How to Shuck and Cook Oysters
It’s hard to beat the purity and delicacy of oysters on the half-shell, especially with a classic pairing of Muscadet, Chablis, Champagne or Assyrtiko. However, they do gain a heartiness and complexity when cooked. And, even better, these indulgent, show-stopping dishes are easy to make and pair well with a wide range of wines. Happy shucking!
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Courtesy Jimmy Papadopoulos, chef/partner, Bellemore, Chicago
Putting delicate oysters in the blender might make you flinch, until you taste this luscious, decadent sauce. Nutty buckwheat pasta adds another layer of complexity.
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- ¾ cup dry vermouth
- ½ cup Sauvignon Blanc, or other dry, unoaked white wine
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 24 Beausoleil oysters, shucked, liquor reserved
- 1 pound buckwheat or whole wheat capellini
- ¼ cup chives, minced
- 1 lemon
- 2 ounces caviar, preferably Osetra, for garnish
Combine shallot, garlic, vermouth and wine in saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to boil, and cook until reduced by 75% and syrupy. Add cream, milk and reserved oyster liquor. Reduce by about half, or until it has consistency of heavy cream. Add 12 oysters. Remove from heat, cover pan, and steep for 20 minutes. Transfer to blender and purée. Add salt to taste, then pass through fine strainer into large sauté pan.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water. Drain pasta, and add to pan with sauce. Turn heat to medium, and toss pasta to coat. Thin sauce with pasta water, if desired. Squeeze lemon over pasta, to taste. Divide pasta among four bowls. Garnish with chives, remaining oysters and caviar. The heat from pasta will warm oysters through. Serves 4.
Jerome Noel, wine director at Bellemore, recommends Etna Bianco, from Sicily. “While the warm Mediterranean climate brings bright ripe stone and orchard fruit, the vineyards’ elevation and poor volcanic soils bring balance, brightness and an almost sea-salty brininess that match perfectly with the oysters and caviar.”
Don’t be intimidated: It’s all in the wrist, and practice makes perfect. Buy a few extra oysters to hone your technique. All you need is a shucking knife and a dish towel.
1. Scrub the oysters well before you shuck.
2. Fold the dish towel and place it over your nondominant hand. Hold the oyster, cupped-side-down, with the towel to make sure your hand is protected from any errant knife jabs. You can also hold the oyster against a countertop, if you find it’s easier to maneuver.
3. With the tip of the knife, find an opening near the hinge where you can wiggle it between the top and bottom shells. Use a back-and-forth twisting motion with your wrist, rather than poking. As the knife goes in, use a stronger twisting motion to pop the shells apart.
4. Wipe the knife clean, then cut the oyster from the top and bottom shells. Try to keep the oyster upright to avoid losing its liquid, known as liquor. Discard the top shell. Wipe mud or shell bits from the oyster, and place it on a platter covered in crushed ice or salt to hold them upright.
5. Still intimidated? You can always ask your fishmonger to shuck them for you.
Courtesy Drew Hedlund, chef, Tradd’s, Charleston, SC
This twist on traditional Oysters Rockefeller has bonus “pot likker,” the cooking liquid for the collard greens. It’s a delicious base for soup, grits or rice.
Click here for our easy-to-make Hollandaise recipe.
- 1 pound collard greens
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 2 ham hocks
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup Texas-style hot sauce, preferably Texas Pete
- ½ white onion, sliced
- ¼ cup bacon fat
- ½ tablespoon granulated garlic
- ½ tablespoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
- ½ tablespoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 24 raw oysters, shucked
- 1 cup Hollandaise sauce
Wash collard greens. Remove woody stems, and chop into ½-inch pieces. Set aside.
Combine all ingredients except greens, oysters and Hollandaise in medium pot, and bring to boil. Lower to simmer, covered, until hocks are tender, about 2 hours. Add greens and cook until very tender, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 375˚F. Set oysters on sheet pan. Remove ham hocks and drain greens. Divide on top of oysters. Bake oysters for 8 minutes. Just before serving, top with Hollandaise and broil for 30 seconds, or until speckled with brown.
