The Year In Food » Fine Seasonal Eating

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Two and a half years ago, I made a promise to you to write about how to shuck an oyster. I am finally making good on that promise.

Oysters are magnificent, magical, wonderful things – kind of like drugs but with no deleterious side effects or risk of physical addiction. I am not one to attribute mind-altering qualities to food, but oysters are an exception. Oysters transcend food. I am a full believer in the magical powers of these briny little mollusks.


Aside from their potent euphoria-inducing qualities, they’re sustainable as all get out, filtering the water of the bays they inhabit and enriching sea beds with their shells after consumption. And they’re good for you too. They are, in short, an ideal thing to consume.

Tomales Bay (We are lucky enough to have beautiful Tomales Bay an hour’s drive north, where some of the west coast’s finest oysters can be found.)

Shucking, once you get the hang of it, is so much fun. There’s a satisfaction in having done a little work for your bivalve reward.

A fresh oyster should taste clean and briny, like the best smelling ocean ever, with no trace of rotting marine life.


You will need:

An oyster knife
A kitchen towel
A surface
Fresh oysters
A tray of ice
Various condiments: mignonette (link below), hot sauce, lemon wedges, horseradish

The most important thing to remember is to not use much force. You may think that you have to jam that oyster knife in that shell with all of your might, but you don’t. Gentle persistence is key, not only to successfully opening the shell, but to avoiding injury.

Have the flatter side of the oyster facing up, and the cupped side facing down. Rest the oyster on a stable surface, cover half with a cloth, and stabilize with one hand.

IMG_78191. Find the hinge of the oyster: this is the narrower, pointier end of the oyster. Gently ease the tip of the oyster knife into the hinge. Sometimes bits of the shell will flake off, and sometimes you will need to flake off a little of the shell to get in there. It flakes off pretty easily. Don’t worry about that, but try not to let any get inside the shell.

Shucking an Oyster, step 12. This is the most important moment: to get in there, gently twist the oyster knife back and forth, as if you were turning a screwdriver back and forth in your hand. You can be firm, but don’t force anything.

Keep twisting the knife back and forth in a semi-circular motion. Don’t angle it up and down like a lever. Imagine a circle. Or, imagine you are turning a key in an ignition. You will feel the shell start to release a little. Keep at it, gently, until the you can get the knife all the way in there.

Shucking an Oyster3. Slide the knife along the inside of the top shell to dislodge the adductor muscle from the shell. You can now remove the top shell entirely.

4. Carefully holding the oyster so as not to lose any of the precious liquor (that delicious juice inside the shell), slide the knife under the body of the oyster to remove it from the bottom shell and ease its path into your mouth.

Shucking an Oyster5. Dress the oyster with any of these: mignonette (I love my friend Anna’s simple recipe), lemon juice, hot sauce, or horseradish. I’m on a hot sauce and lemon juice kick right now. It just needs a little acid to boost its gentle briny flavors.

Open your maw, slide the oyster in, chew a few times, swallow. And repeat.

  • Katherine Sacks - I went to Tomales Bay a few years ago, and I’ve been itching to go back ever since. Sitting on the bay, eating my fill of the freshest oysters ever – it’s incredible. These are great photos and a wonderful tutorial on shucking them!ReplyCancel

  • la domestique - You are so right- oysters transcend food. I could eat pounds and pounds of oysters in one sitting, always with a bracingly crisp glass of white wine. Once you’ve learned how to shuck an oyster, it’s not hard to do at all. Great how to!ReplyCancel

  • SG - Thanks to you we had a lovely after hiking oyster experience. I agree with you about the transcending effect – I always get elevated when eating them. I wish I was up in Tomales bay right now!ReplyCancel

  • Lori - I live in the northwest and often find great oysters in Oysterville, Washington.ReplyCancel

  • sf - You make me want to have oysters :)

    Too bad they are so expensive in Tokyo, and i will have to go to Grand Central Oyster Bar where each oyster will cost USD6 onwards. Wish i can experience what shucking oysters next to the beach, just like you did..ReplyCancel

  • Hannah - Great photo of Tomales Bay! One of our favorite haunts (and now I will have to keep an eye out for you there, ha!). We love oysters, and I love your points about their sustainability and health – as if we needed an excuse, but now I can justify the prices when they get a little spendy ;) Our favorite way to eat them is grilled, and we also really love them with hot sauce. A little garlicky melted butter also does well on them … yum. Great post!ReplyCancel

  • MikeVFMK - Great photos and explanation. I’ve always wanted to buy oysters at the fish market and have them at home except for the fear of shucking them. But now I’m more prepared to pick some up. Love oysters.ReplyCancel

  • kickpleat - I’m going out for oysters tomorrow and I’d love to try shucking my own. We’re close to great oysters up here too and would love the opportunity one day. But for now, I’ll happily slurp down a few at the local oyster bar.ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - Oooh seafood in the summer is so delicious! You guys should check out my collection of top summer drinks on FanDrop! I also have a bunch of other fun summertime recipe collections too :) The Year In Food, you should start creating some collections on FanDrop to organize all of the awesome information that you’re posting! I am sure a lot of fans would want to see your awesome insight elsewhere too!

  • Jennifer Solow - Swan’s Oyster Bar. San Francisco. Line around the corner. No credit cards. The best oysters in the world.

    *Insider tip: discreetly ask for a taste of their house-aged tequila…don’t tell them I told you!ReplyCancel

  • NicoleD - This is so awesome. My top criteria for vacation this year is to find a place where I can eat oysters silly. Not sure if that’s going to happen, but I am putting Tomales Bay on my list for next time I’m in California. Thanks for the how-to!ReplyCancel

  • Jeff - Ironic that this is my 1st visit to your blog and you feature oysters- please be advised of the alert to Not eat certain Drakes Bay Oysters,

    Whatever happened to the Adage of only eating oysters in months with “R”?ReplyCancel

  • Nick S - Very nicely photographed step-by-step guide to an extraordinarily useful eating skill. Now if only I lived by the sea…ReplyCancel

  • Pamela Heiligenthal - Excellent instructions on how to shell an oyster! I just had a dozen oysters with a glass of King Esate Pinot Gris – tasty stuff! Any French Chablis would be equally tasty :)ReplyCancel

  • Laura Dillon - oh my goodness. I just tried oysters for the first time yesterday and i am IN LOVE. i think your photography is beautiful, it has inspired me to go out into the world and shuck oysters till I drop. maybe I will….. from LauraxxxReplyCancel

  • Ali - looks greatReplyCancel

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