The Oyster. Considered.

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My dad has this saying that if you don’t get mad, it won’t get fixed.

This maxim usually applies to certain circumstances in which my old man is trying to repair something around the house or in his garage.  The scenarios usually start off very innocently, like screwing a shelf into a wall, unclogging some backed-up pipes, or genetically engineering his clone.  But as soon as something goes wrong—like a missing shelf bracket, a futile and useless plunger, or a volatile and unstable strain of DNA—my dad goes berserk and starts cursing up a storm.

He usually starts off with a few innocuous “Goddammits!”  Then he moves on to  spewing out some “Sons of bitches!” that serve as a warning to those within earshot that he’s about to blow his top.  But once he starts dropping F-bombs and MotherF-bombs, it’s time for my brothers and I to scurry away and hide, lest we be commanded to find my dad his “Pillips head screwdriber”.  On such occasions of unbridled fury, I always want to tell my dad that Jesus was a carpenter. But I don’t think he’d get it, and then he would surely stab me with said screwdriver.

My dad’s rage doesn’t last forever.  Once he’s done fixin’ whatever he was fixin’, he calms down, shrugs his shoulders, then walks over to my mom and mutters his mantra: “If you don’t get mad, it won’t get fixed.”

Now, I’m not much of a handy guy.  I own zero powertools and most of my handiwork consists of erecting crappy Ikea furniture.  So in terms of being a man about the house, I haven’t witnessed any of my father’s fury passed on down to me.  However, it’s a completely different story when I’m in the kitchen.  My inherited wrath was no more evident than when I tried shucking oysters for the first time.

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I have had fresh oysters on numerous occasions at restaurants, but I’ve never had to shuck them myself at home.  I didn’t think prying one open would be too difficult as I’ve seen it done a jillion times on TV.  So I went out and bought three different kinds of oysters from Whole Foods.  I purchased four Fanny Bays, four Chefs Creeks, and four Malaspinas—all of which came from British Columbia, Canada. In the picture above, a Chefs Creek is on the left, two Fanny Bays are in the middle, and the large mofo on the right is a Malaspina oyster.

As soon as I got home with my bounty of bivalves, I set them all on ice and got to shuckin’. To open an oyster, an oyster knife is nice to have but not necessary.  I used a good ol’ butter knife to lever open my oysters, and for the most part, my sword of choice worked fine.

When it comes to opening oysters, you will want to first pad your oyster-holding hand with a folded kitchen towel. This extra protection will keep you from potentially severing an artery with a butter knife, which is probably bad for your health. You could also wear an oven mitt like I did.

Then, place an oyster in your protected hand with the flat side of the
oyster up. Yes, when you look at an oyster, you will see there is a
cupped side and a flat side.  Keeping the cupped side down will ensure
that you spill as little briny liqour as possible when you get the
shell open.

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With the flat side of the oyster up, jam your butter knife into the hinge end of the oyster and sort of work the knife back and forth until you feel it slide between the oyster shells. This will take a little bit of effort.

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Then, twist the knife as if the oyster were your worst enemy.  The top shell will pop open.

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Making sure to keep the oyster flat and not spilling any delicious juice, gently scrape the oyster away from the top shell. Discard the top shell, or lend it to your favorite mermaid. Then gently loosen the oyster from the bottom shell so it will be easier to slurp out, and return the oyster on the half-shell to a bed of ice until ready to serve.

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So fresh, so clean.

Although it took a little bit of effort to get my oysters open, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it’d be. I opened my Chefs Creeks with a bit of effort, but with no problems. I opened my Fanny Bays with no problems. I would shuck and slurp, shuck and slurp.  Each oyster was creamy and briny and chewy and wonderful. I was a shucking machine. Nay, I was a Shucking God!

Alas, my shucking prowess was fleeting.  When it was time for me to shuck the mighty Malaspinas, my stubby knife was useless.

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Look at the size of that thing! It’s monstrous! I’m not sure, but I think Malaspina shells are made out of evil.  With each Malaspina I tried to pry, I felt a rage brewing in my belly.

I tried to open my first Malaspina. Goddammit!

Then my second and third. Son of a bitch!

