There is, I think, no better holiday meal than shellfish if you live in Seattle. I grew up with dungeness crabs on Christmas, dipped in melted butter and lemon. But given the current seafood crisis and the current climate crisis, bivalves seem like the best pick—especially compared to factory farm poultry and prime rib, which few can cook well at home anyway.
Bivalves—clams, mussels, oysters—are the most sustainable animal protein you can eat and actually beneficial to the environment, helping to clean the water and restore decimated shellfish populations. And it seems like the best way to actually change things, instead of bemoaning the loss of destructive things, is to instead celebrate the good ones.
Clams are great. A big pot of mussels—cooked with butter and shallot and garlic and white wine and some herbs, sopped up with bread—is better.
But oysters are best in the cold months and are the most celebratory of the bivalves. You can steam the big ones open or go raw. Shucking was one of the first things I learned when I started cooking professionally, and one of the first skills I brought home and started showing off. Now every Christmas Eve, I shuck a couple dozen for my family.
Getting good at it—working quickly and not mangling the meat—takes a good deal of practice. But doing a decent job and saving yourself lots of money is easy (you can get great oysters for a dollar-ish each—as opposed to the $3.50 each you’ll pay in many restaurants).
Taylor Shellfish locations, or any other good fish monger, are obvious spots to pick up a dozen or two (also get an oyster knife, which you need). I recommend shigokus: They’re consistent, balanced, and relatively painless to open.
There are many ways to shuck, but here’s a good one: Give them a good wash with cold water and a scrub brush, paying attention to any folds where mud might hide. Get a thick towel you don’t care about. Then do this:
The distinction—picking a lock, not prying open the door with a crowbar—is super important. It should keep you from overexerting and slipping and gouging your knuckle on the shell and then playing Is That Blood or Mignonette? Or just sticking the knife in your hand.