Before oysters can be enjoyed, they must undergo the shucking process. Shucked oysters are those that have been removed from their shells. Once shucked, oysters are refreshing appetizers that are ideally paired with a cold glass of white wine or champagne during a romantic meal. Oysters are not only high in protein and iron, they are also eco-friendly; oysters have little environmental impact and help to clean the water in which they live.
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By law, fresh oysters must be sold live and in the shell. Before oysters can be served, they must be shucked, which is the process of removing the oyster meat from its shell through careful knife work. Once removed from its shell, shucked oysters can be enjoyed raw, or they can be cooked in a variety of ways. Shucked oyster meat should smell mild and fresh and should have a creamy tan color.
Shucking an oyster takes more skill than strength. Chefs must use an oyster knife -- a knife short in length with an easy-to-grip handle. To begin shucking the oyster, chefs wrap the oyster in a towel and place it on a flat surface with the oyster’s hinge facing toward them. They slide the knife into the hinge, moving it back and forth to carefully loosen the shell. Once they pry the shell open, chefs insert the knife to cut the muscle that attaches the meat. The meat can then be removed from the shell and eaten. Oysters should be shucked and served shortly after they are purchased to ensure that they remain safe for consumption.
Purchasing and Storing
When purchasing oysters to shuck, shoppers should ensure that the oysters’ shells are tightly shut. If a shell looks slightly opened, it should shut after being tapped. If it does not close, the oyster is dead and should not be purchased. Oysters that have a strong fishy smell should be avoided as well. Once purchased, oysters can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator in an open container covered with a damp cloth.
Preparing and Serving
Before shucking oysters, chefs should scrub the shells to remove excess dirt. Once the oysters are shucked, they can be served on the half shell on ice. While they are delicious on their own, they also can be tasty when topped with lemon juice, horseradish, cocktail sauce or caviar. Other options for serving oysters include frying, baking, grilling or sautéing the meat.