Just as wines have terroir, oysters have “merroir,” the qualities derived from the water where they lived. Each oyster is different, but East, West and Gulf Coast oysters have some defining characteristics.
“East Coast oysters are quite briny, with a crisp and slightly chewy texture, while West Coast oysters are generally sweeter and creamier, with plumper meats,” says Dana Deskiewicz, author of Appreciating Oysters: An Eater’s Guide to Craft Oysters from Tide to Table (Countryman Press, 2018). The book highlights 85 domestic oyster varieties. “Gulf Coast oysters tend to be mild and meaty, and good for frying or grilling.”
Varieties to Seek
- East Coast: Beausoleil, Barnstable, Chesapeake, Island Creek, Malpeque, Nonesuch, Raspberry Point, Rose Cove
- West Coast: Capital, Effingham Inlet, Hammersley Inlet, Hood Canal, Kumamoto, Pacific
- Gulf Coast: Murder Point, Point aux Pins
Purists might opt for a squeeze of lemon or dash of cocktail or hot sauce, but a classic mignonette is an elegant addition to a raw oyster platter. Stir together ¼ cup white-wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons dry white wine, 2 tablespoons minced shallot, 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper and a pinch of salt. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 week. Customize with a pinch of minced herbs or grated ginger. This is enough for at least a dozen oysters.
Courtesy Phil Lewis, executive chef, The Hourly Oyster House, Cambridge, MA
Everyone loves fried oysters. This raita is a refreshing alternative to the more traditional aïoli or tartar sauce, and it reiterates the oysters’ affinity with cucumber.
- 12 oysters
- Cucumber raita (recipe below)
- 1½ cups flour
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 1½ cups cornmeal
- Vegetable oil, for deep frying
- Lemon zest, for garnish
- Minced chives, for garnish
Shuck oysters, pat dry and place in bowl. Clean empty shells with deepest cups, and put some raita in each. Cover and refrigerate.
Place flour, eggs and cornmeal in separate shallow pans. With fork, coat each oyster lightly in flour, then egg, followed by cornmeal. Let rest on wire rack.
In heavy, deep pan over medium-high heat, warm 2 inches oil between 350–375˚F. Working in batches, fry oysters until golden-brown and floating, about 60 seconds.
Drain on paper towels. Serve oysters atop raita-filled shells. Garnish with lemon zest and chives. Makes 12 oysters.
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- ½ peeled and fine-diced English cucumber
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ clove minced garlic
- 4 julienned mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Combine Greek yogurt, English cucumber, black pepper, coriander and cumin, minced garlic, mint leaves and lemon juice.
“I would go with a refreshing Vinho Verde,” says Lewis. “The tartness helps cleanse the palate after the fried oyster, and still complements the spice and freshness of the raita.”
Oysters are abundant and affordable in Seattle, and this recipe is a family favorite. Small, sweet Pacific Northwest oysters are perfect here. Larger, brinier East Coast oysters might overwhelm the delicate broth.
- 16 West Coast oysters
- Bottled clam juice (if needed)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup chopped celery
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 2 cups half-and-half
- Salt, to taste
- Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Shuck oysters. Strain liquor to remove grit. If necessary, add clam juice to liquor to increase volume to ½ cup.
Heat butter in saucepan over medium-low heat. Add celery and shallot. Cook until tender, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add half-and-half and oyster liquor. Reduce heat to low, and simmer 5 minutes, but don’t let boil. Transfer to blender. Purée mixture, and strain back into pot. Add oysters and heat just until edges curl, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serves 2.
- 1Buckwheat Capellini with Oyster Cream and Caviar
- 2How to Shuck Oysters
- 3Lowcountry Oysters Rockefeller
- 4Oysters of the U.S.
- 5Fried Oysters with Cucumber Raita
- 6Easy Oyster Stew