Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shucking Oysters

Shucking oysters is easy but as everyone who's ever done it knows, it's a hassle, that's why there are oyster bars. Buying your own oysters is a lot cheaper, so it's worth doing when you have time to spend in the kitchen.

Everyone has their own way of opening an oyster. I learned mine many years ago when I was writing an article about Vietnamese fishermen on the Texas Gulf Coast. This was back in the late '70's when some Vietnamese had been given government grants to relocate along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. There was friction with the locals who didn't like the increased competition and the cultural differences. It's actually a fascinating story about "unintended consequences" after the Vietnam War....I'll save that for another time. The point is, I met a young fisherman, Bobby, who took me with him on his boat to go oystering. Part of my job was shucking the mountain of oysters we dredged up. He gave me the oyster knife I still use today. The knife's an old, misshapen thing. The blade's always coming out of the wooden handle. Every so often I'll buy a new knife, but the one Bobby gave me works the best because the blade is thin and sharp.

Using the point of the knife, place it under the "parrot's beak," the pointy part of the shell on the narrow end. Being careful not to break off the "beak," push the knife between the shells and pry them apart about a 1/4", then slide the knife around the side of the oyster so you can cut the muscle that holds onto the shell.

With the top shell removed, use the knife to cut off the muscle to release the oyster.

This is your first look at the oyster itself. Now you'll see whether or not your effort was worthwhile. The oyster's good if it's plump and creamy looking. If it's scrawny and gray, chuck it and move on.

Save the liquid inside the shell, the "nectar." If you're worried about sand and bits of shell, gently wash the oyster with water, then put the oyster back in its shell.

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