I am an oyster gay, and I’m here to help you become one, too! Aside from the obvious physical components that make up an oyster, I think there’s something so queer about 1. a live (!) aphrodisiac 2. that comes from the ocean (gay) that we 3. slurp up while 4. ideally making eye contact with a crush!! I mean come on!!
An Incredibly Brief History
Before we get into the mechanics of how to shuck oysters, let’s chat about the history of these precious bivalves. In ancient Rome, oysters were a luxury food. Native Americans in the Chesapeake Bay region likely ate oysters as far back as the Late Archaic Period (like 2500-1500 BCE) and they did it sustainably! Black oyster culture goes back to at least the 18th century, if not earlier. In 19th century America, oysters were eaten across class boundaries. There’s even a scene in Dickinson about it! Growing demand for oysters in the 1800s led to overfarming, and in some cases, conservation laws being lifted. As a result, oyster populations dwindled, and oysters returned to their former status as a “luxury” food.
Anyway, I’m here to tell you that oysters do not need to be a luxury food!! You can shuck and slurp to your heart’s content with minimal effort — and without spending a ton of money!!
How To Buy Oysters
Now, let’s talk about the tricky part: getting your hands on some high-quality raw oysters. If you have a local fishmonger with good turnover, you’re in luck. If you don’t, you might still be able to find oysters at a large grocery store in the fish department. Just make sure the oysters are fresh, kept on ice, and were harvested recently.
Alternatively, you can order oysters directly from an oyster farm! This can get a bit more pricey than buying local, but this way you’re supporting the farm directly AND getting extremely fresh oysters. I personally love Glidden Point (a midcoast Maine-based oyster farm that I visited TWICE in two days because they were that good) but if you have a favorite oyster you’ve had recently, chances are there’s a farm that would be happy to ship you a dozen or two!
Also, if you live in the NYC or Hudson Valley area, there is an oyster CSA that I adore!
Other Tools You’ll Maybe Need
The only things you must have are an oyster knife and a safety glove. Oyster knives are sturdy and designed specifically for prying open tough oyster shells. Safety gloves help protect you in the event that the knife loses contact with the oyster hinge! (Trust me, you will need the safety glove!!)
If you plan to cook your oysters, you can absolutely invest in a fancy oyster roasting tray. That being said, you do not need one. You can just crinkle up a bunch of aluminum foil on a baking tray, and the oysters will stay put while they’re in the oven.
Okay so!! Ideally, you will be eating your oysters the same day you get them. That being said, sometimes you have a shitty day and you don’t want to shuck the dozen oysters you just purchased when you could just have a burrito delivered to your door. Storage is KEY here if you’re going to keep oysters in your fridge. Do not, under any circumstances, store the oysters in water or on ice. Oysters die in freshwater, which I did not know before writing this article but tbh makes perfect sense! I like to store my unopened oysters in a giant metal IKEA bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel to ensure they don’t dry out.
When you’re ready to shuck, take your desired number of oysters out of the mesh bag they came in (or the bowl, if they’ve been living in the fridge) and inspect them. Toss out any oyster that smells super fishy (it sounds counterintuitive, I know) or any that seem open (even slightly). Scrub the rest under cold water to get rid of all the ocean grime coating the shell. If it’s your first time shucking, or you just have a lot of oysters you plan to shuck, it’s fine to store them on ice to keep them cold (and alive).
Grab your oyster knife and a dish towel, and make sure your safety glove is on your non-knife hand. On a flat surface, use the dish towel to grasp the oyster so that the deep belly faces down and the flat side is up.
Stick your knife either into the hinge directly (the hinge is typically the more pointy end of the oyster) or between the shells right near the hinge. Once your knife is in, wiggle it pretty firmly to get the oyster to unclench. Occasionally, you’ll need to apply the tiniest bit of downward pressure on the knife handle to get a particularly difficult oyster to open but this is rare.
Once the oyster has opened, use your knife to separate the two shells. You can do this by running your knife between the edges of the shells where they connect. Remove the top shell (if the oyster is still attached to the top shell, you can use your knife to scrape it off back into the bottom shell).
The oyster will still be attached to the bottom shell, so use your knife to gently scrape below the oyster meat to detach it from the shell.
And that’s it! That’s literally it! You can give it a squirt of lemon, make a fancy mignonette, broil or grill it with some compound butter… the world is literally your oyster!! (Sorry).
Warning / Caution / Disclaimer
Okay some disclaimers before I send you to impress your crush!! While it’s unlikely, you can get vibriosis from an oyster. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know whether an oyster contains Vibrio or not — it won’t smell or look any different. The only way to know your oyster is Vibrio-free is to cook it. Also, there was a multi-state outbreak of Norovirus in April 2022 that was linked to raw oysters. I’m not saying this to scare y’all away from oysters, but I just want you to have all the information!