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awww shucks

Technique: shucking oysters

You could say we met each other early in our lives. I was 21 and Jeremy was 19. It’s not early like his grandparents who knew one another since the age of 5, but early compared to most of our friends. When we married four and a half years later, our low-key wedding was a bigger deal for others than it was for us. We just liked being together. We liked exploring, discovering, learning, growing, playing, and working together.

jeremy on the sand dunes, death valley

We started out as opposites:

I’m loud. He’s quiet.
I’m an extrovert. He’s an introvert.
I lose my temper easily. He remains calm, cool, and collected.
I’m practical. He’s whimsical.
I’m clueless. He’s not.
I like savory. He likes sweet.
I’m a visual thinker. He’s abstract.
I’m organized (OCD). He is chaotic.
I’m assertive. He’s inertial.
I’m Tigger. He’s Eeyore.

surrounded by desert gold in death valley

After almost two decades of shared experiences, I think we have as many similarities as we have differences. I’m still my own person and so is Jeremy, but we make a great team. Our relationship never feels like work, never feels like a burden. If anything, the challenges are always what life throws at us. We navigate them together, supporting one another. Fifteen years of marriage today and it’s stronger than ever.

jeremy coaxes a tired kaweah to look at the camera

the only time he has ever danced in public (at our friends’ awesome wedding)

Our wedding anniversary isn’t such a big deal, it’s just that round numbers seem to be more significant – multiples of 5 or 10. So in honor of our 15th anniversary, I decided I’d learn to shuck oysters. If you had asked me about oysters this time last year I would have said, “oyster whut?” But this past summer, when the Food and Light team went to happy hour after the workshop was over, Jeremy got hooked on oysters.

i blame this young lady

Diane saw Kumamoto oysters on the menu for a steal and got so excited that she asked if the rest of us wanted to order some too. People said sure and she counted, “two for you, two for you, okay that’s a dozen…” then she turned to the server and said, “We’ll order 2 dozen.” We looked at her in surprise and she flashed that adorable smile of hers and said, “I need a dozen!” I like oysters just fine. I can take them or leave them. Jeremy loves them.

some barron point oysters from washington

I went to the seafood department at my local Whole Foods in Boulder (on Pearl Street) and asked one of the nice seafood guys to teach me to shuck oysters. It wasn’t especially busy, so he took the time to explain the morphology of the oyster, the tools required, safety, and then technique. How cool is that? Then he set to work on a couple, quizzed me, and packed up several beautiful Barron Point oysters for me to take home to practice.

equipment: a kitchen towel and an oyster knife

the point closest to you is the hinge, the well or bowl should be on the bottom

Sometimes oysters can be oddly shaped, but my seafood pal was nice enough to give me almost perfect oysters. First, you want your oysters to be sealed shut. If an oyster is open, slightly open, broken (like a hole in the shell) or cracked, then your oyster is probably dead and you’ll want to discard it. Turn an oyster over in your hand. You should be able to discern a flat side and a rounded side. The rounded side should be on the bottom – it will act like a little bowl. Then there are two ends: the hinge which should be kind of pointy, and the bill, which is… well, bill-shaped.

The equipment is fairly straightforward. I used a kitchen towel to hold the oyster steady and to protect my hand (wearing an oven mitt had come to mind as I had nightmares about severing a nerve in my hand). I didn’t own an oyster knife (don’t use a regular knife, just don’t) and went to Sur La Table where they had three or four different kinds. I picked up the simplest one and now I think I should have gotten the one with a slightly bent tip and a plastic no-slip handle. I guess if I wind up doing a lot of these, I’ll splurge on the upgrade. Oh, and before you start shucking the oysters do two things: 1) rinse and scrub the oysters of any dirt and debris under cold water and 2) get your garnishes and your serving vessel ready. A plate or bowl covered in shaved ice or kosher salt deep enough to create divots for your oysters is the typical method for serving them on the half shell.

