What’s in a Knife? | Chesapeake Bay Magazine

Quite a bit, particularly relating to oysters

Oyster season is as soon as once more upon us, which is nice information for bivalve lovers. However like every part within the COVID period, this 12 months appears slightly totally different. On account of indoor eating limits and the postponement of main oyster festivals in St. Mary’s Metropolis, Md. and Urbanna, Va., this season extra of us could also be compelled to (gasp!) shuck our personal oysters.

Photograph Credit score: Patrick Loughrey

Identical to the previous joke about Carnegie Corridor, one of the simplest ways to grow to be a superb shucker is follow, follow, follow. Nevertheless it additionally requires a superb knife. We requested some knowledgeable shuckers to share their ideas on the tool of the commerce. 

Pete Woods has been shucking since he was 11—lengthy earlier than he created the menu for Rappahannock Oyster Firm’s Merroir Tasting Room, or took on  his present position working the uncooked bar at The Tides Inn in Irvington, Va. “Fancy is worse” when it comes oyster knives, he says; “easy is best.” Woods buys generic, wood-handled knives by the field at his native ironmongery shop in Deltaville after which customizes them, carving finger pits within the deal with to suit his hand. “I search for a slender, sharp blade that you may simply wiggle into the invoice or hinge,” he says—after which he hones the blade much more. “I can lower carpet with my knives; they’re dangerously sharp,” he chuckles. 

Dan Worrell earned his abilities as a shucker at Ryleigh’s Oyster in Baltimore’s Federal Hill, and at this time grows oysters at his farm, pairs bivalves with wine at his firm Shell & Barrell, and works with the nonprofit Oyster Restoration Partnership. He agrees that a knife doesn’t must be fancy to do its job; the truth is, he finds quite a lot of his on the job doing shell recycling. “I look down in down within the pile and there’s an oyster knife,” he says. “I take them dwelling and clear them, taking off the rust, they usually’re good as new.” 

Photograph Credit score: Jay Fleming

Whereas most Mid-Atlantic shuckers undergo the invoice of the oyster, Worrell approaches the bivalve from the opposite finish. “As a hinge shucker, I need a sturdier blade,” he says. “It’s good to have a pointy level, however what I really want is one thing that may stroll me contained in the deal with of the hinge. You wiggle it in there till you’re feeling it tighten, and while you get to that second, it’s like turning your automotive engine and ‘pop’!” 

His most treasured knives are those as soon as owned by his nice grandfather, a former lighthouse keeper, that have been handed on to him by his grandmother. However for a superb utilitarian knife, he’s a fan of Dexter Russell’s Boston-style knife, with a Four-inch blade and a plastic deal with. “The longer the blade is, the extra really feel I get.” However on the finish of the day, which knife he makes use of actually is dependent upon the oyster. “I’ll carry three or 4 totally different knives with me, relying on the occasion.” 

Gardner Douglas grew up close to Chincoteague on Virginia’s Japanese Shore, and discovered the talent from his father, knowledgeable oyster shucker. Douglas continues the custom along with his D.C.-based cellular S.S. Shucking Service, whereas additionally competing nationally and working the Oyster Ninja podcast. “The very first thing I’m is the deal with,” he says of the search for the right knife. “It’s all about consolation; for those who’re not snug, it’s going to be laborious to shuck.” 

Like Woods, Douglas customizes his knives. “I get a daily Dexter knife and grind down the blade,” he says. “It’s sturdy, restaurant high quality, and with a grinder you can also make any knife your knife…. My lower on oysters is actual specific, identical to the way in which I like my knives.” It additionally is dependent upon what sort of oyster he’s shucking. “For wild oysters, I like a sturdy knife, like a Dexter 22 or Toad Fish. However for farm raised, it’s greater than possible a Dale German. That’s the very best knife for farm-raised, bill-shucking oysters.”

You possibly can’t be round shuckers for lengthy with out listening to the title Dale German. The Baltimore woodworker acquired turned onto oysters about 15 years in the past, when he heard Invoice Devine, proprietor of Baltimore’s reknowned Faidley’s Seafood, complaining how he hadn’t been capable of finding a superb oyster knife since Crisfield-based cutlery firm Carvel Corridor went out of enterprise. Intrigued, he turned to U.S. Nationwide Championship successful shucker George Hastings for recommendation. “George has been shucking since he was a young person,” says Dale, who began by taking measurements of Hastings’ favourite knives. “The dimensions and form of blade of what he was utilizing was very totally different from any business knife you possibly can get. So I began making a number of right here and there, and refining them over a time frame.” 

The result’s the Chesapeake Stabber, which is the cult favourite for regional cooks and shuckers. It’s lighter than a conventional knife, with a pear-shaped deal with usually comprised of white oak and a shorter blade than you’ll discover on many different business knives. “The blade solely must be lengthy sufficient to achieve the abductor muscle,” he says. “Principally I make them 2 three/eight to 2 half of inches; some guys like them even shorter.” Designed for invoice shucking, German says the key lies within the thinner blade. “It’s simple to place in between the shell.”

Patrick Hudson, oyster farmer and co-owner of Baltimore’s True Chesapeake Oyster Co., agrees. “The unique Dale German knife is unquestionably my favourite. It has an excellent skinny blade that  flexes barely while you put strain on it, however it’s sturdy as heck.” Hudson prizes his ‘authentic Dale’ gifted to him by George Hastings, with a deal with comprised of the wooden of Maryland’s fallen Wye Oak. “I preserve it protected and solely apply it to particular events.”

In reality, he’s such a fan of Dale’s knives that he and True Chesapeake companion Nick Schauman (additionally of Baltimore’s The Native Oyster) labored with Dale and George to make their very own model, designed for amateur shuckers. “It’s constructed to final and face up to a number of shucking errors with out breaking,” says Hudson. “Nevertheless it’s skinny and nimble sufficient to shuck farm-raised oysters.” 

True Chesapeake sells theirs on-line at Truechesapeake.com, or you may attain out to German instantly for his customized knives, which he sells in individual, “slightly bit right here and there.” 

Which is how I ended up in a car parking zone on a late August afternoon, deciding on a mulberry-handled magnificence from the array of knives lined up on the trunk shade of Dale’s crimson hatchback. As a result of oyster season is coming, and I don’t plan to overlook out, even when I’ve to shuck a number of myself. And as I’m rapidly studying, with the precise tool in hand, shucking oysters might be virtually as addictive as consuming them.

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