Learning to Shuck at Wright Brothers, Borough Market:
I have something of an oyster fetish. I can happily eat 10 or 12 oysters in a sitting though usually I don’t get the opportunity. But, I’ve never tried opening them – partly a fear of failure and partly lack of a shucking knife. So an invitation to Borough Market to Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House was right up my street. Wright Brothers founders, Ben Wright and Robin Hancock founded the business in 2002 as a wholesale operation and now also run 4 restaurants in London (Borough, Kingly Court, Spitalfields and South Kensington).
I don’t live far from Borough Market and it’s becoming something of a regular haunt. Although it has become something of a tourist attraction, if you pick a sensible time of day (early morning) it really isn’t too busy. And, there are some great stalls
It’s all too tempting – I’d never been to Wright Brothers because I generally spend too much in the main market. Next time I visit, I’ll just have to save some cash to go there too – having spent an hour or so learning how to shuck, I now feel part of the family.
I went rather apprehensively, having never dared pick up a shucking knife, I was going to be trained in the art of oyster shucking by Robert Malyon, the head chef at Borough. Actually, I learnt a lot more than that. AND got to taste plenty of oysters along the way. I did succeed in opening a few oysters too.
The first thing to do is to find the hinge of the oyster with your knife. The picture above shows what you are looking for, but not really how you should do it.
Even the experts use a thick cloth or special rubber mats to protect their hands. Not only are oyster shells quite rough, but, it’s very easy for the knife to slip.
Once you’ve found a sweet spot, push and wiggle the knife into the oyster. Then, twist till there’s a kind of pop noise.
Once the oyster has been opened a bit, you can run the shucking knife around the edge of the shell and prize it open.
A good oyster should be plump, full of liquid and look a bit like the one above. You can ‘release’ the oyster itself to make it easier to eat with your shucking knife. And then swallow it down.
Now, I hadn’t realised how many different types of oysters there were. I did know about natives and rocks. The native oyster is, as the name implies, one that is indigenous. It has a smoother shell than a rock oyster and, from my recent experience, is almost impossible to open. Actually, I’m sure that’s just lack of experience. Robert didn’t have any problem.
Rock oysters first reached this country around 30 years ago. They are also called Pacific Oysters and grow more readily than natives. And, they have much rockier shells. Most of the oysters we eat today ARE rocks. Wright Brothers actually have their own oyster farm in Southwest Cornwall, leased from the Duchy of Cornwall, where they grow ‘Duchy’ natives. So, if you go into one of their restaurants, do try some – it’s the closest thing to ‘field to fork’ in oyster terms.
They were kind enough (I think) to send me a case of 50 oysters to practise my shucking skills. I have to say, despite my excellent training, I was nervous – so I had the brilliant idea to take them along to a blogger event run by the lovely Farrah from Moose Maple Butter (more about that another time). There, with around 10 food bloggers I guessed there would definitely be someone who was an expert.
The heroine of the day was Madeleine who writes From the Healthy Heart who turned out to be something of an expert and managed to shuck about 8 oysters to every 1 of mine. Well, oysters ARE healthy – low calorie and a shellfish which is believed to boosts good cholesterol in the blood.
We did have something of an oyster fest – including one or two oyster novices who quickly became fans. If you haven’t tried for yourself, then I do think eating an oyster needs to find its way onto your bucket list today.
For more about Wright Brothers Oysters and to find the nearest restaurant to you, check the Wright Brothers Website. They run regular events where you can learn to shuck and more, and if you want to just buy some to try at home, you can order takeaway oysters – shucked or not – from the South Kensington branch.