How to Shuck Oysters with Expert Tobias Hogan

Oregonian’s MIX Magazine, December 2012

Nothing adds sparkle to a holiday party like a platter of glistening oysters on the half shell and a glass of bubbly. However, if you’ve ever shucked an oyster, you know the process can be daunting and potentially dangerous. That is unless you have the right tools and tips. We asked Tobias Hogan, oyster shucking expert and co-owner of EaT: An Oyster Bar and The Parish, how to coax open an oyster shell.

“The freshness and flavor can’t be beat when you shuck your own oysters,” Hogan says. You can also get more bivalves for your buck when you buy them by the dozen and take them home. The Parish sells oysters by the dozen from their daily chalkboard selection — ranging from Tillamook Sweets to Kumamoto, depending on what’s in season.

“You can grab a dozen oysters to go and a bottle of wine if you want,” says Hogan. You don’t even have to worry about preparing a mignonette, as Hogan advises a squirt of lemon or slurping au naturel. “It’s about the oyster, not what you put on top of it,” he say.

How to Shuck an Oyster

1. Prepare a platter of crushed ice to place the just-shucked oysters on. “Some people freeze rock salt, which is a little less messy,” says Hogan. The ice or frozen rock salt keeps the oysters chilled and level so you don’t lose any of the liquor.

2. Lay a thick towel on a stable, flat surface, like a cutting board or countertop. Fold up one end of the towel so you can cradle the oyster. The towel is good for hand protection from the shell, and it’s also good for leverage.

3. Position the oyster cup-side down with the hinge (or pointy side) toward you. The hinge is always going to be pointing down or straight out.

4. Using firm pressure, wiggle the tip of an oyster knife into the hinge. Rotate gently back and forth. Keep in mind that it doesn’t take a lot of force. “It’s pressure and leverage more than force and sharpness,” says Hogan.

5. Once you’ve “popped” the hinge open, angle your knife tip up and run it underneath the top shell to cut the oyster’s adductor muscle (try not to cut into its body). Then angle the knife tip down and pull it toward you under the oyster, using the bottom shell as a guide, to cut the muscle from the bottom shell.

6. When you reach the other end, twist the blade to separate the top and bottom shells. If the shell chips or you accidentally cut the oyster, you can still save it but it’s not so great for the presentation. “So, I would probably just eat it and try again,” Hogan says.

7. Slide your blade under the oyster and cut through the adductor muscles holding the meat to the shell. Try to keep the oyster flat so you retain the liquor inside. That’s where all the flavor comes from, says Hogan.

8. Squirt with fresh lemon, then slurp with good friends and wine.

Tips and tools:

1. Before you shuck, find a dish towel that’s good and thick. “Remember, you want something for padding and blockage,” says Hogan.

2. A well-designed oyster knife makes all the difference. “We use these little INOX French ones at the restaurant because they are very utilitarian and easy to use,” says Hogan. At home, he uses different knives for different oysters because the bivalves come in all shapes and sizes.

3. Just in case, Hogan suggests some protective gear. Either a puncture-proof glove or a glove with a rubber palm that is puncture proof.

4. Also essential — good wine (preferably Champagne or chablis) and good friends, adds Hogan.