Look what my in-laws gave us a few weeks ago:
Local oysters raked up by Grandpa P on the beautiful shores of Wellfleet. (You may remember his Cape Cod lobstering pictorial.)
I love oysters and I derive a lot of satisfaction out of shucking them, too, for some reason. Now that I have the appropriate tool, an oyster shucker with a dull, curved blade and a wide grip, the task is a lot easier. Do NOT ever use a paring knife to shuck oysters. It’s tempting, I know, as you may not have an oyster shucker handy and the knives are right there. But unless you want some of your more useful fingers to go flying across the room in a bloody spray, don’t do it. If you have to make some kind of substitution, a screwdriver might potentially work. A flathead, not a Phillips head.
Even when using an oyster shucker, you’ll need some hand protection. They have these stabproof gloves you can wear, but as I only shuck oysters once or twice a year, I use a thick dishtowel folded a bunch of times or a crappy oven mitt. Whatever you use, be prepared for it to smell like low tide when you’re done. Sometimes I also wear a rubber glove to get a better grip, but I find it gives me a false sense of security, as if it offers some measure of protection against the stabbing motion of my other hand. It doesn’t.
And now that I’ve scared the bejesus out of you, let’s get to the shucking. The first thing to do is scrub the bivalves well in cold water. Then, firmly grasp the oyster in your dishtowel so the hinge is facing you and the flat side of the shell is face up. You want the curved side of the shell to be on the bottom so there’s a reservoir to contain the delicious oyster juices instead of having them spill out. Then, you take your shucker, angled down, pointy side up, and sort of wedge it into the hinge. There’s a weak spot in there. It may take a few tries to find it. Once you’ve got it, give the tool a twist and sort of wiggle it around to loosen the shell. Then, run the blade across the underside of the top shell to sever the adductor muscle and pry off the top shell completely.
The interior should look moist, and smell clean and briny. I toss anything that's questionable (shells that don’t close, loose hinges, dried out membranes, or any kind of funky smell). The shells often stink, but the oysters themselves should not.
You can eat them like this, raw on the half shell, or you can slide them out, gently nudging them with the shucker off the muscle that holds them onto the bottom shell, into a bowl along with the liquor for any number of preparations. I made creamy oyster soup and a bunch of crispy, fried oysters. These were so so so so good and just about as local as it gets. Thanks Grandpa P!
This soup is simple but very rich. As such, it’s best served in small, shallow bowls which will also keep the fried oysters from sinking to the bottom.
2-3 dozen oysters, liquor reserved
2 Tbsp. butter
1 shallot, finely minced
1 inside rib of celery, finely diced (1/4 cup)
1 Tbsp. flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
Dash of cayenne
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Scrub and shuck the oysters, saving the flavorful liquor. Chop oysters into pieces on the small side of bite-sized.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallot, celery, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and cayenne, and cook, stirring constantly, until the veggies are soft but not brown (about 5 minutes). Add the flour and cook a few minutes more. Add the oyster liquor and stir well to thicken. You may need to add a bit of water if you don’t have enough oyster liquor. You want a thick cooking liquid, not a paste. Add the oysters and simmer until cooked (about 5-7 minutes). Remove the bay leaf. Off the heat, add the milk and cream, stirring constantly. Return to the flame and heat slowly being careful not to boil, which will curdle the cream. Taste for seasoning. You may not need much extra salt. Garnish with a fried oyster.
You could always skip the soup altogether and just make fried oysters.
1 part flour
1 part cornstarch
Beer from the bottle you’re drinking
Heat oil in a small saucepan to a temperature of 375°F. Meanwhile, mix together flour and cornstarch in a small bowl with a bit of salt and pepper. Add just enough beer that the batter is thick enough to coat the oyster without being gloppy. Fry on both sides until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt. Eat them while they’re hot.