Raw oysters on the half shell are a culinary treat. Especially when served with a delightfully bright mingonette sauce or Tabasco. It might be a bit intimidating but opening oysters is a simple task. It just takes a bit of practice.
Clean the Oyster
Clean the outside of the oyster under running water to remove any loose grit or barnacles. Rub the shell with your fingers or use a stiff brush if you have one for this purpose.
Hold the oyster in a towel or oven mitt with the hinge (pointed side) sticking out. This will protect your hand if the oyster knife slips. With the flat side of the oyster up, insert the tip of an oyster knife near the hinge. You only need to insert the knife about 1/2-inch.
Do not use a regular knife to open oysters. There is too great a risk of slipping and severely injuring yourself.
An oyster knife is a special blunted knife made for this purpose. They’re cheap, too. If you’re going to buy oysters in the shell, spend a couple extra bucks for the proper knife.
Insert the Knife Between the Shells & Twist
The vast majority of oysters are going to have a cupped side and a flatter side. Hold the oyster with the flatter side up. The cupped side will hold the oyster and its liquid while you shuck.
Now look for the hinge—that point where the shells are joined in a more serious way than just being held together by the muscle that is the oyster. Some people jab the knife in right at the hinge (as pictured here). It’s often easier to insert the knife between the shells near the hinge (see the next step).
Note: You may prefer to set the oyster on a flat working surface, hold it steady, and insert the knife. Try both ways and see which way feels easier, safer, or more natural to you.
Having noticed where the hinge is located will now come in handy. Whether you inserted the knife at the hinge or near it, get the knife into the hinge and “pop” it open by twisting the knife blade. Sometimes just twisting the knife after you put it in between the shells will do it, other oysters are more stubborn and you’ll need to work the knife fairly far in to be able to angle the knife (or screwdriver) to be able to get enough leverage to “pop” that hinge.
Note: Keep it as flat as possible to avoid spilling out too much of the oyster liquor inside.
Slide the Knife Between the Shells
Once you’ve popped the hinge open, slide the knife between the shells, keeping it along the bottom of the top shell—you don’t want to mangle the oyster! Most of this sliding will be very easy, but the point where the oyster is attached to the top shell will provide some resistance you’ll need to cut through.
Open It Up!
You’ve now separated the two shells that house the oyster. Remove the top shell. If there is a lot of meat attached to it, use the knife to cut (or, really, scrape) it off.
If you want to be kind to those who will be eating the oysters, use the shucking knife or a sharp paring knife to cut along the bottom shell to make sure the oyster is free and clear of that shell too.
Through all of this, try to keep as much of the liquid (oyster liquor) in the shell as possible. It’s delicious.
You’ll want to serve oysters as soon after shucking them as possible. You can keep them cold by setting them on a tray of crushed ice.
Serve them plain or with a simple squirt of lemon juice. Many people like Tabasco or cocktail sauce. There are innumerable delicious sauces for oysters on the half shell.
Another option is to make grilled oysters or barbecued oysters, or try this Oysters Rockefeller recipe!