My fourth Malaspina. What the f*@%$! Motherf#*@%!! You piece of f*%&$ shi#!!!

Not a single Malaspina shell would budge, all of them stronger than I. Alas…

…mine oyster, which I with sword could not open.

I was a raging lunatic at this point. For some reason, I felt the need for a pillips head screwdriber, but a plat head would have probably served my purposes better.  My wife, smart woman that she is, knew to stay out of the kitchen.

I seriously considered flinging an oyster, ninja star style, through my kitchen window.  Luckily, I was able to compose myself.  I put the oyster down on the counter, took a deep breath, said a couple more curse words, and came up with a solution (anger sometimes leads to moments of clarity).  I would grill those bastards open!  It was a last resort because I really didn’t want to cook any oysters and lose their liquor, but I fired up my grill nonetheless.

I then placed my stubborn Malaspinas over direct high heat and watched them like a hawk until they juuuust started to open. I lost a bit of their liquor, but I was finally able to open those motherf, uh, sorry, Malaspinas. The grilled oysters, of course, had a different texture than their raw counterparts, but I found the Malaspinas to be quite tasty and smoky.

Once you finally get your briny bivalves open, there’s no better way
(in my opinion) to enjoy them than sans accoutrement—with nothing on them
but their own briny liquor.  But a squeeze of fresh kalamansi juice
never hurt anybody, and on a raw oyster kalamansi is soooooo goooood.
And if you’re into mignonette sauces
on oysters, then a mignonette of Filipino cane vinegar, shallots, and
some Szechwan peppercorns is a nice touch as well.  If you think about
it, a mignonette is almost like a standard vinegar dipping sauce for lumpia—although I wouldn’t suggest using the customary chopped garlic as that would probably overpower the oyster.

And if you’ve got a bunch of oysters to open, who says you have to shuck ’em all by your lonesome?  Maybe you can invite a couple of people over, hand them some extra butter knives, and have yourselves a group shuck.  Don’t judge.  There’s nothing wrong with group shucking.

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We’re two oysters, shucking.

Yes, if you have never opened an oyster before, it may be a bit difficult at first, and it will definitely take some time.  But if you remain (relatively) patient, you will be rewarded.  And it’s OK if you get mad.  Like my dad always says, “If you don’t get mad, it won’t get fixed opened.”

Oyster Tips:
I should also mention that I brought a cooler full of ice with me to
the store so that I could properly transport my oysters back home.  If
your fishmonger wraps your oysters in anything, just remove them from
their wrapping and place them, flat side up, on ice in your cooler.

If you’re not going to eat your oysters right away, you can keep them in a dish, covered in moist paper towels, in your refrigerator for a few days. If they are in the refrigerator, they don’t have to be on ice, but make sure the oysters stay flat side up as they may open and spill their liquor. If any oysters do open, give them a sharp tap and they should close up tightly. If they don’t close, throw them out.

Cane Vinegar Mignonette
The following recipe was more than enough sauce for a dozen oysters, so feel free to cut in half.

1 shallot, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon ground Szechwan peppercorns (black peppercorns can be used as well)
1/2 cup cane vinegar

Combine all ingredients and chill. Serve a scant spoonful over each oyster as desired.

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  • Krizia December 5, 2007, 10:29 pm

    The first time I shucked oysters (this past July for Bastille Day), I was so f*&^$#! pissed! I’m glad to know I’m not alone in my ‘peessed opp’ mood. Kalamnsi juice instead of lemon = genius. Where’d you get your kalamansi tree again? I’m thinking of getting my mom one for Christmas.

    Reply
  • Manggy December 5, 2007, 10:33 pm

    Thanks for the tutorial. I wish I could say for sure I will not get itchy wheals throughout my gastrointestinal tract for eating the raw broth of the sea. Nobody else at home would also like to try one, so…. maybe when I’m at a restaurant. With a Claritin nearby (perhaps Benadryl so I can be sedated).
    Did you consider even for a second that your Malaspinas were actually rocks? Haha :)

    Reply
  • desie the maybahay December 6, 2007, 3:12 am

    good one. i haven’t tried shucking oysters myself (hmm, there’s almost a perverse ring to that…)
    at least you put your rage to good use. aren’t oysters supposed to be aphrodisiacs? i hope they worked 😉

    Reply
  • darbunk December 6, 2007, 8:06 am

    Very entertaining post. Also very informative as I’ve never shucked an oyster at home either. When I do, I’ll make sure Sonny’s in another room so he doesn’t hear mama cursing.

