One of may favorite spring and early summer pastimes is to harvest and eat oysters right after shucking them on the beach. The firm, briny, and slightly metallic taste of a freshly shucked oyster is out of this world. No restaurant can serve a raw oyster fresher than you can on the beach!
In Washington State, you cannot take oysters home in the shell, they must be shucked first and put in containers. The empty shells must be left on the beach. That’s because the shell provides an excellent base for growing juvenile Pacific oysters.
The most common oyster in Puget Sound is probably the Pacific oyster which can reach 12 inches. The oyster’s upper shell is flatter and smaller than the lower cup-shaped shell. Unlike many types of farmed oysters you find in restaurants, wild oysters often have uneven and distorted shells, making them more difficult to shuck.
Here are some tips on how to shuck wild Pacific oysters on the beach. (These tips are for the right-handed person.)
- You’ll need a good, sturdy oyster knife (it’s too dangerous to use a regular knife), a bucket or cooler to sit on (it’s harder to shuck standing up), a thick towel or glove to hold the oyster, and a glove (I prefer a neoprene fishing glove) for your shucking hand.
- Select an oyster with a shell that is not too distorted and irregular. Smaller, symmetrical shaped oysters are easier to shuck.
- Orient the flat side so it faces up and the cupped side should be facing down.
- Hold the oyster in your left hand with the towel or glove. Sit down and place your left hand against your left thigh so that your leg provides support and resistance against the force of your knife hand (right hand). Very important: Make sure that the towel is folded over several times so it is thick enough to stop a slipped knife from cutting your hand or leg.
- There are two approaches to shucking, the side-entry and the hinge-entry methods. You’ll need to experiment to see which methods is better for you. I usually start with the side-entry method and then go to the hinge-entry approach if the first approach is too difficult.
- In the side-entry method, find the small gap between the upper and lower shells. Insert the knife along the side of the oyster and force the blade into the gap. In some cases, you’ll need to push the knife in a drilling motion in order to gain entry. Once in the shell,work the knife alongside the top shell and cut the adductor muscle.
- In the hinge-entry method, position the oyster is that the hinge (where the two sides meet) is facing you. Insert the knife in the hinge junction and pry the shells apart using a twisting motion. After gaining entry into the shell, move the knife blade across the top of the upper shell to cut the adductor muscle, freeing the upper shell.
- In either method, you’ll need to cut the adductor muscle n the lower shell before the flesh will come off the shell.
- After freeing the oyster from any adhesions to the inner shell, add a dollop of cocktail sauce, a squeeze from a fresh lime, and slurp heaven up!