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Shucking Awesome, or, The Knife You Never Knew You Needed

I love Wednesdays. Smack in the middle of the workweek, the New York Times publishes its Dining Section, pages chockfull of recipes, restaurant openings and reporting on the fast-moving world of what we eat.

A few weeks ago, one article really struck a chord: “Must-Have Gadgets for the Kitchen? Think Again.” With a smiling picture of a woman holding her little-used salmon poacher, the article called into question all these skeletons in the cupboard. Do you really need that commercial butter slicer? How about the pizelle machine? Or the jalapeño pepper corer? My personal Achilles’ heel is cheese graters, of which I now have eight. Oops.

I couldn’t help but smile in agreement as I read the article and thought about my own crowded kitchen drawers. Sigh. But then, my attention turned to an ultra-specialized kitchen gadget, besides the Potato Scrubbing Gloves (need), that really is worth the real estate in a crowded drawer: an oyster knife.

A few years ago, I picked up this oyster knife for five bucks and ordered a fireproof glove on Amazon. I watched a quick YouTube tutorial and was ready to pop open oyster No. 1.

The first shucking experience was revelatory. An oyster’s two shells hinge at the back. Wedge the tip of the knife between the two shells and twist, and there’s a satisfying POP! as the shells unlock. Scrape the top of the knife across the top shell to unleash the meat from the top shell, and you’re left with one shell, cupping the tasty oyster. It’s not over yet – to properly shuck the oyster, you have to loosen it from its foot, the tough muscle holding the meat to the shell. Slide the tip of the knife beneath the meat against the shell, and you’ll shear it from the foot.

Shucking is easy, but sometimes the best-laid meal may go awry. For one, if you don’t wear a protective glove, it’s quite easy to slide the knife right into your hand. Indulgence shouldn’t result in a trip to the ER. For another, there’s always a bad oyster or two out there. A few nights ago, I found a particularly sulfur-ridden oyster in the batch. When in doubt, throw it out.

But over the years, this oyster knife has grown to be a source of gastronomic joy. The beauty of the tool is twofold: You can enjoy oysters in the comfort of your kitchen, where no waiter can cast looks of disapproval across the room should you choose to douse the little bivalve in Tabasco sauce. And it’s cheaper: In some New York restaurants, oyster prices approach $4 each for specimens like Kumamotos. At a good fishmonger? $1 – $2, a lot more reasonable.

As Harold McGee notes in his treatise “On Food and Cooking,” oysters are “the sea’s tenderest morsels, the marine equivalent of penned veal or the fatted chicken, which just sit and eat.” While I don’t really think of oysters as "the other chicken of the sea," they certainly are delicious – and there’s nothing in the world like their briny flavor and plump, tender meat. And so, I’m set for life: prepared to shuck and share fresh oysters, anytime.

Follow my epicurean adventures on Twitter @KathrynAndersen

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