Posted on December 06 2023


To the uninitiated the idea of buying, shucking and slurping oysters at home might seem more than a little daunting. But armed with a little knowledge, a sharp oyster knife and a cold glass of champagne this needn’t be the case. 

Here Michael Harrison (oyster aficionado at Chelsea’s inimitable The Sea The Sea) gives his top tips for buying, shucking and slurping these briny beauties. 

Step 1.  Choose the right oyster

Pretty much all the oysters we eat in the UK are the same type of Pacific rock oysters. So variations in flavour are mainly down to the geography they’re grown in.

The most important thing when choosing oysters is where they come from. Just as wine has terroir, oysters have ‘merroir’. Everything from the season, temperature, sea bottom type (muddy or sandy) and tidal strength can influence the flavour. You want to buy oysters from somewhere with clean, nutrient rich water and strong tidal flow which leads to a firmer muscle. 

Locations such as Cooley Golds in Ireland are perfect for growing clean, fresh oysters with just enough salinity.

Step 2. Buy fresh

You can determine the freshness of an oyster by feeling it. It should be quite heavy in your hand - heavier than you’d think it should be. This is a good sign as it means that the oyster is plump and that the shell is tightly closed. If the shell is open it has likely lost all the delicious juices.

Later on when you open the oyster it should look firm, glistening, sparkling and it shouldn’t have any sort of smell at all except for a light seaside, ozoney smell. The shell on the inside should also be gleaming, lustrous and shiny.

Step 3. Shuck it

Using a heavy cloth for protection, insert a sharp oyster knife into the hinge at the back of the oyster. Grip the oyster firmly and twist your hand by ninety degrees to pop open the hinge. Then run the knife along the outer edge of the oyster to open it completely. Discard the top shell, pour off any excess liquid and remove any small fragments of shell.

The last thing is to free the oyster from the bottom shell by placing the knife under the oyster and scraping away from you with a slight scooping motion. Retain the liquid found under the oyster as this is where lots of the flavour is. 

Step 4. Serve

There is so much flavour and complexity in rock oysters that it’s often best to eat them on their own.

That said, citrus and acidity do work very well. Things like lemon, vinegar or a little raw shallot are traditional. And herbaceous notes are also a great accompaniment. A drizzle of really grassy, peppery olive oil is certainly worth trying.

Step 5.  Slurp

Oysters should be eaten right after shucking. Look at the oyster and take in its aroma. Sip the juice from the shell to enjoy the marine flavours then eat it. You should chew it a few times savouring the texture, allowing the sweetness, umami and other flavours to grow. Enjoy the aftertaste of the oyster and appreciate how it changes and how long it lasts.

Never serve oysters freezing cold, you won’t get the full flavour of the oyster and it will be too cold to chew and savour the texture. I always take mine out of the fridge 10 minutes before serving.

Step 6. Sip

Delicious oysters demand a delicious glass of something. Sparkling wine is considered classic - go for something sharp like a Blancs de Blancs or a low sweetness Prosecco. But I also recommend things like stout or dry cider - something to really cut through the salty flavour of the oyster.

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