[VIDEO] Oyster Shucking 101 with Island Creek’s Chris Sherman

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Ok, pin cushion is not Chris Sherman’s middle name, but when you work in oysters long enough, your palm is bound to double as one.  After years of bouncing from one boat gig to another, this Duxbury native joined Skip Bennett’s farm crew at Island Creek, our oyster supplier via FedEx to Miami since 2011. With a Duxbury style oyster knife as The Ordinary Pizzeria’s take home gift tonight, we thought a few shucking tips would be appropriate. I spoke with Chris yesterday to walk us through how to properly disengage this deliciously slippery bivalve. Butchering is a term often applied in our kitchens, but not when it comes to oysters!

Start with the Best Product
Seems obvious but bears repeating.  When picking an oyster, look for one with a nice round shape and a deep cup. The shell of the oyster tells a tale about how it was raised. Green or brown algae, even a slippery shell, is ok, actually a good sign of where they’re grown – on the bottom in the mud. Barnacles tend to die before the oysters do, so you don’t want to see a bunch of those on the shell – they’ll start to stink.  Turn over the oyster.  You’ll see a solid green patch by the hinge with grey and white striping around the edges. These are the telltale signs of one of our oysters!  They should have a nice weight to them. This means they are chock full of meat with a lot of texture and lots of liquid.  You also want a nice hard shell. If the shell is thin and brittle, the oyster’s going to be weak as well, and prove challenging to shuck.

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The Right Tools
The novice is going to want thick gloves and a dish towel, and of course the right knife. We helped RJ Murphy design the Duxbury knife. The tool you use is important – it’s got a nice beefy handle so you can twerk it and a sharp point is key to get in the oyster really easily, rather than some of the rounded ones you see. They do that for safety but people end up having trouble getting into the hinge even more.

Time to Shuck
Of course a gulf shucks a lot different from an east coast oyster but the process is pretty much the same.  Place the towel on the table and wrap the oyster flat on the surface so just the hinge is sticking out. Put your hand over the oyster so you have a nice leverage on it.  I take my thumb and put it on the blade of the knife. Like choking up on a bat…  This hedges your bets, if you screw up it’s a backstop instead of plunging the whole knife!  Starting from the hinge in the back, you do the “Twist and Wiggle.” Exert some force but not too much. Get the knife about 3/4 inch in and then you twist the knife to pop it open. Break the hinge. Here you need to be careful to sever the abductor muscle attached to both shells. Be careful not to butcher the oyster!  In Europe it’s funny because they actually leave the bottom muscle attached to prove the oyster you’re eating comes from that oyster shell… It happened to me once in France, and the waiter was like “figure it out!”  It used to be commonplace for lower quality oysters to be placed in the fancy Belon shells.  Now I take a 45 degree angle to top shell and scrape it grinding top shell on the edge. Now for the bottom, it’s like peeling a potato, clear the muscle off just scraping it… Don’t try to slice or cut it. You want to keep it whole and intact with its liquor. Enjoy!

Watch guest poppin’ like its hot chef Mike Lata show us how a professional gets ‘er done, with the below tutorial we snagged in the back of Harry’s Pizzeria earlier this morning.  He’s wielding his fancy “Quinton Middleton” style blade.  Taste the results later at The Ordinary Pizzeria, we have a couple of tickets left, but not for long.

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