In Food + Drink

How To Shuck Oysters Like A Pro

Should you chew oysters or swallow them whole? What is an Appellation Oyster? What’s the best season to enjoy Sydney rock oysters in all their briny goodness? Is it easy to shuck oysters like a pro? These are some of the big questions relating to the revered shellfish we have all wondered.

We tapped into the expertise of Mark Allsop, CEO of Australia’s Oyster Coast (AOC), an internationally recognised brand that has created an oyster trail that stretches 300km along the pristine coastline of the NSW South Coast; journalist Anthony Huckstep; and John Susman of seafood consultancy, Fishtales, to better understand Sydney rock oysters.

Here’s how to become an oyster aficionado.

Learn how to shuck oysters

To start the shucking process, Allsopp recommends first taking the oyster and wrapping it in a clean cloth with the cup and shell facing down and holding down firmly with the pointed hinge of the oyster facing out.

Image: Laura Peruchi / Unsplash

The next step is to insert the blade of the oyster knife into the hinge where the top and bottom shells meet. Australia’s seafood tsar John Susman says to move the knife in a rhythmic rocking motion and then twist sharply.

“Listen for the pop as the hinge gives way,” says Susman.

“Slide the oyster knife gently along the inside of the top lid. The adductor is located in the 2 o’clock position on the top lid and holds the top and bottom shells together. Slide the oyster knife through this muscle to release the top shell, then snip the bottom of the adductor muscle by running the blade of the oyster knife along the shell under the adductor and releasing the oyster.”

For best presentation, slide the blade under the gills of the oyster and roll the oyster in the shell. Place on a bed of salt, to serve.

Understand what a premium rock oyster looks like

Appellation Oysters are a premium quality oysters selected and graded from the 60-plus farms in the Australia’s Oyster Coast family. In new book Appellation Oysters: The Rock Oyster, author Huckstep writes that only the very best oyster is awarded appellation oyster status.

Huckstep and Susman go into an in-depth discussion about how the estuaries affect flavour. “In the case of Wagonga Oysters, they come from an estuary that has the least freshwater in-flows of any estuary on the NSW Coast and therefore the highest level of brine,” Allsopp says.

Image: Matthew LeJune / Unsplash

Allsopp recommends oyster lovers ask their fishmonger to dry-shuck oysters on demand. “Don’t buy oysters sitting in the half shell as they have been washed in tap water, which rinses away the liquor and dumbs down the flavour,” he says.

Storage of the bivalve mollusc from the genus ostrea also impacts on taste. Allsopp says a common misconception is closed oysters need to be stored in the fridge.

“Closed oysters can keep out of the water and stored between 10 and 16 degrees for up to 14 days after being harvested,” says Allsopp.

Sydney rock oysters versus Pacific oysters

Allsopp says the best way to impress dinner guests is to shuck a dozen Sydney rock oysters – which are in season from August through until March – and then serve them, in their briny liquor, au naturel. In terms of identifying a good oyster, he says the shell is a key indicator of the combination of the perfect growing environment.

Image: Charles Koh / Unsplash

“A great rock oyster should have a high meat-to-shell ratio, full reproductive gland, deep cup, broad fan shape and bulging lid,” he says.

“If you really want to impress your dinner guests, talk about the merroir of a great rock oyster and its key standout features,” Allsopp says. “A true aficionado can identify where an oyster is from by the look of the shell and the flavour,” he says.

Allsopp says any self-respecting oyster lover knows that Sydney rock oysters are superior to Pacific oysters because of the intricacy of flavour. “The Sydney rock oyster is grown within estuarine environments whereas the Pacific is grown in more oceanic environments, which results in a more linear flavour,” he says.

As for the subject of whether to chew or swallow oysters whole, Allsopp says: “I like to give them a bit of a chew”.

(Lead image: Timothy Grey & William Truong) 

Published 21 November, 2019