It took me 28 long oblivious years to try an oyster. Twenty eight years where I had no idea the deprivation I was causing my taste buds. The year I was traveling I liked to tell people that before I left, I had been an oyster shucker extraordinaire. Although I have no idea how to say that in Spanish so I would say, “Trabajé en el bar de los mariscos crudos.” Call it what you will, being a professional oyster shucker was something I missed. Even more so, I missed eating oysters, or rather shooting oysters, as you don’t really chew them so much as take them like you would a shot of whiskey. I didn’t see many on my travels and the prices of those that I did see extended beyond the meager budget of a traveler with no guaranteed income. At times I felt bereft of their salty goodness.
Shucking oysters is just like learning to ride a bike or swim- you never forget it. The way the shucking knife fits in your hand, where precisely you place the blade to pop open the shell, the twisting motion you make as you loosen the adductor muscle while rotating the shell, how you scrape under the adductor muscle to dislodge it from the shell for easier slurping purposes.
For me shucking oysters is as hypnotizing as hiking or snowshoeing. There is a zone you can get into, it perhaps doesn’t happen to all folks who shuck oysters for their job but it sure happened to me. There is one night a week where the restaurant I used to work at has dollar oyster night. On those nights, I rarely looked up, one oyster after another under the knife, onto some ice and onto a table. You could be twenty ticket orders deep and you just simply didn’t look up as you juggled the oysters. You wouldn’t stop shucking for about four hours. This may not sound like a lot of time but it was. There were weeks where my wrist, arm and even shoulder would be throbbing in pain for days afterwards. But it’s a labor of love, I swear I experienced a natural high from it, much like I do when I eat super spicy food– I cannot communicate with anyone because I have gone to a really special place in my head that only exists in the land of spicy food, meditation, shucking oysters and sometimes savasana in yoga.
And the flavor of an oyster. Oh, the flavor. Some taste like a gulp full of ocean, others taste thick and creamy (if something can actually taste only thick and creamy), others have a hint of melon. Couple these flavors with a little spritz of lemon, a dabble of mignonette, perhaps a smattering of hot sauce and down the throat it goes. When I first returned I made it a point to go to my old place of employment specifically for a dozen oysters and a damn good glass of dry, crisp French sauvignon blanc. Without overdosing on spicy food, I believe I still went to that same place in my head. Good god, I think nothing beats that wine and seafood pairing. The stars were aligned that night, my friends. I was in my utter complete and happy high zone and I didn’t even need ultra spicy food to get there.