Get shuckin’

A starter kit for getting you up to speed on oysters.

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Martha’s Vineyard has an appetite for oysters. Last month a Grand Oyster Giveaway was held at the Agricultural Hall fairgrounds, and cars were backed up as far as the eye could see to get a free sack of oysters.

And this fall, the Martha’s Vineyard Oyster Fest was scheduled to be held at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, produced by Farm. Field. Sea. (farmfieldsea.com) in partnership with M.V. Shellfish Group and MV Vintage Wine and Spirits. Even though the Oyster Fest has been postponed to the fall of 2021, Nevette Previd of Field. Farm. Sea. is doing her best to get the good word out about oysters. “They’re the perfect food,” she said. “They not only taste great, they’re incredibly versatile, they have positive environmental and ecosystem impacts, they play an important role in the Martha’s Vineyard economy, and they’re good for you.”

Harvard scientist Dr. William Li wrote in his New York Times bestseller “Eat to Beat Disease,” “Oysters have been shown to contain natural compounds that support the body’s disease-fighting mechanisms, protecting your DNA against the kind of damage that causes Alzheimer’s, cancer, and depression.”

Previd says that between 80 and 90 percent of oysters are consumed in restaurants, but now that restaurants are closed, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your favorite bivalve. “Oysters are readily available from fish stores on the Island, and even can be bought directly from local oyster farmers,” Previd says. “The only obstacle is learning to shuck them.”

It’s not really all that hard, and one way to learn is by watching the pros. The Martha’s Vineyard Oyster Fest (mvoysterfest.com) produced a short video starring Martha’s Vineyard oyster farmers from Cottage City Oysters, Signature Oysters, and Spearpoint Oysters.

Check out the video, but here’s a CliffsNotes version of what it shows:

  • You’ll need these tools: a shuck knife, a glove, and a towel.
  • There’s a cup side and a flat side on every oyster. You’ll want to shuck with the cup side down.
  • Wearing a glove, and with an overhand grip, grab the oyster and lay it down on a table and insert the knife into the hinge; pry and wiggle the knife until you pop the hinge.
  • Work the knife into the oyster, and cut the abductor muscle on the top of the shell.
  • Then loosen the muscle from the bottom of the shell.
  • Now enjoy!

How to shuck like a Local: Martha’s Vineyard Oysters from Martha’s Vineyard Oyster Fest on Vimeo.

Practice on a couple of dozen oysters and in no time, you’ll be a pro. But there are other ways to enjoy oysters that don’t involve having to shuck them. Here are a few recipes from Island chefs that involve baking open the oysters on a grill.

Katama Bay Oysters with Spinach and Bacon
This recipe is from cookbook author, former restaurant owner, and co-editor of Edible Vineyard magazine Tina Miller. 

2 dozen freshly shucked oysters in their shells (or lightly broiled so their shells just pop open)
1 Tbsp. butter
2 shallots
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups of packed spinach leaves, minced
6 strips of bacon, cooked and cut into 4 pieces each

Preheat the broiler. Broil oysters on a cookie sheet, flat side down, and cook until they open (about two or three minutes). Remove from heat.

On the stovetop, melt butter, add the shallots, and cook gently over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and then spinach. Keep the spinach moving. As soon as the spinach is wilted, remove the pan from the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top each opened oyster with about 1 tablespoon of the mixture, then place a piece of bacon on top.

Put into oven and broil for 4 or 5  minutes, on the second rack down from the top of your oven. Make sure they don’t brown too much — ENJOY!

Oysters with a Sambal Twist
Shane Laderoute, Tyler Gibson, and Everette Whiting of the Fish House offer this oyster recipe with a twist. There are a few specialty ingredients, easily found at LeRoux or on Amazon. 

1 cup unsalted butter, room temp.
1 Tbsp. sambal (chili garlic sauce)
1 Tbsp. gochujang (Korean chili paste)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
18 shucked oysters, liquor (liquid) poured off
1 c. grated Gruyère cheese
optional: green onions, shallots, or leeks for garnish

Mix butter, sambal, gochujang, and lemon juice together until combined.

Shuck oysters, or put the oysters in the oven on a cookie sheet on broil, or directly on a grill, flat side down, and cook until they open (about 2 or 3 minutes). Remove them from the heat.

Top oysters with roughly 1 tsp. of butter mixture. Cover with Gruyère cheese. Broil about 3 minutes, until the cheese is melted. For garnish, fry shaved green onions, shallots, or leeks, and place on cooked oyster.

Oyster Fritters
Jenny Devivo, the infamous Island Lunch Lady, offers up this variation on the theme of fritters. Serves 8.

1½ cups oysters, drained and chopped
4 cups vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt

Broil oysters in the oven on a cookie sheet, or put directly on a grill, flat side down, and cook until they open (about 2 or 3 minutes). Remove from heat.

Heat about 1 to 2 inches of oil in a deep, heavy skillet to 365°F.
 Whisk the eggs and milk together in a small bowl.
 Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl, and blend well. Add the egg and milk mixture, and blend until smooth.​

Stir the chopped oysters into the batter. Drop a spoonful of the batter into the hot oil, cooking in batches, turning to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. 
Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon and your favorite rémoulade dipping sauce.

Where to get oysters
Now you have the recipes, here’s where to get the oysters. Check the Martha’s Vineyard Oyster Fest website often, as the list grows.

Direct from farmers

Cottage City Oysters — Order on their website. Dan and Greg Martino have oysters, seaweed, urchin, and littlenecks.

M.V. Spearpoint Oysters — Text Jeremy Larsen Scheffer at 508-942-4046, or email at info@mvspearpoint.com.

Signature-Oysters — Call or text Ryan Smith at 774-563-0950.

Little Minnow Oyster Co. — Call or text Noah Scheffer at 774-521-7336.

Are you off-Island, or very far away? Island Creek Oysters from Duxbury will ship to you.

Direct from fish markets and fishermen’s boats
Keep checking local Facebook pages for fresh-off-the-boat catch.

Net Result offers all food orders by phone, and curbside delivery by request. Call to order: 508-693-6071.

Menemsha Fish Market — Safe pickup protocols, call to order at 508-645-2282, check the Facebook page for daily specials.

The Fish House, now offering a fantastic take-out and fresh local fish and regional meats. Open 7 days a week, 11am-7pm. They are located near the airport, next to Airport Liquors.

Short of having an Oyster Fest in real life, hopefully this will get you in the mood to start enjoying one of the Vineyard’s greatest resources.

Get shuckin’.