carefully insert the oyster knife into the hinge

run the oyster knife flush with the top shell

remove the top shell

Take your clean oyster knife (always wipe it clean if there is grit or silt on it so you don’t introduce it into the oyster) and carefully insert the point into the hinge. You may have to dig around for that, but eventually the blade will start to make its way between the two shells as you gently jiggle it in. Don’t brute force this, someone will get hurt. Once you get maybe a quarter inch in, give the knife a little twist and the hinge should pop. Now you’re in. Run the knife along the edge keeping it flush with the top flat shell. You want to avoid puncturing the oyster itself because all of the good juicy stuff is in the oyster. This should separate the shells as you eventually run into the adductor muscle and cut it. Remove the top shell, but don’t be manhandling the oyster too much! Keep it level so you don’t spill the oyster’s liquor. Wipe the knife clean and run the blade along the bottom shell to loosen the oyster. Give it a whiff. A fresh oyster should smell like the sea. A rotten oyster is going to smell bad. Don’t eat the ones that smell bad.

run the knife along the bottom shell

flipped oyster

There might be some bits of shell or grit in the oyster. You can carefully wipe it away or remove it with a cleaned oyster knife or your finger (if it’s clean). If there is a lot of silt, you can rinse it under cold water and gently coax it out with your finger. Place the oyster on the ice or salt. Keep them cold if you are shucking a lot of oysters. I did get a small batch of Kumamoto oysters to shuck as well and that was tough. Some were totally misshapen and weird, but half of them were dead (busted, opened, or full of silt). I asked if I could get a refund on the bad ones and the folks at Whole Foods were nice enough to give me a full refund on the entire purchase.

oysters with lemon, mignonette sauce, and rosé

not terrible for a first attempt

I tried a couple of the Barron Point oysters. They were nice and sweet. I liked them even better with a little mignonette sauce from Simply Recipes which is ridiculously easy to whip up. Jeremy loved the oysters. And while I’m not crazy for the oysters or gout, I have to say I’m a little obsessed with perfecting my shucking technique so I can serve these in summer on our deck to guests. Hear that, Diane?

happy hour at home

27 nibbles at “awww shucks”

  1. Barbara says:

    I didn’t realise today was your wedding anniversary. Congratulations to you and Jeremy. It was ours yesterday. We only celebrate every four years. Before cancer we would take an overseas trip to celebrate. Yesterday we had a lovely lunch out.

    Bryan likes oysters, me not so much. Well done on the shucking.

  2. Debbie says:

    Happy Anniversary to both of you!

  3. Kristin says:

    Happy anniversary! I loved reading your opposites. No surprises about you, but I didn’t expect Jeremy to be/have been chaotic or whimsical.

  4. Bev Weidner says:

    I’ve been to that very restaurant (Ten Ten in Boulder!) and had those very oysters! So, so delicious.

    Happy Anniversary!

  5. Keeley @ My Life on a Plate says:

    Happy Anniversary! March is a fantastic month to get married… my anniversary is next week! My husband and I are opposites, too. We met when we were both 18. Married at 24. :)

  6. Melissa says:

    Love you and Jeremy together. Your “we were opposite” characteristics list reminds me so much of me and Steve almost two decades ago as well. It’s interesting how you become so alike and yet still so different over time, isn’t it? Happy Anniversary to you both. ♥♥

  7. amy says:

    Happy Anniversary!

    I love that I can shuck my own oysters, tho’ I have yet to make any types of sauces for them.

  8. vanillasugarblog says:

    Happy Anniversary!
    You two were young when you met. I waited a long time to get married; just wasn’t sure you know?
    And yes, opposites do attract as I am a foodie and my hubby is happy with pizza every night (and he did just that before I met him lol).

  9. Amy says:

    Happy Anniversary to you both! Fifteen years is a great milestone. My husband and I are opposite in many ways too, but I’m finding with each year of marriage my appreciation of our differences deepens. Helps us both to grow, I think.

    Your shucking tutorial was fascinating: seems so much like unlocking a puzzle. :) xoxo

  10. Jane M says:

    Happy Happy Anniversary! And many many more!

  11. Bryan says:

    That’s awesome! Oysters are soooo good.
    Happy anniversary :)

  12. swan says:

    a most happy anniversary (albeit late) to you both! my husband john and i are going to celebrate our 20th this year–we don’t know where or when yet. AND…kumamoto’s are awesome…thanks for all your posts!

  13. Fiona says:

    Your instructions made me smile.

    When I was growing up, our friends threw a huge oyster party every year. They pulled a truckload out of the mud in Charleston, drove them to Columbia, hosed them off (while drinking beer and talking, so…not super clean) then chucked them onto an open fire to roast. They tilted big shovels full onto a plywood table and everyone stood there shucking and eating till dark.

