Shuck It 101
Making the case for cracking your own oysters
By Danny Palumbo,
4:20PM, Wed. Nov. 29, 2017
I knew a guy, Steve Myers, who ate oysters in July. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer a few short years later. Maybe those facts are unrelated, maybe not.
At any rate, most people still abide by the old advice that it’s a bad plan to eat oysters during any month that doesn't contain an "r," but that’s essentially the same thing as taking the Old Testament literally. It is true, however, that colder waters result in better quality oysters. ‘Tis the season to find yourself in some (likely overpriced) establishment enjoying these tasty sea freaks in the brisk months of Texas winter. I'm here to tell you something before you do:
You should learn how to shuck oysters.
Shucking oysters is, admittedly, mostly a subpar experience. It's only slightly more enjoyable than making license plates in a prison, and above those tasks on the pleasure meter is digging your own grave. Shucking can be tedious. You will oftentimes cut yourself – not on the knife, but on the jagged shell itself. Shuck too many oysters in a row and your knife hand will start to get pruney from the moisture. Your wrist will ache from all the twisting and jerking. Hallucinations, seizures, and dizziness ensue. Flashbacks of a strained relationship with your father shatter your psyche. Visions of nuclear apocalypse haunt the space behind your bloodshot eyes. Shucking takes a toll. It's hard to be good at it, too. If you're not proficient, you could end up serving chipped pieces of shell with the resulting ugly, shredded oysters. Cracking the tooth of a wealthy patron is problematic at best.
Gulf oysters are space alien swamp creatures, and I say that lovingly. At their worst, they come in dirty sacks that need to be power-washed, and sometimes they are attached in clusters. If every oyster had the same opening in the back, and were weighted and crafted the same way, shucking oysters would be easy. Instead, each oyster is a snowflake from hell. Some are dead, deformed, and have almost zero entry point for your knife. Some are just filled with mud, like a cruel joke. Sometimes you find a pearl and then realize, "Wait, these pearls aren't actually worth anything."
Still, Gulf oysters are meaty and practical. They have a hint of sweetness, and when ice cold, the flavor is surprisingly mild and fresh. If you turn your nose up at eating oysters with crackers and cocktail sauce, then a Gulf oyster isn't for you. They're blue-collar, working-class seafood; they're shellfish for the people. They run for about a dollar apiece, or if you buy them by the case, around 40-50 cents each.
Which brings me to my next point: If you eat oysters, you can save a lot of money by shucking them yourself. The question now is, "Why the fuck would you want to eat oysters in the comfort of your own home?" Oysters aren't meant for your couch. They are meant to be shared, bought in rounds, and clinked with a "cheers." They sure as hell aren't meant to be eaten in your crummy apartment while Family Feud is blaring. I'm not necessarily building a great case here, but hear me out.
Learn how to shuck oysters because you'll look cool. People think that cooking – or knowing how to do anything in a kitchen at all – is cool. Exploit that. Trick people into thinking you have a personality. That's my whole game. It's like CPR: There might be a time when you'll have to do it, and you'll look awesome. It's not actually impressive, of course, but people will think it is and controlling what people think about you is a big part of life. I can't stress this enough: Do things because they look cool, even if they suck, even if they hurt.
Or, and this is a distant number two for me, learn how to shuck oysters for altruistic reasons. I shucked 50 oysters for my family recently and I'm pretty sure the gesture erased years of failure in their eyes. It felt good. Doing things for other people feels good. Going the extra mile feels good. Surprise people once in a while. I'm a big believer in hospitality and what it means. Imagine how much you would blow people's minds if you had them over for dinner and decided to shuck oysters for them as an appetizer. On one hand, now they are completely in your back pocket and you own them. On the other, you just treated these people to a rare experience that they will surely appreciate and hopefully they'll return the favor to either you or others.
I think I cook for either completely selfish – or totally selfless – reasons. We are complex human beings who can be both greedy and considerate. Shuck for your friends, but also shuck to get laid. Shuck to desperately prove your worth as a human being, and also to make someone's day. Shuck because you're broke, and because nobody checked your references.
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