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Monday, March 3, 2008




One of the most delectable joys of living on the Chesapeake Bay lies inside the shell of the eastern oyster. Tough enough to deflect a hammer and sharp enough to rip a glove -- this crusty natural armor must be breached before you can slide the freshest of these mollusks past your lips and into your stomach. So many die-hard fans learn to shuck for themselves.

Even champions differ about the best method. Some of the fastest employ the "side-door" approach. Others attack the front lip in a style that has earned the nickname: "Chesapeake stabber." Simpler, more popular and still speedy is the "hinge" method favored by almost everyone else. World record-holder Patrick McMurray of Toronto has used it to shuck 33 oysters in 60 seconds.

Here's how these "butt shuckers" do it:

* Toss the departed. Dead oysters taste bad. They can and sometimes do make you sick. So chuck out any shells that have already opened.

* Clean'em up. Go over the rest with running water and a stiff brush as if your health depended on it -- because it does.

* Get a grip. Using a thick glove or a folded wash towel, hold the oyster cupped-side down with the hinge or butt end facing toward you.

* Set the blade. Take an oyster knife -- the best blade is short, thick and relatively dull -- and push the point in between the shells near the hinge.

* Take it easy. Brute force is counterproductive here. You could break the shell or shove the knife through your palm if you slip. So finesse it in with a little pressure and some wiggle.

* Turn 'n' pop. Once the blade is well set, give it a more pronounced twist and you should feel the shell pop open.

* Cut the muscle. Slide the knife in and scrape its edge along the inner surface of the top shell, aiming for the muscle located at about 2 o'clock. Do the same with the bottom and you should have an oyster ready to slurp -- plump, free of unappetizing scars, with no broken shell.

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