When I was a young girl you could walk down to the shoreline at low tide and fill a bucket with oysters. Sometimes we’d pop them right off the rocks of the jetties and slurp them up with the seawater right on them. So good! Now oysters are scarcer, because of pollution in the Bay, but primarily because of two introduced diseases; Dermo and MSX, which destroy the hinge ligament and kill the oyster before it reaches market size. I think Juvenile Oyster Disease is still mainly in New England. So why eat them? I really don’t, unless somebody brings me some or there are a few bushels at a party. In that case the deed is done so I might as well rejoice in traditional pleasures. It’s hard not to. I crave them. Maybe it’s the iodine. I remember once scraping up the 98 cents one oyster cost at the Oyster Bar in Penn Station. Had to have it.
So, scrub your oysters in the sink. Some people don’t because they say it takes the taste away, but they are pretty gritty. If they are a lot, in a bushel basket for example, I dump them out on the grass and spray them with the garden hose, to spare clogging the pipes. Now, you need a strong, stiff blade. Oyster knives are sold as such. Here is a nice one:Dexter-Russell 4″ Oyster Knife
I like the longer, sharper ones because you can work them in between the lips of the shell without making so much crumbled up shell. But some people actually pop the shell at the hinge, by brute strength, with a screwdriver. You need a wooden board to work on, and you definitely need a thick tough glove, like the picture on this link, CUT RESISTANT GLOVES-100% KEVLAR®, Heavy Weight Textured Blue Latex Coated,large, (1 pair)because if you slip you will impale yourself with a filthy oyster knife. If you are serving them on the half shell have a plate ready, and if you are making stew have a bowl for oysters and a bowl for collecting extra juices which you can later pour through a sieve to strain out bits of shell.
OK, now, check out your opponent. Your oyster tends to curve one way more than the other, like a paisley pattern. I usually look for a spot around two-thirds of the way around the outer curve, on the top. The top is darker and the lip kind of makes a little shelf that might curl upwards a bit. Get a good grip on the oyster with your holding hand- I’m right handed so I’m holding it with my left, with the hinge towards me. I aim the tip of my oyster knife slanting down into the edge of the oyster lip. I’m going to push the tip through the thinnest edge of the top shell and as I feel it give I’ll start twisting. This will get me further in between the lips of the oyster and I will begin to force them apart a little, enough to slide the blade in and cut the muscle that is holding the shell closed. Feel for the muscle with your knife; it is just about a half inch in somewhere in there. If you can try to keep your knife horizontal and close to the top to avoid mutilating the oyster so it will look pretty. Once you feel your knife go through it, the shells will loosen so you can slide your knife sideways towards the hinge and pop the top shell into a bucket. Loosen the oyster so it sits free in the shell, check for bits of shell with your knife tip, top with a squeeze of lemon or a dollop of cocktail sauce, and then tilt that back and slurp it down. Fabulous! That will give you strength to shuck the rest.
How to cook them:
Classic Oyster Stew
Fry a half a finely chopped onion with two slices of bacon, chopped.
Add 12 shucked oysters, without juice. Fry in same pan until curly but no longer.
Add oyster juice.
Add 3 cups of milk and a cup of cream and bring to a simmer.
salt with Old Bay Seasoning to taste. You really need that celery seed and paprika taste.
Grind of black pepper.
Optional: add sliced boiled potatoes.
Some people thicken the milk and cream with flour and some people use more cream.
Serve with oyster crackers or saltines. It is a milk-thin soup, so crumbling in crackers is normal.
Shuck oysters, drain.
Dip in beaten egg, roll in seasoned flour, roll in Ritz cracker crumbs, fry in butter until golden brown. Seriously. They will shrink so make a lot. I would run a mile for just one though.
At a winter feast on the Eastern Shore, it is traditional to put oysters on the grill until they open. They are hot and savory, and a little smoky, cooked in their own juices. That is hard to beat.
Everybody does them with bacon and cheese. They use cheddar.
Fill a baking tray with oysters on the half shell. Put some chopped fried bacon and a thick chunk of cheese on top of the oyster and bake them for 20 minutes at 400.
Also great with some chopped cooked spinach, fried onions, bacon and cheese- I want to say that is Oysters Rockefeller.
My mother did a batch with a champagne dill sauce and a sprinkle of prosciutto slivers. Pretty fancy.
Oyster casserole is pretty delicious but I never made it because it takes a lot of shucking.
Do return your oyster shells to the Bay. They are a good place for baby oysters to grow on. We always used to put ours in potholes but times have changed and oysters need all the help they can get.