Oyster Shucking 101

Try your hand(s) at this classic Island skill.

Cottage City oysters. —Tina Miller

How do oyster shuckers make it look so easy? They delicately pry open the tightly locked bivalve mollusks with the skill of a surgeon. You want to learn, but it is pretty intimidating. Besides, those shuckers do it so well, why bother? We’ve got the best reason — because there is nothing better than an ice cold, briney fresh-shucked Island oyster. After all, the Vineyard has some of the best oysters anywhere!

Edible Vineyard met up with Greg Martino of Cottage City Oysters, created and operated by brothers Greg and Dan Martino. Together these farmers don’t stop. They run a full-service oyster farm providing oysters Islandwide, a raw bar service for events, oyster farm tours where you can “learn to shuck,” and beginning this year you’ll find Cottage City Oysters Raw Bar at Beach Road restaurant. 

Greg showed up with a dozen pristine Cottage City Oysters and one of their own branded oyster knives, which are quite versatile and can also be used for clams or scallops.

Let the lesson begin

Greg prefers using a glove and shucking in his hands, rather than a hard service like a countertop. The glove keeps him safe from gouges. 

A perfect oyster for shucking will be a teardrop shape with a deep cup, which means it will have deep fat meat, great eating.

First, know your way around. There is a bill and a hinge. The hinge is at the narrow end, where you can see the top and bottom meet and where you will start.

1. Starting at the hinge, insert the oyster knife flat side up into the hinge. Press down, and use the leverage on your holding hand to pop the oyster. Grab the knife down low, leaning back using your other hand as leverage

2. Using slow, consistent leverage with your knife in the hinge, you may hear a pop, and liquid will flow out. Keep the knife at a 90-degree angle, carefully working towards the bill, being careful not to break the shell, just opening the seal. When unsealed, cut the upper abductor muscle to free it up, nice and clean to keep the oyster whole. Remove the cap. Wipe your knife to remove any shell fragments.

3. Slice underneath to cut the under abductor. Drain a bit of the liquid, to remove any shell fragments. Don’t worry about losing that bit of liquid, the oyster will release more filtered liquid, also called liquor, almost immediately. 

Pro Tips:

Never rinse oysters. The liquid, or liquor, is pure gold and helps deliver that delicious, juicy oyster into your mouth. 

Ice oysters thoroughly. Oysters will take on a more metallic flavor as the temperature rises. When they are nice and cold, they are beautiful and briney.

Oysters should be wet and glistening. Dry oysters are usually old. 

And lastly, shucking is not about strength. In fact, if you use too much muscle, you are more likely to slip and stab yourself.