How (and When) to Shuck an Oyster, Illustrated by Bowsprite
by Owen James Burke
Illustrated by Scuttlefish friend Bowsprite
Firstly, you’ll want a good shucking tool. If you find yourself under-equipped and stubborn like me, you’ll learn your lesson after putting a few kitchen knives into your palm.
Find yourself a GOOD shucking tool, as Bowsprite says, and when it starts to chip or rust, get a new one. They’re cheap, and if you’re going to be eating oysters, keeping a good tool will most certainly save you one or two trips to the E.R. throughout your lifetime. Illustrated by Bowsprite
Next, find the hinge, pointy end, or “umbo,” and insert the edge of your shucking tool between the shells. Once you’re in, say 1/8-1/4″, depending on the size of the oyster, turn the knife 90° until you pop the adductor muscle, which holds the whole kit together.
Illustrated by Bowsprite
Finally, before you slurp up the contents of the craggy little bivalve, it comes down to personal discretion as to whether or not you want to dump out the briny fluids sometimes referred to as the “elixir.” But if you ask me, I’ll gently iterate that it would be sacrilege, and anyone that would choose to dispose of that heavenly, briny elixir is utterly deluded and should probably be gored with their shucking tool.
When Is Oyster Season? It’s Always Oyster Season.
An old saying is that oysters should only be eaten during months whose names contain an “r” — in other words, all months excluding spring and summer. Generally, that’s not a bad rule of thumb, but the real idea behind that is not so much the seasons as the temperatures. When waters begin to warm, oysters spawn, becoming watery and losing some of their flavor. This is also hypothetically (and mythically) a time, depending on your proximity to nitrate or phosphate-rich pollution and runoff, when toxins and various bacteria become more present and pose more of a threat to the oyster beds. That said though, they can always be eaten, they just might not taste quite as good as they do in pre- or post- spawning months.
In New England, oysters are at their prime beginning in September and running through winter, while along the eastern shore, oysters are best starting in October and into spring (depending on how close you are to the Gulf Stream, which pumps in warmer water and initiates spawning earlier).
In the Gulf of Mexico, the season is significantly shorter, and oysters are at their best during winter months.
The Pacific oyster is the exception, and really has no off season. Pacific oysters are hybridized and maid to spawn more lightly, so it’s difficult to taste the difference between oysters that are spawning and those that are not. But, for those that are not hybridized, like some from Japan and others from the east coast, the discerning palate may prefer to go by the traditional “r” rule.
Read more over at Bowsprite — OJB