Opening Oysters

Tips on Opening Oysters

New England is the home for one of the oldest oyster establishments in the country, and many people have learned the art of opening oysters here before they indulge in the rich flavor.


Oysters are bivalve mollusks, meaning that there are two parts to their shells.  The two shells are connected by strong adductor muscles that enable the oyster to close up tight as a clam when threatened.  Certain types of oysters are edible, while others are considered to be pearl oysters.  They are commonly found throughout the world in ocean waters, where large numbers of the mollusks collect to form an oyster bed usually in shallow areas.

Eating oysters

It is true that, for most people, eating oysters is an acquired taste.  They can be eaten raw or cooked.  The flavor is rich and bold, with a chewy texture that is usually only noted when they are cooked in a dish.   Raw oysters are taken in their natural state, directly from the half shell with a sprinkling of hot sauce.  Nutritionally, oysters are quite high in iron, protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B12 and selenium.  On the down side, oysters are very high in cholesterol and sodium.  Despite these slight flaws, a great number of people find eating oysters to be a singularly enjoyable activity.  Before they can be consumed, however, they must first be opened.

Opening oysters to eat raw

Eating raw oysters means the oyster must be removed from the shell.  The tools used to open these mollusks are quite simple; your own two hands and an oyster knife provide the best method for revealing the oyster within.  Gloves may prove to be helpful as well, however; the shells tend to possess sharp obtrusions and edges that can easily slice open a finger or palm.  There are actually gloves specifically designed for use when working with oysters, but at a price tag of $100.00 or more, regular thick work gloves will suffice.

To begin, place the closed oysters in the sink and scrub the shells with an inexpensive nylon scrubbing brush to dislodge and remove any sand or debris on the exterior.  Slide the oyster knife tip into the shell next to its hinge.  Ply the hinge with the knife tip, rocking it in a back and forth motion and cutting through the muscle.  Lift off the top shell to reveal the grayish, phlegm-like oyster within.  The meat and liquid should carry a scent similar to the ocean air and water; if any distasteful odor is detected, discard the oyster.   Once again using the oyster knife, place the tip underneath the meat to remove it from the adductor muscle keeping it attached to the shell.  Place the oyster on the half shell on a serving plate and continue until all oysters have been opened.

Opening oysters to cook

Oysters are delicious cooked as well, and the various methods of opening them considerably easier.  They can be placed in the microwave with the timer set at one minute, but watch carefully.  Only cook the oysters until the shells open.  Using the oyster knife, cut the adductor muscle through at the hinge.  Displace the meat from its connective tissue and use as directed in your recipe.  This same process can be adopted using an oven or grill set at 400 degrees for approximately 5 minutes.

Steaming is another way of opening the mollusks while cooking.  Use a large pot with about ½ inch of water or beer and add the oysters.  Cover; bring to a boil and cook oysters for approximately 5 to 6 minutes.  Removing the lid should reveal the opened oysters.  Any oysters that do not open should be discarded.

Enjoying oysters is enjoying a taste of the sea, but opening oysters can present somewhat of a challenge to the novice.  Once the process is learned, however, there will be only pure enjoyment of the rich flavor of the seas.