Award-winning Canadian oyster shucker John Bil is known for his unique ability to shuck the bivalves at lightening speed–a rate of 18 oysters in 90 seconds. The Prince Edward Island native and owner of Canada’s seafood restaurant Ship to Shore participated in the Food Network’s New York City Wine and Food Festival this past weekend, shucking a total of 4,500 oysters. He was kind enough to stop by and shuck a few of his very own P.E.I. oysters with us, and to give us tips on how to have perfect oysters at home.
Obviously, you start at the fish store, where Bil recommends you get friendly with your fish monger. You’ll probably pay $1.00 per oyster, or $0.75 each if you buy in bulk. Check the harvest tag to see where they’re from: Bil feels that Canada produces the best oysters, and that generally, the further north, the better the oyster. Also find out when they expire. Your favorite kind of oyster might not be the freshest one available, so he urges you to seek freshness and quality over quantity. “If you’ve got four perfect oysters instead of a dozen mediocre ones, you’re going to be much happier,” he said.
Check to see if they’re clean, well-presented, and not too long or skinny. Bill noted they should resemble a “big fat tear drop”. Avoid any oysters with funky or fishy aromas. Ask plenty of questions to ensure you’re getting the right stuff. “The more you know,” he said, “the better you’re going to eat.”
When you get your oysters home, you’ll want to keep them as cold as possible without freezing them. Bil recommends that you store the dry oysters in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator in between two damp cloths. (Don’t put them on ice until after you shuck them.)
To begin, you’ll need an oyster shucking knife, like the Dexter Russell one Bil uses. You can pick one up at JB Prince.
Working on a firm surface like your counter or a cutting board, get out two small cloths and place the oyster between them.
Place your knife at the small gap at the hinge of the back of the oyster, angle it downward, and then push into it. “It’s like you’re putting a key in the ignition,” Bil said. By twisting your wrist, wiggle the knife a bit until you feel the muscle give way.
Place your thumb at the wide end of the oyster, and your pointer finger between the shells at the narrow part. Then place your knife at the side of the oyster and pry the shells open a little bit further.
Scrape the edges of the knife along the top shell, removing it completely.
Give the oyster a half or quarter turn, scooping along the bottom just under the muscle where it’s attached.
Inspect the oyster, ensuring that it’s free of cuts and shells, and that it’s totally removed from the back part on the bottom shell. A perfect oyster will be full at the shell, and the sea water inside will be clear.
Keep chilled and enjoy within an hour.