Know How

The Ultimate Guide to Serving Oysters at Your Party

You may have noticed an abundance of Happy Hour Oyster-ing in NYC and beyond—and we are all for it. HOBNOB gives you the know how for setting up a delightfully-fresh raw bar at your party.

You could say oyster-mania (for me) was ignited on a weekend trip to Montreal where I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Notkin, who accompanied the dozen oysters my friend Bob and I ordered—singing the praises of each species. His knowledge was astounding, and personality quite charming, and thus we dubbed him the Oyster Meister. I couldn’t think of a better person to get shucking tips from, read on.—Ellen Swandiak

[1] The Secrets to Shucking Like a Pro from Daniel Notkin Ah, the lovely oyster! Jonathan Swift said it was a brave man that once ate an oyster but I profess it was an even braver one that tried to open one.

While our ancestors and many of our other vertebrate and invertebrate cousins each have their own methods of cracking and otherwise detaching the lovely meat from the oyster shell, we—our species—have spent the better part of 2000 years mastering the tools to do so.

For starters, know your oyster terminology. Cup. The “bottom” or more curved part of the oyster shell. The oyster nestles in the cup while the top shell—the lid—covers the oyster’s top half.

◊ choose your tool: The first, and most important part in opening an oyster shell is, as stated—your tool. Get a good oyster knife. Though any knife will do, choose one that feels good in your hand, and with a good “blade.” I say blade but the knife itself does not need to be too sharp. A good point is more important.

The “point,” you say! But won’t this point go through my hand? Alas, it’s possible. Many if not all who have handled an oyster have felt the pain of the oyster, both literally and more “pointedly”. The second most important thing when opening an oyster is to cover your hand.

◊ protect your hand: Position a small towel on the table. Place the oyster in the middle with the hinge facing the hand with oyster knife. Fold the towel over the oyster. Place your hand on top of the oyster, holding it in place, then fold the towel back over your hand.

◊ find the sweet spot: Now, take your oyster knife and, at a 45º angle, insert into a spot 1/10-inch from the hinge on the side closest to you. Rock your knife a-quarter-turn-and-back with pressure, to wedge into the “sweet spot” of the oyster. If you get it right, that knife will be wedged in.

◊ pop oyster open: Roll your wrist and “pop” the shell open (which you will hear). Hold the oyster open with your index finger and ride the ridge of the farthest side of the oyster shell to sever the top adductor mussel. Scrape the adductor from the top of the shell (as if scraping old paint). Once accomplished, the “lid” should fall away. Turn the oyster towards you, and with your knife at 45º, in one dipping motion, run along the bottom of the shell, away from you. This will sever the “cup” from the oyster.

◊ inspect: Check for grit, make sure the oyster is presentable. Serve on ice. —by Daniel Notkin, The Old Port Fishing Co, theoldportfishingcompany.com, and owner of NOTKINS, a restaurant in Montreal focused on the freshest seafood available. From lobster to crab to shrimp to scallops, be treated to the best and most sustainable products the oceans have to offer.

[2] A&B American Style’s Pepper Sauce Place this in the oyster serving area for those who demand a kick with their slurping. Made with Red Fresno chili peppers, A&B American Style’s Pepper Sauce, made in small batches sans sugar, can add extra kick to most dishes, animal, vegetable or mineral—even cocktails of the Bloody Mary variety. Sprinkle it on burgers or barbecued meats for a taste profile no one will confuse with oh-so traditional mesquite. Check out their entire line of hot sauces, you may want to offer more than one. $12 abamerican.com

[3] Island Creek Oysters From humble beginnings, Island Creek Oysters sells over 100,000 oysters a week. Top restaurants (French Laundry, Next) and even the White House have sampled the goods. What are the best picks for parties? The 100-count bag should have you covered. Cool fact: the bag they come in is the same one the oysters come out of the water in. How fresh is that? $150. Too many? Get 3 dozen oysters in the Damn Yankee Sampler, with some of the best bivalves from New England: Island Creeks have a mossy, buttery flavor of seaweed, Spring Creeks are delicate and mild, and Peter Points have a salty, grassy flavor with a hint of sweetness. $84. shop.islandcreekoysters.com

[4] Brooklyn Oyster Party Shucking not for you? Have the gang at Brooklyn Oyster Party do it for you. They provide the freshest east coast oysters (mostly), and shuck at blinding speeds. They will set up a complete raw bar station with all the accoutrements and take care of cleanup, leaving no trace. All you have to do is make your oyster selection and customize your mignonette. Includes 1 to 2 shuckers for 3 hours, starting at 200 oysters for $700 brooklynoysterparty.com

See more of the formula for throwing a fabulous summer bbq in our ULTIMATE SUMMER issue.