Thursday, January 12, 2012

Oyster Notes

Nothing works to cheer you up on this deplorably rainy day like having oysters for lunch.  To add to the excitement, I decided to shuck them myself for the first time in my life. I can now proudly say that I can shuck oysters. It was a bit tricky at first, but on my third oyster, I finally got a hang of it (at least I thought I did until I switched oyster types). Here are the oysters that I tried:

Duxbury -- sweet and briny, very easy to open
Wellfleet -- very briny, a bit harder to open
Blue Point -- moderately briny, very hard to open

I splurged on an oyster knife from Captain Marden's in Wellesley (where I picked up the oysters). They had some for $9 and some for $15. I asked the fishmonger about the difference. He said that the $15 one is harder and won't bend (he opens 300 oysters a week and he only broke it once). After trying to open a dozen oysters, I am glad I got the better knife. Oysters a freaking hard and stubborn!

To rinse or not to rinse
Oyster purists think it's criminal to rinse an oyster to get rid of grit. I am in no rinse camp for almost everything (chicken, beef, pork, fish, etc), but I really hate grit.  As it turns out, the oyster is a bottomless pit of briny liquor, so if you since it and let it sit for 5 minutes, the shell will fill back up with all that yummy brininess.  I am not sure if what I did was "correct," but it seemed to work without any negative side effects.

Very little grit -- try wiping it off with your finger.
Moderate amount of grit  -- pull the oyster to the side of the shell and pour off the liquor.  It will refill itself in 5 minutes.
Lots of grit -- rinse the oyster and shell (it seems easier to do before cutting the oyster off the bottom shell to avoid dropping it into the sink).  Put the oyster back in the shell.  It will refill itself in 5 minutes.

Here is a video of Rich Vellante from Legal Seafoods showing you how to open an oyster.  I must have watched at least 5 and found this one to be the most useful.


Kari said...

Helen, I'm shocked that you've never shucked! :)

I'm a fishmonger and that's a decent video but IMO, that fingerless glove is kind of a joke. I do recommend a towel, but I've still injured fingertips using that method. This is a really great video by Chef Becky Selengut:

When you talk about rinsing do you mean before or after shucking? I always rinse the shell under cold running water (before shucking) with a vegetable brush if it's really muddy. This doesn't seem to affect the amount of liquor since the creature is not submerged.

Also, the best thing about a "Blue Point" oyster is the name. They have pretty much become the generic East Coast oyster. Wellfleets on the other hand, yum! If you can get Barnstables, they're another nice one from the Cape.

Helen said...

Hi Kari,

I love the video! Thank you so much for such a great resource. I used the towel on the counter technique, not the glove. About rinsing. I don't think there is any controversy over scrubbing the shell really well before shucking. The controversy is over rinsing the oyster after shucking or pouring off the first liquor to get rid of grit. Even James Peterson recommends in Fish and Shellfish book to rinse if necessary. I found that I rarely had to rinse (only one very gritty oyster), but I did often pour off the liquor and let the shell fill up again.

Of course, I am a complete oyster beginner, so take everything I say with a big grain of salt. I didn't like them until about a year ago, and even now no one in my family likes them but me. But I'll try to practice more when I am home by myself on weekdays.

Do you have any safety tips besides the towel and using a less pointy knife?

Kari said...

I use the same knife with the white handle that the guy uses in the Legal Seafoods video. You can get them at any restaurant supply. I also like the one with the wooden handle in Becky's video. I can see in theory that a pointy knife would be easier to break into the hinge but it scares me to death!

As for more safety tips, bunch up the towel so that the fingers on your gripping hand aren't exposed. The only injuries I've sustained are to the tips of my thumb or forefinger when the knife slipped. Also, if you plan to cook the oysters, e.g., for Oysters Rockefeller, don't shuck them with a knife. Use heat - grill, oven or steam.

Helen said...

Thanks Kari! By the way, where are you a fishmonger?

Anonymous said...

As an oyster inept, I swear by the Julia Child method. She advocated using a beer can opener (aka church key), wedging the point in at the hinge and prying. That works to separate the shells enough so that a standard thin paring knife can be introduced to separate the oyster from its house, freeing the shell the rest of the way so that it opens. It's in some of her books and vids.

Kari said...

Another good video from America's Test Kitchen:
I like how he holds the towel - clever!

Helen said...

Hi Kari,

This one beats them all! Thank you :) Just posted it on my facebook page.