to platter of oysters and mignonette and serve! (Once consumed, turn the shell cupped side up on the platter.) Enjoy!
- In transport, keep oysters on ice in a cooler or waterproof bag - but do not seal it, and do not submerge them in water. They like to be cold (35-45 degrees F) and they are alive so they need to breathe.
- Once home, refrigerate them in a shallow bowl, deep/rounded side facing down. Cover with clean wet kitchen towel. You can also keep them on ice in a strainer over a bigger bowl, so the water drains as it melts (and they do not end up submerged).
- Consume within 1-2 days of purchase.
- It is normal for the oysters to open a bit to breathe. Tap them and they should close back up tightly. If they don't, discard them, and any that have broken shells.