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To Shuck or Not to Shuck?

Photo by Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

By Meg Walburn Viviano

It’s oyster season in Chesapeake Country!

Now that we’re well into October (a month ending in “R”), it’s finally time to sit down with a plate of succulent raw oysters on the half-shell, chilled on ice and accented by the bright yellows and reds of lemon and cocktail sauce.

To me, the sensation of slurping a raw oyster is just like that moment when you’re splashing in the surf in Ocean City, and a breaking wave catches you by surprise. The cool, salty water in your nose and mouth is sudden and invigorating. Slurping down an oyster floods the senses with that same cool, salty feel.

The only drawback to eating oysters is, well, getting to the oyster. If you’re like me, you’ve enthusiastically purchased raw oysters at a seafood market or counter without giving a thought to opening your treat. You may find yourself knifeless and intimidated by the craggy, multi-layer shell that stands between you and your oyster meat.

One possible solution: put your oysters in a 400-degree oven just until the shells “pop” enough to open them from the hinge, like my mother did at cocktail parties with our neighbors.

Another option: take lessons from a professional shucker to really take ownership of your next oyster dinner. The Oyster Recovery Partnership has just restarted its popular Shuck Like a Pro series, in which aspiring oyster openers gather at a restaurant and receive instruction from an expert shucker, plus a knife to take home (added perk: you get to eat the fruits of your labor). Watch out for future dates in Chesapeake Country.

A third option still: enjoy your oysters at a restaurant or one of the region’s beloved oyster festivals and let them do the shucking. If you choose a spot that recycles its discarded shells, you are helping oyster recovery in the Chesapeake Bay just by buying and eating those oysters. They can be cleaned and used as habitat for baby oysters (Check which local restaurants participate in the Shell Recycling Alliance: oysterrecovery.org/sra-members/).

This weekend, oyster festivals return in all their glory to the Captain Avery Museum in Shady Side and the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds, where you can marvel at really proficient shuckers from across America. The festival in St. Mary’s is home to the U.S. National Oyster Shucking Championships and the National Oyster Cookoff. Over the Bay Bridge, St. Michaels stages its own oyster celebration this weekend.

Even if you’re not an oyster eater yourself, you can enjoy the spectacle of shucking, cooking, and slurping competitions. You can partake in that fun festival atmosphere. And you can appreciate the key role oysters play in the health of the Chesapeake Bay, as both filter feeders and marine life habitat.

Now go forth and shuck (or let someone else). And slurp. And recycle those shells. Sure, it takes a bit of work to reach that sweet oyster meat, but don’t most good things?