    It was nothing like your method. It was dirty, drunken, noisy and we routinely cut ourselves.

    But I hadn’t thought of it in years. So thanks for the memory.

    Also: Kumomotos are insane. Charles and I had some in Vegas. Yum.

    Congrats to you and Jeremy.

  14. Kath says:

    Happy Jen & Jeremy Day!

    Wishing you many more years of happy togetherness and love! xoxo

  15. Y says:

    Happy Anniversary!

    Oysters are an awesome way to celebrate any occasion and I rather like the way Dianne orders oysters. Also, love that oyster knife you got.

  16. angelitacarmelita says:

    Happy Anniversary!

    And how lovely and perfect that even though you aren’t crazy for oysters, that you’d learn to shuck them for Jeremy. Sounds like your both lucky. Me? I’ve been eating them as long as I can remember. My first oyster memory is my grandfather lining up all the grandchildren like little birds in a row, all of our chins up, and mouths open as he would quickly and expertly shuck and then then tip it and all it’s fantastic liquor into our waiting faces! I loved them then, and I love them now. Thanks for the detailed lesson on opening these suckers too.

  17. Laura says:

    Happy Anniversary!
    I just wanted to add a tip of my own.
    I find that with I hold the knife closer to the tip, with the large majority of the knife in my hand, I am less likely to slip up and stab my other hand. :)

  18. Sil says:

    Happy Anniversary to you both! All the best for you… and more!

  19. Jessica Abbey says:

    My dear , Do you know that oysters are a serious aphrodisiac? All the zinc perhaps. A perfect food for a anniversary! Best wishes.

  20. Margie says:

    Happy Anniversary! (sorry I’m late, just now saw the post)

    Can’t help but wonder, how many have been lucky enough to find pearls?

    Loved the tutorial and will have to try shucking a few, soon.

  21. susan says:

    Happy Anniversary – what a beautiful way to celebrate!

  22. Denise says:

    Beautiful! The oysters and the story. And bravo to celebrating such a divine and simple dish!

  23. Carla says:

    Congratulations….marriage can be hard work…as some years are better than others. we celebrated our 40th this I definitely agree with you on the “0” years. Same for birthdays..we only go all out for 0 years anymore…but then I have had 60 of them…can’t be greedy!!


  24. Jun Belen says:

    Congratulations on fifteen years!! Beautiful photography, as always.

  25. jenyu says:

    Barbara – thank you, dear. I like that your anniversary is on the 29th of Feb! :) I’m not a huge oyster fan, but I do love shucking them. Kinda fun! xo

    Debbie – thank you!

    Kristin – aww, thanks. Well, he’s not chaotic or whimsical in the typical sense, but he’s not nearly so organized as I am and by whimsical I mean he gets some hair-brained ideas that just don’t fly ;)

    Bev – yes, they’re great aren’t they? thanks!

    Keeley – aww, congrats!

    Melissa – thank you, my dear. I really believe opposites attract :) Love you too! xo

    amy – I really like shucking them too! I don’t like many sauces with them, but the mignonette is *awesome* and so easy to do.

    vanillasugarblog – jeremy wasn’t much of a food person before we met. just imagine what those guys would be eating today if they hadn’t met us? ;)

    Amy – it’s true, I totally agree!

    Jane M – thank you :)

    Bryan – thanks! xo

    swan – that’s wonderful – congratulations to you!

    Fiona – wow, you guys knew how to have a party :) We’d be hard-pressed to find a truckload of oysters in Colorado ;) xo

    Kath – awww, thank you, my sweet friend.

    Y – thank you! Diane is pretty hilarious. One of the many reasons I love her :)

    angelitacarmelita – That is such a sweet sweet memory. Your grandfather sounds like an awesome man. xo

    Laura – yes, a very good tip. Thanks!

    Sil – xoxo

    Jessica – I think I was vaguely aware of that. But you know, MEN don’t NEED aphrodisiacs. Like, ever ;)

    Margie – thank you! You know, I never even thought about pearls. I was too excited learning to shuck oysters.

    susan – thank you.

    Denise – thanks! xo

    Carla – we’re lucky in that our marriage never feels like work, but fun. Still, I think the “effort” part is lost on so many couples. :)

    Jun – thank you, sweetheart!

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