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  • elmomonster December 6, 2007, 9:03 am

    Niiiice. Coincidentally, I got a hold of a whole bunch of calamansi from someone, I’ve been using it on damn near everything. Sauteed spinach. Clams. Fried stuff. Steamed stuff. The wounds of my enemies.

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  • Julie December 6, 2007, 9:56 am

    Oooh, yum! I’ve never shucked my own oysters. Good call on the oven mitt!

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  • steamy kitchen December 6, 2007, 12:16 pm

    u are much more patient than i!

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  • icechip1 December 6, 2007, 12:58 pm

    You can open oysters without cooking or losing juice by zapping in microwave for 20 seconds or so.

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  • Melissa! December 6, 2007, 1:00 pm

    I so do enjoy your writing – you crack me up! I shared your blog to all my Filipino friends and we are all ‘pans’ 😉
    Back to shucking, we bought some oysters while camping last year. My then 10-yr-old was our own personal shucker. She was a pro :) her tool of choice was a Flat Head Screwdriver. We sat there rubbing our fat bellies while she shucked & served – sigh…oh, her? She probably fooled us – for every oyster she shucked for us she had 2 for herself! (Oh, she has her own motives!)

    Reply
  • Matt Hurst December 6, 2007, 3:54 pm

    I’m down for a good ole group shuck. We could be two guys, shucking.

    Reply
  • Janice December 6, 2007, 8:25 pm

    i bought a ten-pound bag of oysters about a month ago…unfortunately, mine were pretty ugly Gulf oysters that aren’t anywhere near as pretty as those above. and those were a B!@$H to open!!! i didn’t own a shucker, so i used the next best thing…a butter knife. it sucked…my hands still bear the scars from that fiasco. then i caved in and bought an oyster knife…butter knives were not meant to be used on big, ugly Gulf oysters.
    since we’re a Filipino family, there’s rarely any lemon or lime…but there’s always kalamansi! the few i actually did open were enjoyed with kalamansi juice…yummo.
    ten pounds is a lot…my dad ended up making soup out of the rest.

    Reply
  • Rasa Malaysia December 6, 2007, 10:43 pm

    Marvin, where did you buy the kalamansi limes? I have never seen them anywhere down in Irvine…

    Reply
  • Dhanggit December 7, 2007, 8:18 am

    your dad reminds me of my dad ..hehehe anyways this oyster post is really useful coz there are plenty of people that hurt themselves in opening one :-)

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia December 7, 2007, 9:22 am

    Krizia, I bought my kalamansi tree at OSH hardware. I’ve seen trees at other hardware stores, but they are all labeled as “variegated calmondin”, and I think that means they are not true kalamansi. Make sure the tree you get isn’t some kind of hybrid.
    Manggy, I always feel bad for those with food allergies. I can’t imagine not being able to eat oysters, they are too good to miss.
    Hi desie, yes oysters are purportedly an aphrodisiac, and that’s all I will say about that;)
    Yes, darbunk, do make sure that the young ones are out of earshot;)
    lol elmo! Rubbing kalamansi in the wounds of your enemies is an awesome use for them!
    Thanks Julie. Just make sure you wear an oven mitt that allows you to grasp the oyster firmly.
    Ah yes, steamy, I do remember your post about opening coconuts!
    icechip1, that has to be the greatest tip of all time! i will definitely have to experiment with that one!
    Thanks very much Melissa! I’m glad you are spreading the word to your friends about me. I can use all the “pans” I can get;) And your daughter sounds like a little genius.
    Hurst, anytime.
    10 lbs. is a lot of oysters Janice! And a butter knife works wonders doesn’t it?
    Hi Rasa, OSH hardware.
    Hello dhanggit. Yeah, i think a lot of pinoy dads have some rage issues;)

    Reply
  • oggi December 7, 2007, 11:14 am

    I can’t remember the last time I had oysters. I like them with vinegar, shallots, and chili. My friends put them on top of hot charcoal until they open just a tad before fully opeing them.
    hahaha, “we’re two open oysters, shucking” sounds naughty.:D

    Reply
  • Cynthia December 7, 2007, 1:28 pm

    I have never had oysters :( maybe one day…

    Reply
  • junemoon December 9, 2007, 9:31 am

    Your post made me laugh, out loud, long and hard. Thank you! I needed that this morning. You are quite the story teller!! junemoon

    Reply
  • Ruy December 9, 2007, 11:52 am

    Very helpful tips. Thank you very much Marvin!
    Your mignonette looks good by the way.

