My dad has this saying that if you don’t get mad, it won’t get fixed.
This maxim usually applies to certain circumstances in which my old man is trying to repair something around the house or in his garage. The scenarios usually start off very innocently, like screwing a shelf into a wall, unclogging some backed-up pipes, or genetically engineering his clone. But as soon as something goes wrong—like a missing shelf bracket, a futile and useless plunger, or a volatile and unstable strain of DNA—my dad goes berserk and starts cursing up a storm.
He usually starts off with a few innocuous “Goddammits!” Then he moves on to spewing out some “Sons of bitches!” that serve as a warning to those within earshot that he’s about to blow his top. But once he starts dropping F-bombs and MotherF-bombs, it’s time for my brothers and I to scurry away and hide, lest we be commanded to find my dad his “Pillips head screwdriber”. On such occasions of unbridled fury, I always want to tell my dad that Jesus was a carpenter. But I don’t think he’d get it, and then he would surely stab me with said screwdriver.
My dad’s rage doesn’t last forever. Once he’s done fixin' whatever he was fixin', he calms down, shrugs his shoulders, then walks over to my mom and mutters his mantra: “If you don’t get mad, it won’t get fixed.”
Now, I’m not much of a handy guy. I own zero powertools and most of my handiwork consists of erecting crappy Ikea furniture. So in terms of being a man about the house, I haven’t witnessed any of my father’s fury passed on down to me. However, it’s a completely different story when I’m in the kitchen. My inherited wrath was no more evident than when I tried shucking oysters for the first time.
I have had fresh oysters on numerous occasions at restaurants, but I've never had to shuck them myself at home. I didn’t think prying one open would be too difficult as I’ve seen it done a jillion times on TV. So I went out and bought three different kinds of oysters from Whole Foods. I purchased four Fanny Bays, four Chefs Creeks, and four Malaspinas—all of which came from British Columbia, Canada. In the picture above, a Chefs Creek is on the left, two Fanny Bays are in the middle, and the large mofo on the right is a Malaspina oyster.
As soon as I got home with my bounty of bivalves, I set them all on ice and got to shuckin'. To open an oyster, an oyster knife is nice to have but not necessary. I used a good ol' butter knife to lever open my oysters, and for the most part, my sword of choice worked fine.
When it comes to opening oysters, you will want to first pad your oyster-holding hand with a folded kitchen towel. This extra protection will keep you from potentially severing an artery with a butter knife, which is probably bad for your health. You could also wear an oven mitt like I did.
Then, place an oyster in your protected hand with the flat side of the oyster up. Yes, when you look at an oyster, you will see there is a cupped side and a flat side. Keeping the cupped side down will ensure that you spill as little briny liqour as possible when you get the shell open.
With the flat side of the oyster up, jam your butter knife into the hinge end of the oyster and sort of work the knife back and forth until you feel it slide between the oyster shells. This will take a little bit of effort.
Then, twist the knife as if the oyster were your worst enemy. The top shell will pop open.
Making sure to keep the oyster flat and not spilling any delicious juice, gently scrape the oyster away from the top shell. Discard the top shell, or lend it to your favorite mermaid. Then gently loosen the oyster from the bottom shell so it will be easier to slurp out, and return the oyster on the half-shell to a bed of ice until ready to serve.
So fresh, so clean.
Although it took a little bit of effort to get my oysters open, it wasn't as difficult as I thought it'd be. I opened my Chefs Creeks with a bit of effort, but with no problems. I opened my Fanny Bays with no problems. I would shuck and slurp, shuck and slurp. Each oyster was creamy and briny and chewy and wonderful. I was a shucking machine. Nay, I was a Shucking God!
Alas, my shucking prowess was fleeting. When it was time for me to shuck the mighty Malaspinas, my stubby knife was useless.
Look at the size of that thing! It's monstrous! I'm not sure, but I think Malaspina shells are made out of evil. With each Malaspina I tried to pry, I felt a rage brewing in my belly.
I tried to open my first Malaspina. Goddammit!
Then my second and third. Son of a bitch!
My fourth Malaspina. What the f*@%$! Motherf#*@%!! You piece of f*%&$ shi#!!!
Not a single Malaspina shell would budge, all of them stronger than I. Alas...
...mine oyster, which I with sword could not open.
I was a raging lunatic at this point. For some reason, I felt the need for a pillips head screwdriber, but a plat head would have probably served my purposes better. My wife, smart woman that she is, knew to stay out of the kitchen.
I seriously considered flinging an oyster, ninja star style, through my kitchen window. Luckily, I was able to compose myself. I put the oyster down on the counter, took a deep breath, said a couple more curse words, and came up with a solution (anger sometimes leads to moments of clarity). I would grill those bastards open! It was a last resort because I really didn't want to cook any oysters and lose their liquor, but I fired up my grill nonetheless.
I then placed my stubborn Malaspinas over direct high heat and watched them like a hawk until they juuuust started to open. I lost a bit of their liquor, but I was finally able to open those motherf, uh, sorry, Malaspinas. The grilled oysters, of course, had a different texture than their raw counterparts, but I found the Malaspinas to be quite tasty and smoky.
Once you finally get your briny bivalves open, there’s no better way (in my opinion) to enjoy them than sans accoutrement—with nothing on them but their own briny liquor. But a squeeze of fresh kalamansi juice never hurt anybody, and on a raw oyster kalamansi is soooooo goooood. And if you’re into mignonette sauces on oysters, then a mignonette of Filipino cane vinegar, shallots, and some Szechwan peppercorns is a nice touch as well. If you think about it, a mignonette is almost like a standard vinegar dipping sauce for lumpia—although I wouldn’t suggest using the customary chopped garlic as that would probably overpower the oyster.
And if you've got a bunch of oysters to open, who says you have to shuck 'em all by your lonesome? Maybe you can invite a couple of people over, hand them some extra butter knives, and have yourselves a group shuck. Don’t judge. There’s nothing wrong with group shucking.
We're two oysters, shucking.
Yes, if you have never opened an oyster before, it may be a bit difficult at first, and it will definitely take some time. But if you remain (relatively) patient, you will be rewarded. And it’s OK if you get mad. Like my dad always says, “If you don’t get mad, it won’t get
I should also mention that I brought a cooler full of ice with me to the store so that I could properly transport my oysters back home. If your fishmonger wraps your oysters in anything, just remove them from their wrapping and place them, flat side up, on ice in your cooler.
If you're not going to eat your oysters right away, you can keep them in a dish, covered in moist paper towels, in your refrigerator for a few days. If they are in the refrigerator, they don't have to be on ice, but make sure the oysters stay flat side up as they may open and spill their liquor. If any oysters do open, give them a sharp tap and they should close up tightly. If they don't close, throw them out.
Cane Vinegar Mignonette
The following recipe was more than enough sauce for a dozen oysters, so feel free to cut in half.
1 shallot, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon ground Szechwan peppercorns (black peppercorns can be used as well)
1/2 cup cane vinegar
Combine all ingredients and chill. Serve a scant spoonful over each oyster as desired.