How to shuck an oyster + a ramp bulb mignonette recipe
by Kara Elder
May 29, 2020
Number 1 Sons loves to close loops in the local food system and help alleviate waste wherever possible. The timing of COVID — right after winter, when oysters were feeding and growing — was particularly bad for oyster farmers in our region, who fear overcrowding without the usual amount of orders coming in from restaurants. (Read more in this Washington City Paper article by Laura Hayes.)
As part of home delivery, Number 1 Sons is offering oysters from Rappahannock Oyster Co. You can now order oysters for delivery on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, to suit your oyster shucking schedule. (You can also get a glove + oyster knife shucking kit.) To celebrate the end of ramp season + the height of spring, get the spring oyster kit featuring Rappahannock's Olde Salt oysters PLUS the ingredients to make a ramp mignonette: bitter lemon vinegar from Keepwell, ramp bulbs sustainably foraged by Tom of Villa Fungi, and whole black peppercorns to freshly crack.
Olde salts are grown off Chincoteague Bay on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, explains Travis Croxton, co-owner of Rappahannock Oysters. "These oysters are the only ones being grown in the Chesapeake using an Australian long-line farming method known as SEAPA. This technique, which is essentially growing the oysters in cylindrical baskets at a fixed level in the water column, allows for constant tumbling using natural wave action that creates a sought after deep cup and an incredible shelf-life. For those that like their oysters salty, this is the saltiest on the market!" We assume as lovers of fermented goods that you, too, will enjoy these salty morsels. :)
Let's talk about the mignonette: Keepwell's Bitter Lemon Vinegar, a fan favorite (try it in a vinegroni!!!), is made from bitter lemons grown by Next Step Produce. These small, pithy, seedy fruits grow very well in the mid-Atlantic. They also make a great ferment, as Sarah Conezio and Isaiah Billington explain on their site: "This vinegar really emphasizes the bitterness of the lemon’s rind and pith, with floral citrus in the background." You'll learn more about Keepwell in a future post!
Tom from Villa Fungi, who sustainably foraged the ramp bulbs, grew up in the DC area, taking walks in the woods with his father and learning to identify trees. He started foraging mushrooms as a teen, eventually going to culinary school and then later building up a customer base of chefs who were very interested in his fresh foraged goods. You'll hear more about Tom + learn more about native plants in a future post, too.
To make the mignonette for 25 oysters:
- 2 1/2 oz (half bottle, aka 5 tablespoons) Bitter Lemon Vinegar
- ½ oz (about 2 to 3) ramp bulbs
- ½ tbsp. black peppercorns
With a sharp knife, mince the ramp bulbs. Crack the black pepper with a mortar and pestle, under a heavy-bottomed pot, or place in a pepper mill to coarsely grind. Do not use pre-ground black pepper!
Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt if you’re using less briny oysters, or to your taste. The Olde Salt oysters in your kit shouldn’t need any added salt.
Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour, to let the flavors marry, or until you can’t wait to enjoy your oysters any longer!
If you're shucking 50 oysters, double the mignonette. Spoon as much or as little as you would like on your freshly-shucked oysters. If you have leftover mignonette, use it on salads, greens, beans, or grains.
Ready to talk oysters!?! Stephanie Holliman, Number 1 Sons resident pastry chef and long-time employee, is here to demonstrate proper storage, cleaning, and shucking.
Once you receive your oysters, remove them from their insulated box (keep the freezer gel packs for another use) and place them in a colander set over a bowl. Drape a damp towel over top of the oysters, then keep them in your refrigerator (preferably the coldest part, which is usually the back of the bottom shelf). Do not store them in water or on ice; the oysters are alive and will try to "feed" from this fresh water, then die soon after that. The folks at Rappahannock Oysters advise that you can store oysters for up to a week; we like to only keep them for about two days before shucking and eating. Plan accordingly!
Clean those oysters! + prepare your station
Before you shuck, you must wash. Use a scrubby brush (even a tooth brush would work) and, under cold, running water, scrub any grit away from the oysters. Focus on the pointed hinge end, as this is where grit tends to be trapped and where you'll be inserting the shucking knife. Once cleaned, set them on a towel-lined baking sheet, cup-side down.
Get your puncture-proof gloves (or a clean dish towel) and your oyster knife. Get a big cutting board. Set out a serving tray, large plate, or quarter sheet pan and cover it with ice — this provides a surface on which you can set your oysters and make sure they stay flat, and it also keeps the shucked oysters nice and cold as you work. (Much like revenge, raw oysters are best served cold.)
Must you really worry about keeping them on ice? Stephanie says: If you're eating them within about 30 minutes, don't worry about ice. If you're planning to keep them out over a period of time — think parties after COVID — keep them on a bed of ice. Don't leave them un-iced for more than two hours.
Stephanie's favorite way to present oysters is either on a platter with crushed ice or small ice chips that the oysters can be nestled in, or to use rock salt if ice can't be had. You just need something that is safe to eat, and can conform enough to the shape of the shell to hold it upright, but won't cake on the bottom of the shell (so no sand or kosher salt).
Time to shuck!!!
We made you an oyster shucking video! Watch to see Stephanie demonstrate how to wiggle an oyster knife to pop the oyster's hinge, how to slice the abductor muscle, what a potentially "off" oyster looks like, how to shuck an oyster like the pros do, and catch a glimpse of her serving set up.
Stephanie makes it look easy, I know, but you'll learn and improve as you keep going!!
To serve, a scattering of edible flower petals makes everything look pretty, including oysters on the half shell. Bubbly is strongly encouraged. Make oysters a regular or semi-regular part of your home cooking and you'll be shucking with confidence in no time, while also playing an important part of keeping our local food system healthy and sustained. Happy eating, stay safe, and thank you for your continued support!