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Home > Seafood Facts & Info > About Oysters > Opening (Shucking) Oysters:

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Opening (Shucking) Oysters:

Scrub the Oysters under running water to clean shells. Place Oyster, flat side up, on a board and press onto end opposite hinge using a cloth to protect hand. Insert tip of oyster knife next to hinge, push firmly against hinge and pry the shells apart, sliding the knife against the inside of the top shell to sever the muscle holding the shell together. Discard top shell; rinse Oyster in bottom shell lightly in a bowl of cold water to remove shell fragments and grit.  With Oyster knife, loosen Oyster from bottom shell and turn it over for good presentation.

Tools needed:
•        an oyster knife or any sturdy blunt knife
•        a small towel
•        Neosporin (because you probably ran out of Bactine picking crabs)

•        cocktail sauce (if you're having them fried or broiled)
•        not a darn thing (if you're eating them raw)
•        Okay, maybe some lemon wedges.

First step:  Hold the oyster firmly in one hand, knife in the other.  Slip the knife blade between the top and bottom shell right by the hinge on back.  The person in this picture is holding the oyster with her bare hands - WE DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS!  Drape a towel over your open palm and hold the oyster that way - the shell ridges are sharp!

Step 2:  Run the knife the way around the oyster until you get to the other side.  This sounds easy until you're actually doing it!  Some oysters just don't take kindly to people sticking knives in their shell.  Be brave and put some muscle into it, but be careful - this is where you'll cut or stab yourself.

Step 3: Using a twisting motion, pry the top and bottom shells apart. Be gentle but firm so you don't lose any of the liquor inside.

Step 4:  Cut the oyster free from his shell.  He'll be connected by a tough knob on his underside; slide your knife under and sever it.  You can either go to the trouble of setting down your blade and using a little fork to pick the oyster out, or you can do like the natives do and just scoop him with your knife and pop him in your mouth.  Drink the liquor out of the shell.

The oyster is a mollusc (shellfish) and is of the class Bivalvia (with two shells or valves).

The female oyster is able to produce more than 150 million eggs which, once fertilised, begin swimming within 24 hours and remain free-swimming for approximately 21 days, depending on temperature etc.

An oyster is in the most advantageous position of being able to change its sex - the older oysters become the greater the percentage of females.

The most important oysters on the South African coast are:
1.        Soccostrea cuccullata, which is found from the Transkei northwards.
2.        Crassostrea margaritacea, which is found from the Transkei southwards to False Bay.
3.        Ostrea atherstoni (the red oyster), which is found from Algoa Bay to False Bay and is also found on the west coast.
4.        Ostrea algoensis (the weed oyster), which is found from Algoa Bay to False Bay. This oyster is not good eating and is too small to be of commercial value.
5.        Pinctada capensis (the pearl oyster) ,which forms the true pearl. Pearls are formed by other oysters but are not uniform in shape and lack the lustre of a commercial pearl.

The three most important edible oysters on the Southern African Coast are:
1.        Crassostrea margaritacea, which is the common rock oyster on the Cape coast.
2.        Saccostrea cuccullata, which is similar in shape and taste to the imported Crassostrea gigas.
3.        Ostrea atherstoni has an extremely strong taste when eaten raw, but is most palatable when cooked.

The main difference between Ostrea and Crassostrea oysters is in their breeding habits. The genus Ostrea fertilise their eggs internally, incubate their lavae and release them at a size of approximately 160 micron. The genus Crassostrea release their eggs and sperm - fertilisation therefore takes place externally.

24 hours after fertilisation the larvae are able to swim by using an organ know as a velum, which is covered with cilia (fine hairs) that propel the organism.

After 48 hours the larva will begin feeding on plankton (minute organisms) and this will be its diet together with bacteria and detritus (decaying organic matter) for the rest of its life. The size of the larvae at this stage is approximately 45 micron.

During the advanced stages of larval development an "eyespot" is formed, which is sensitive to light, specific gravity etc. and is used to select a suitable place to settle.

A "foot" is developed (similar to that of a snail). This foot is used to crawl with and to excrete the glue required to attach it to the surface chosen to settle on. The foot is also used to control its vertical movement whilst swimming - when retracted the larva will drop.

All of the above organs are absorbed by the oyster during metamorphosis and they become redundant after settling.

In a laboratory various culch (materials used for the larvae to settle on) are used - the most successful being thin PVC sheets or crushed oyster shell with a particle size of approximately 400 micron. The larvae settle at a size of approximately 320 micron.

Owing to an overcrowding problem, the spat (post larval or juvenile oysters) are scraped off the sheets every 24 hours and are then cultivated loose to facilitate grading and density control. Spat settled on crushed shell are automatically loose as the particle size is equal to that of the larvae.

Cultivated oysters tend to produce a far superior (cupped) and uniform shape as an attached oyster will, as it grows, adopt the shape of the surface that it is adhered to, creating varying shapes and sizes.


As in the case with consuming other raw animal protein products, there is a risk associated with consuming raw oysters, clams, and mussels. If you suffer from chronic illness of the liver, stomach, or blood, or have immune disorders, do not eat these products raw.

The information above is the sole opinion of the author and does not represent any legal advice.

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Clambake Photos Copyright 2004 Quality Fresh Seafood, LLC. All rights reserved. These images may not be copied without written permission. All other photos Copyright 2004

Opening (Shucking) Oysters:


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