These raw oysters with champagne vinegar mignonette are perfect party food for any gathering. Mignotte, a mixture of vinegar and shallots, is the best, most sharply acidic friend freshly shucked oysters ever had.
Oyster novice? The mignonette recipe and the shucking instructions below are all you need. Well, that and a proper oyster knife. And fresh, local oysters. And good friends. And a bottle of bubbly. That’s it. Swear. There’s no right or wrong. Slurp away.–Renee Erickson and Jess Thomson
How To Get Good At Shucking Oysters
Some words of advice on how to get good at shucking oysters from the author of this recipe…
“Watch shuckers. When they open a Northwest oyster, they start at the hinge end, prying the oyster open with what looks like almost zero effort. Then they cut the oyster’s muscle from its shell, turning the flesh over and revealing the oyster’s smooth, plump side. In France, it’s usually done differently. Instead of the hinge end, they shuck the oyster from the side, where the muscle attaches. Then they release the fleshy part of the muscle from the oyster’s top shell, leaving the firm part of the muscle attached to the bottom shell to prove the creature is still alive. I love that tradition because it means that after you eat the muscle, you can use the flat side of a fork to scrape the scallop-like attachment from the shell, then drink the oyster’s liquor separately. Although I hew to American convention at my restaurants (including serving oysters ice-cold, per health department standards, instead of just cool, as in France), I like how visceral and drawn out the experience is in France.”
Raw Oysters with Mignonette Sauce
- Towel; heavy-duty glove; oyster knife
For the mignonette
- 1 large shallot minced
- 1 cup Champagne vinegar
- Freshly ground black or pink pepper (optional)
For the oysters
- 2 dozen fresh local oysters chilled and well rinsed (stored in the refrigerator, cupped side down, on a plate covered with a damp towel)
- 1 medium lemon cut into wedges
Make the mignonette
- In a shallow serving bowl, stir together the shallots and vinegar. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve or up to 2 days.
Shuck the oysters
- Just before serving, shuck the oysters by opening them, one at a time, using the typical American technique, the hinge method. Start with a soft, clean towel in your left hand. Hold the cupped part of the oyster in the palm of your hand on top of the towel, with the hinge (pointed) end toward your wrist. (You can put a heavy-duty glove on the hand holding the oyster if you’re shucking a lot of oysters or feel accident-prone.)
- Using your right hand, insert the point of the knife into the hinge of the oyster, pressing gently on the hinge until you feel it pop open. (Some people say you press the oyster onto the knife instead of the knife into the oyster; in either case, placement is more important than pressure. This process should not cause you to break a sweat.)
- Wipe the knife clean on the towel. With the oyster just partway open, slip the knife’s blade into the shell. Carefully follow the right side of the top shell with the knife to cut the oyster muscle free, then remove the top shell.
- Wipe the knife again, then carefully cut the muscle off the bottom shell, taking care to reserve as much of the oyster’s natural liquor as possible. (If you prefer, use the knife to turn the oyster over in the bottom shell.) Remove any sneaky shell pieces that may be wandering around in the liquor. Repeat with the remaining oysters. Arrange the oysters on a platter.
Serve and slurp
- Serve the raw oysters immediately alongside the mignonette, which you may want to sprinkle with pepper to taste. Set out a bowl of lemon wedges and napkins and set a spoon alongside the mignonette so guests can add as much as they’d like to each oyster. Slurp to your heart's content.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
If you have access to good, fresh, local oysters, you have a very elegant course to impress folks with or just a lovely “happy hour” with someone you care about.
I highly recommend getting an oyster knife. It’s not a big investment. If you like oysters, you either already have one or need to get one. It’s very helpful to have someone around who is good with an oyster knife. It takes next to no time to throw this together.
In the time that person spends shucking the oysters, you can throw together the mignonette recipe. A mignonette is my favorite “sauce” for oysters. I’ve been known to dunk bread in it as well as sip some on a spoon. I had no idea how easy it is to make. I must say that using a whole cup of Champagne vinegar would probably make enough mignonette for the whole neighborhood. You really don’t need to measure anything. Just pour the amount of Champagne vinegar you think you’ll need in a small ramekin or bowl, add minced shallot, and a bit of freshly ground pepper. That’s it.
Purely optional, but highly recommended, is a bottle of Champagne to have with the oysters. Sublime!
Gosh, there are few things more satisfying then a bounty of raw oysters on the half shell EXCEPT raw oysters you’ve paid half as much for because you bought them alive and CLOSED from a fish monger. We learned how to open these bad boys this past summer on Cape Cod and the method described here is spot-on.
Using the instructions as a refresher, I had no troubles thwarting the “rock” to gain access to the salty, plump bivalve meat. We have our favorites around on the Northeast coast near Long Island and Cape Cod. Wellfleets, Provincetowns, Beausoleils and Rocky Reefs—you can be sure we’ll be enjoying these Atlantic oysters a lot more often with this new skill.
Choose a knife: not just any old oyster knife will do, as there are styles that are regional for a reason. Atlantic oysters tend to be big and short so we use a New Haven-style knife, which has a lightly upturned tip to protect the meat. Next, use a towel or glove! Nothing will ruin a party faster then a trip to the ER, so take your time and protect your hand. Lastly, contrary to the instructions, once you get into the hinge, keep going to sever the muscle from the top shell (don’t wipe the knife).
Oh, by the way, trust your instincts: You know what a good raw oyster looks like. After opening the shell, if the meat is not plump, glistening, and briny like the sea, toss it. It’s obvious. Now good luck! And when can I come over?
This is certainly not a recipe. If you know how to shuck oysters, you can get everything you need from the title. Get some nice oysters, local or not—just make sure you know where they came from and that they’re fresh and properly handled since you’re eating them raw. Shuck them and serve them with a mixture of vinegar and shallots. That’s it. I had bought an oyster knife with the intention of learning how to shuck oysters a while back and just never did it. So this was a perfect test for how well the instructions work on someone who had never done it before.
The mignonette recipe instructions worked great and produced lovely oysters. The first couple took a bit of tinkering because I was apprehensive, but then it took about 20 seconds or so per oyster. The key is to be careful not to puncture the oyster and also to preserve as much of the oyster liquor as possible. I served fresh gulf oysters on a bed of ice with the mignonette, and I also made another sauce for variety using lime juice, cilantro, jalapeño, and shallots. Both were great, but we actually enjoyed the mignonette a bit more. Even with the vinegar, the flavor of oysters shone through.
Definitely keep at least 2 cloth towels on hand while shucking, as the instructions suggest. You will need those to wipe the knife in order to get rid of the tiny pieces of broken shell stuck on it and such.
Originally published December 26, 2018