Oysters are one of the tastiest of all shellfish. There are many people who are put off purchasing them fresh, however, due to the perceived difficulties in properly opening their shells. There are precise techniques, however, for opening oysters which can be learned and very effectively put in to practice by most people, which does make the process moderately simple. These techniques are important both for safety reasons and to ensure that the oysters are served at their delicious, succulent best.
Safety is paramount when opening oysters. It is always possible for a knife to slip, even for those greatly experienced in opening oyster shells, and it is important that protection is thus afforded to the hand holding the oyster shell. There is a metal based, mesh glove which can be purchased for this purpose but using a thick cloth or towel serves equally well in most cases.
A clear, flat surface should be used on which to open oysters. This should ideally be a fixed surface, as opposed to a chopping board, to minimise the risk of unexpected movement. The thick towel or cloth should then be folded to the extent that affords proper protection from a slipping knife and laid flat on this surface. The oyster should be laid on one half of the cloth, the flatter part of the shell uppermost, and the other half of the cloth folded on top. The narrow or sharp end of the oyster should be pointing outwards from the folds of the cloth. The oyster should be held firm by placing one hand on top of the cloth, clear from the point and as far away from the blade of the knife as possible.
Shucking is the technical term given to opening oyster shells. It is possible to buy a purpose made shucking knife but any sturdy, fairly short bladed knife with a sharp point should do the job. The point of the knife should be used to find a gap in the shell, just to one side of the pointed end of the oyster. Practice will assist in finding this point of entry with ease. It is important not to saw at the shell with the knife, as this will cause it to crumble and fragments of shell to fall in to the juice of the oyster. When the knife has been carefully eased about half an inch in to the shell, the knife should be twisted with slow but steady pressure in order to break the hold of the muscle which holds the shell in place.
In order to free the oyster from the top part of the shell with as little sustained damage as possible, the knife should then be carefully slid along the inside, top part of the shell. A gentle sawing motion at this stage will free the top part of the oyster from the shell with ease.
When the top part of the oyster shell has thus been removed, the oyster will be revealed. The process of shelling the oyster is not complete, however, as there is still a muscle holding it in place in the bottom part of the shell. This muscle is small, white and roughly circular in shape. It is located on the side of the shell, towards the blunter end. The knife should be used to cut through this muscle, taking care to spill as little of the water in which the oyster sits as possible.
There are many ways in which oysters are eaten. There is no way more delicious, however, than eating it straight from the shell, immediately after it has been opened. A very small squeeze of fresh lemon juice may be added but there is no requirement for any other seasoning. The oyster should be eaten by tipping it from the blunt end of the shell straight in to the mouth, water and all, and swallowing it whole. The oyster should not be chewed and the delicious taste will come from the taste buds located in the back of the mouth and top of the throat.