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How do You Open an Oyster?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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As some cooks have discovered to their chagrin, it can be difficult to open an oyster instead of one's hand. The basic technique involved to open an oyster is very simple, and with a bit of practice, very easy. Once opened, the oyster can be prepared in a variety of ways, or slurped straight out of the shell with a spritz of lemon juice and a dash of hot sauce.

Before the oyster opening process begins, it is important to choose good oysters. Oysters should be purchased alive from a reputable fishmonger, and they should be stored on ice or in a cool region of the fridge, ideally in a container which allows for drainage, such as a colander inside a bowl. If an oyster opens on its own, it is dead, and it should be discarded. It is also important to use an oyster knife, a knife specifically designed for opening oysters, to open an oyster, rather than a generic knife, which could slip and cut the cook.

Start by selecting an oyster and running it under cool water while scrubbing the shell with a nail brush to remove dirt and other miscellaneous material. Then, chill the oyster in the freezer for 10 minutes to relax its muscles. This step is not mandatory, but it will make it much easier to open an oyster.

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Once cleaned and chilled, the oyster should be wrapped in a coarse kitchen cloth. This will make it easier to hold onto the shell, ensuring that the oyster does not slide out while it is being opened. Next, the oyster knife should be inserted between the halves of the shell, right next to the hinge, with the oyster in a horizontal position so that none of the liquid inside will escape when the oyster is opened.

There are two schools of thought for the next step. Some people prefer to run the knife around the shell until it reaches the other side of the hinge to loosen the muscles in the oyster, and then gently pop the shell open. Other people prefer to insert the oyster knife deeply initially, and then twist or lever it so that the shell pops open. The method to use to open an oyster at this stage is purely a matter of preference.

Once opened, the oyster should be held horizontally to avoid losing the juices, and used as quickly as possible. If a large batch of oysters is being opened, it can be a good idea to keep the opened oysters on ice while the others are being worked on, to keep the oysters as fresh as possible.

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