Last Saturday, I learned how to shuck oysters. Being a fan of oysters (both raw and cooked), I’m glad to have finally crossed it off my to-do list when I took shucking lessons at North End Fish Market in Boston (formerly called Mercato del Mare).
At NEFM, lessons are only offered on Saturday afternoons from 1-3pm, reservations are not required. Due to small space, the staff can teach groups of five people or smaller at each time. The lesson takes about 15 minutes, longer if you decide to shuck more oysters. You just pay what you shuck and eat. Last Saturday, there were two types of mollusks available for shucking, both from Cape Cod: Wellfleet and Wianno. NEFM also allows you to BYOB (bring your own beer/wine). I paired the bivalves with sips of Pinot Gris white wine.
- Wear appropriate clothing/apron and protective gloves
- Place oyster close to the edge on the table (flatter side faces up, cup side on the table). Your stance is very important; if possible, have your knife-holding hand off the table so the table doesn’t restrict you.
- Firmly hold the oyster in place, and using a special oyster knife with the curve side up, insert the tip into the hinge between the shells of the oyster. Gradually crank it until it makes a “pop” noise indicating it’s opened. It may be necessary to twist the knife’s tip a little.
- Clean the knife quickly from any shell pieces. Separate the top and bottom shells by slowly sliding your knife through, without disfiguring the oyster.
- Remove the top shell. You may need to detach the oyster from the top shell, but generally the meat is attached to the bottom. Cut along the bottom shell (underneath the oyster) to free the oyster.
- Keep the open shells cold on ice and serve immediately.
Tasting 101 (also refer to In a Half Shell blog):
- Sip the liquid/oyster juice in the shell; it complements the oyster meat
- Optional: add seasoning (horseradish, Tabasco sauce, mignonette sauce, cocktail sauce, and/or lemon juice)
- Slurp the whole oyster and chew a little; feel free to chase it down with any remaining liquid
- Note initial impression and flavors
- Note finishing taste; all oysters have a certain “finish” whether it be sweet like melon or salty like the sea, etc.
- Return empty oyster shell to platter, flipped upside down to study shell appearance
I enjoyed both types, which were very different in flavor and appearance. The Wellfleets were very salty, while the Wiannos were slightly sweet and briny.
It was a fun learning experience. NEFM is primarily a fish market; besides the shucking lessons, they also sell all types of fresh fish, shellfish, prepared seafood dishes and even sushi. Armed with my new kitchen skill, I am now eager to order fresh oysters, shuck them at home, and either eat them raw or cook them! Check out bon apétit’s recommendation for oysters that can be ordered online.