When you get it right, shucking an oyster is a great party trick, but opening these tight-lipped little treasures can be difficult – not to mention dangerous – if you haven’t got the right tools and skills. In an effort to make this slippery task a little safer (and to avoid eating bits of shattered shell) we asked a man who has shucked thousands of oysters in his career, head chef Chris Watson of Melbourne's standout Luxembourg Bar & Bistro.
“I’ve been opening oysters almost as long as I’ve been cooking,” smiles the chef. “When I started working with [business partner] Andrew McConnell at Circa, we served oysters from Steve Feletti of Moonlight Flat Oysters in Batemans Bay. I’ve continued serving oysters at every place since then, but particularly at Cutler & Co. we served up to six types at any one time – that’s a big selection.”
Watson says the difference is experience, not just with the task, but with the oysters themselves. He says changes in season, growing conditions and type can all effect how tough, brittle or flaky a shell is.
What you’ll need
Oyster knife – Watson recommends Dexter brand, but look for something sturdy, with a large handle (avoid plastic handles)
A heavy chopping board, with a wet towel underneath so it won’t slide on the bench
Fine-tip paintbrush (that hasn’t been used for painting)
Crushed ice for serving
Mise en place
“Take the time to set up everything properly. Opening oysters can be dangerous so it’s really important to make sure everything is done correctly. The best place to do this is next to the sink, because you’ll need access to water. Wet the tea towel with cold water and wring it out. Fold it in thirds lengthways, and then over itself in half the opposite way, so you have a small rectangle.
Next, wash the oysters – give them a scrub to remove any flaky bits of shell or seaweed.”
(For right handers – reverse for left-handed shucking)
“To open – put an oyster on your tea towel, towards the right end of the rectangle. The hinge should be facing to the right, with the other end facing towards your left hand.
Fold the tea towel in half over the oyster, leaving the hinge of the oyster exposed. You should be gripping the oyster with your left hand, and there should be enough excess tea towel left to fold it back over your hand for protection.
Slip your oyster knife into the hinge of the oyster. Give it a wiggle and keep working it into the gap. You shouldn’t need to use excessive force or your weight to force it in. There is a sweet spot and once you find that, the oyster will pop open.
Run the oyster knife flat across the top of the shell to sever the adductor that connects the lid to the oyster.
Use your paintbrush to clean up the oyster. Dip it in some cold water and use it to gently brush out any bits of shell.
Now you can run the oyster knife under the oyster to lift if off the shell for easy eating.
Serve them cold and freshly opened with the brine still inside. As for Australia’s best? A decade on, Watson still uses Feletti’s oysters and considers them the finest in the country.