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Thanksgiving meals with oysters? Shucker says it's traditional

Patrick McMurray is a fan of Long Island Bluepoints for beginners.

Patrick McMurray is an oyster sommelier who holds the Guinness World Record for shucking 39 oysters in a minute. He was shucking British Columbia oysters and talking about oysters for Thanksgiving at the Grand Central Oyster Bar on November 17, 2018. (Credit: David Handschuh)

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Patrick McMurray was holding court at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, trying to  persuade New Yorkers to add oysters to their Thanksgiving spread.

He knows it’s almost sacrilegious to suggest that we give up our holiday gobbler, the turkey that is the centerpiece of the holiday meal. And what would Thanksgiving be without jellied cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy?

But McMurray — a Canadian who holds the Guinness World Record for the most oysters opened in one minute (39) – suggests that oysters are a wonderful addition to Thanksgiving or other holiday celebrations.  

“Well, oysters would have been on the original menu at the first Thanksgiving,” McMurray said at the recent tasting event.

Though there’s no record of the complete menu for that first feast, which lasted three days, "It is certainly possible [oysters] were on the table for the 1621 harvest feast," said Kate Sheehan, associate director of media relations and marketing at Plimoth Plantation on Cape Cod.

“The waters here in Plymouth were full of shellfish, including oysters and clams, both of which native people ate,” she said. “Oysters were definitely consumed by the Wampanoag people in our region.”

But back to New York in 2018: McMurray brought three oysters from British Columbia to the iconic oyster house for New Yorkers to sample.

His selection included Buckley Bay, a standard at many oyster bars, from Mac’s Oysters; Royal Miyagi, a smaller, mildly briny bivalve, from Pacific Rim Shellfish; and Sawmill Bay’s big, juicy DD’s.

Linda Haus of Manhattan, who came for her usual Saturday lunch at the oyster bar, ordered a second round of the DD’s, which she called “sweet and amazing.”

Wearing a glove made of chain mail, McMurray instructed visitors on safe techniques for holiday oyster shucking.

East Coast oysters, like Long Island’s Bluepoints, are the easiest to practice on, he advised, because they “have a good, consistent, even shell with a deep cup and a nice wide hinge.” Plus, "Long Island oysters are fantastic," he added.

To avoid any injuries, it’s important to always protect your hand, said McMurray, whose new book, “The Oyster Companion: A Field Guide,” is all about safely enjoying the bivalves.

“I use a fancy glove, but a tea towel will work,” he said. “And use a good oyster knife."

To get shucking, “go into the hinge, crack it, cut the top off, cut the bottom and make sure the oyster is loose,” he said.

“The secret to opening an oyster is to always keep your eye on the oyster.”

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