Originally I wanted to call this post “what I did on my holidays”, but the “how to’s” seem to draw in more Google traffic!
And what we did was go to Dunedin in the extremely sunny Otago and, among other things, gather seafood! Yay! Kaimoana!!
What we have here is two buckets of bluff oysters, and two of the local cockles. Awesome. Actually… do the kids even say “awesome” any more?
Now, cockles are easy, you just cook them the same way as mussels. But that’s another post. Oysters though… Oysters are tricky. Fortunately I’ve had to shuck dozens, and dozens, and dozens, and dozens while working in service.
So! All you need for this is two things: a decent oyster knife, and an oyster!
I should come clean and state that I’m not certain that these were *actual* bluff oysters. They did however live in the shallows of a local bay though, and we collected them at low tide. Naturally this was a lot of fun, involving freezing cold water, leaky gumboots, a boat trip, and a lot of scrabbling about.
So here’s what you need to do.
Take your oyster and your knife, and place the oyster in a bit of scrap cloth. An old tea-towel or any such would be good. The idea is use the cloth to keep the oyster still without slashing yourself on the sharp edge. As you can see, I’m perched on the lawn for this exercise. But you can work anywhere as long as you’re prepared for how much water leaks from the oyster when it opens.
And here’s the trick. The idea is to present the hinge end of the oyster to the knife. You then very gently dig the point of the knife into the hinge.
I cannot stress strongly enough that this isn’t a muscle job, it’s a knack, or finesse job.
What you have to do is dig in just enough to place pressure on the hinge with the knife, and break the vacuum seal created by the oyster itself. Once you break the seal, it’s easy to get the shell off. If you have to apply muscle you are highly, highly likely to slip with the knife, and stab yourself very painfully at the base of the thumb. Then, because you are cleaning shellfish, you will get a god-awful infection, and likely die.
OK so I over-stated the die bit. But crikey those knife wounds hurt, and can become badly infected.
You may need to work the blade in a little, but don’t go too far or you’ll likely break the underside shell, and then separating the lot is messy work. Essentially the top shell just kind of “pops up”, and then you’re in business.
That is in effect the most difficult bit. Once you’ve done that, you need to separate the two shells.
An oysters has a “heel” that connects the two shells, and allows the shell to open and close. You need to slide the knife along the inside of the upper shell, and cut through this heel, like so.
Now, once the top shell is off, all that remains is to cut through the bottom half of the heel. This is also simple. Get your knife in under the only bit of the oyster that is attached and cut through it. The proof of the pudding is in being able to completely flip over the oyster.
Then, once the oyster is turned over, it’s extremely delicious!!
Well… actually these oysters were seriously salty. I had to tip most of the seawater off. And that discolouration of the shell suggests there might be pollutants in the water… But who cares?!! We had and entire bucket to clean and eat!