A Good Shuck for Valentine’s Day

Posted by: samy February 1, 2012 No Comments

Oyster close upWe’ve always wanted to learn how to shuck an oyster.  There’s just something about the allure of the mollusk that filled us with the desire to get our hands dirty, but just like school girls chickening out of admitting their feelings to a high school crush, the overall process looked so daunting, we’d sit back with a glass of something bubbly and leave the shell separating to the professionals.

But as we inched closer to Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d take the bull by the horns (or the muscle by the shell), and learn how to become lean, mean shucking machines.

Once again, Erin called upon good friend, Chef Andrew Prentice, to demonstrate the ways of the wild (you’ll remember Andrew from the Steak Tartar blog we featured here last fall).

Andrew, having grown up in coastal England, and earned his Chef’s papers in London’s swinging 60’s, has been shucking for decades.  He can blaze his way through 12 Malpeques in about 6 minutes without even breaking a sweat.   And if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of an order of 24 oysters, you’ll appreciate that speed counts.

Andrew, shucking in Erin's kitchen
Andrew, shucking in Erin’s kitchen

Anyway, ever the gentleman, Andrew arrived at 6 sharp, ready to get down to business.  He brought along the Malpeques (not necessarily his favourite oyster, he says, but the one he feels is the most consistent through out the year), a good oyster knife and some fresh lemon.

Erin, holding up her end of the bargain, provided the wine.  The evening began with Lailey Unoaked Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Penninsula 2010.  At only $16, this is a spectacular wine, filled with ripe orchard fruit, Clementine orange, and a fresh, mineral note that’s not dissimilar from Chablis.  It was brilliant as a starter to the evening, and a great pairing with the oysters as well as some Grey Owl cheese that had been laid out.

After enjoying a few glasses to loosen us up, the shuck fest began.  Andrew deftly made his way through about four, before handing the knife over to Erin.  With Andrews gentle coaching, Erin realized — much to her surprise — that shucking with skill and grace is far easier than in looks.

If you’ve never shucked an oyster before: here’s what you will need:

  1. fresh oysters – obviously
  2. a good oyster knife – found in any kitchen ware store
  3. a kitchen towel you don’t mind getting mucky

(And that’s really it; what oysters lack in ease of preparation, they make up for in simplicity of ingredients).

Fresh Malpeques, just waiting to be shucked
Fresh Malpeques, just waiting to be shucked

Here’s how to do it:

  • Place the oyster in the towel, round end in the towel and pointy end sticking out.

C:U oyster knife in beak

  • Firmly place once hand on top of the towel end of the oyster. With the knife in the other hand, stick the end of your oyster knife in the “beak” or pointy end of the oyster.  There’s a natural split for you to put the knife.
  • Gently wiggle the knife up and down, like you’re turning a key in a lock, until you sense the oyster shell has started to separate.

Side view Andrew w: oyster

  • Move the knife blade along the sides of the oyster, wiggling to completely detach the top of the shell from the bottom.

C:U Prying oyster open

  • Carefully remove the top shell, being mindful not spill the liquor inside.
  • The oyster will be attached to the shell by a muscle, use your knife to gently free it.

C:U loosening oyster from shell

  • Squeeze some lemon, fresh ground pepper, or other condiment of you choice like Tabasco or migonette sauce and slurp away!

Oysters in snow

Perfect Wine Pairings for Oysters:

The flavour of oysters can be any combination of salty, creamy and fatty, so you need a wine with high acidity, low(ish) alcohol and no oak.
Under no circumstances should you pair a red wine — the tannins will just result in a tinny, metallic tasting oyster. A waste of good oysters and good wine.

Here are some really good pairings:

Muscadet – This is the classic oyster wine.  It’s native to the Loire region, an area known for soil that contains fossilized oysters from the days when the earth was covered in water.  Inexpensive, with tart green apple and mineral notes this is a perfect match.
Try: Chateau Salmoniere Almoniere Vielles Vignes Muscadet Sevre & Maine 2010
$13.95 Vintages 142380

Chablis – Another classic pairing, Chablis is an unaoked Chardonnay hailing from the north of Burgundy.  Crisp, clean with bracing minerality this wine works very well with Malpeques.
Try: Domaine des Malandes Villes Vignes Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2008
$29.95 Vintages 16626

Sancerre – A Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, this wine is generally more restrained than its New World counterparts, with mineral, gooseberry and peach flavours.
Try: Henri Bourgeois La Porte du Caillou Sancerre 2009
$23.95 Vintages 244806

Champagne – dry bubbly is what you’re looking for here either as a blanc de blanc (white) or blanc de noir ( rose).
Try: Veuve Clicquot Brut
$66.30 LCBO 563338

Beer – If you’ve never enjoyed fresh seafood in a ramshackle restaurant on a wharf somewhere by the ocean, you haven’t lived.  Feasting on piles of shellfish washed down with pints is flat out awesome.
Try: Steamwhistle Pilsner

Oyster shell with fork

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