    Reply
  • jacqueline December 9, 2007, 11:37 pm

    So funny. I could just hear my dad reading this and disclaiming any familiarity whatsoever. Luckily, I am more handy b/c I am not more patient. But some of the F*bombs did fly on my first shucking experience. Check out my gourmetfood column or blog for posts on the experience!
    Jacqueline Church
    http://gourmetfood.suite101.com
    http://theleatherdistrictgourmet.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • dhanggit December 10, 2007, 7:36 am

    LOL-on pinoy dads’ rage issues..i agree 100%

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  • Wandering Chopsticks December 10, 2007, 11:55 am

    Ah, I miss oysters. Especially when they’re in season and I can get them as cheap as a dime apiece in Oregon. My family always buys them by the box! My daddy even found a tiny pearl for me once! And he never swears either. 😛
    BTW, you know there’s a special oyster shucking knife? It’s shorter and gives you more leverage. And I shuck from the mouth and just pry open with my hands. Also, there’s a weird little wooden thingamajig that holds the oyster in place to make it all easier.

    Reply
  • Delilah O' Connell December 10, 2007, 9:47 pm

    Why, I would never judge you and your shucking group style. . . . .but the whole roasted pig’s head on a platter, that is something that takes a white girl from the suburbs some time to get used to.

    Reply
  • brilynn December 11, 2007, 9:04 am

    When the f bombs start dropping it’s always wise to steer clear… I’ve never shucked my own oysters, that’s what ninjas are for.

    Reply
  • Pat December 11, 2007, 10:02 am

    I’ve never shucked oysters before and as entertaining and informative your tutorial, Marvin, I think I’ll keep it that way :).

    Reply
  • foodhoe December 11, 2007, 11:29 am

    brilliant post, very entertaining stories and gorgeous pix! what in the world are those little orangey looking things? the big oysters did indeed look evil – good strategy to burn them.

    Reply
  • Babette December 16, 2007, 5:29 pm

    Hmmm, makes me want to go out and get some oysters! funny post… I never thought I would find cursing funny but you made me laugh. LOL

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia December 19, 2007, 8:49 am

    hi oggi! Yes, even though I was scared at first to grill them, the oysters turned out very good. Like you said, I think the key is to only grill them until they just open.
    Never Cynthia? You’re missing out!
    Hello junemoon. Thanks so much for the compliment and for stopping by!
    Thank Ruy. And the mignonette is very simple to make.
    Hi Jacqueline, first-time oyster shucking will inevitably lead to f-bombs.
    dhanggit, i know it;)
    WC, you’re lucky that your dad never swears. And yes, I do know about oyster knives, I just didn’t want to go out and buy one;)
    Hello Delilah, the one time you witnessed a pig’s head on a platter makes you a wily lechon veteran now. You should be used to it;)
    You’re right, brilynn! Ninjas make great oyster shuckers!
    Pat, oyster shucking is not that difficult;)
    hello foodhoe. the orange things are a type of filipino lime called kalamansi. They are very tart and taste like, well, limes.
    I’m glad I could make you laugh Babette!

    Reply
  • Maricel March 24, 2008, 8:07 pm

    Try prying the oysters open from the other side of the hinge, it is so much easier.

    Reply
  • Dudette September 19, 2008, 1:42 am

    HAHAHAHAH!! cracked me up, you did!!! Just what I needed to liven things up while at work! hhahahahah

    Reply
  • Row March 31, 2010, 9:38 pm

    Cool timing… I stumbled onto your blog today and I actually had oysters with fresh kalamansi juice for dinner…. yum! Great post!

    Reply

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