Awe, Shucks! This Oyster Won’t Open!

by EmilyWilson

In honor of Valentine’s day, I did another recipe that I realize won’t satisfy an everyday dinner fix, but hey, we all need to indulge once in awhile, right? Fried Oysters with Basil Remoulade are really quite simple and they can wow a crowd, or ignite an intimate dinner for two. Either way, they are deee-lish! PIN US!


The hardest part about oysters, really, is shucking the little buggers. I’ll be totally honest with you here – it’s kind of a pain in the arse, if you ask me. Sure, if I shucked oysters on a regular basis, I could do it with ease. It’s not impossible. But since I don’t do it very often, it can feel a little tricky. I just want to be honest, otherwise, you won’t ever trust anything I say, right? So, there you have it.

That’s not to say you should be discouraged, only prepared that you might not pop into each shell with total ease and finesse. As long as you’re mentally prepared for a little struggle, you’ll do just fine.

First things first – you need an oyster knife. Don’t be fooled by the word “knife”. This is not a knife in the traditional sense. It has a dull, pointed, angular metal thing jutting from a handle, yes, but in no way is there a blade that is meant to cut things. In other words, the paring knife (or butter knife) you already have on hand will not suffice. In fact, those would be dangerous substitutes. So, invest in an oyster knife. Most likely, they sell them wherever you are buying your oysters for about $12-$16.

Second, you need a clean kitchen towel. You are going to use the towel as both a guard for your hand and a stabilizer for the oyster all at the same time. See:

towel position

NOTE: If you’ve never shucked an oyster before, you may want to consider wearing heavy gloves too. Sometimes, the blade can slip and give you a bit of a stab, so it can’t hurt to add a little extra protection.

The part of the oyster sticking out from the towel is the hinge, which is where you will gain access. It’s fairly intuitive on most oysters where this hinge is, so for lack of a more sophisticated description I’ll just say it’s usually the pointy end.

Oysters come in many shapes and sizes, literally, and each variety tastes differently too. Chat up your fish person to find out what he recommends based on season and origin. Make sure all the shells close tightly before buying. I prefer smaller oysters, but don’t be fooled because the size of the shell does not always indicate the size of what’s inside. I used Kumamotos (Pacific) and Malpeques (Atlantic). See the difference in shells? The oysters inside were pretty much the same size.

two variety of oysters

So, first you want to wedge the tip of the oyster knife into the hinge. Press firmly, but don’t jab or stab. As you press, start to wiggle the knife a little bit. As the blade starts to find it’s way into the hinge a little more, twist the knife more assertively until you hear the shell pop. It’s really the wiggle that’s gonna get in between the shell, more so than the jab, so less push and more twist. Got it? Again, be mindful of your other hand. Don’t be so assertive that the knife goes sailing into it.

Once the top pops free, keep the knife inside the oyster. Run it along the underside of the top shell. There is an abductor muscle that keeps the shell closed, so you need to sever this attachment. Once the knife goes cleanly through, the top shell will lift off easily. Wipe the knife on the towel to clean off any shell fragments, then use the knife to scoop under the oyster to release it from the bottom shell.

Normally, I would not suggest rinsing the oysters because you don’t want to wash away all that delicious salt water brine that’s captured in the shell with them. However, since we are breading these, I find it best to gently rinse an oyster that you think may have gotten a lot of shell pieces mixed in. So, use your judgement, and rinse sparingly. Then, set the oyster on a plate of paper towel and proceed with the remaining oysters.

Once all the oysters are shucked, continue with the breading procedure as outlined in the recipe. If you are planning these for a dinner party, feel free to bread them about an hour before, then keep chilled in the refrigerator before frying.

breading set up

Oh, and back to that point about the shells not being indicative of the true size, see the difference below. The smaller-shell Kumamotos are on the left and the larger-shell Malpeques are on the right.

breaded oyster

Lastly, clean out the bottom, or cup, shells for serving. They look so nice served in their own little vessel!

Since you’ve read this far, I feel it only fair to share one last tip. I purposely saved this one for the very end, but if this process seems way too daunting and you just have too much else to do for this festive occasion you must be planning, I know some stores, such as Whole Foods, will shuck the oysters for you. They will package the oysters in the brine and give you the shells to take with you too. Truly, that is a great time saver. But for this option, purchase the oysters the day you intend to cook them. They just aren’t meant to survive outside their shells.

Happy Shucking!


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