Of all the mollusks, oysters are the most highly prized. When served raw on the half shell, their texture is slippery yet luxurious, and their flavor, briny but clean. But opening an oyster requires a certain amount of skill.
To do so, you need an oyster knife, which has a strong, thick blade designed specifically for opening the shells.
First, scrub the oysters clean with a brush under cold running water. Then, for protection, place a folded kitchen towel in the palm of your hand and, holding an oyster with the cupped side facing down, use the knife to pry into the oyster's hinge. Twist the knife to pop off the top shell. Detach the flesh from the top shell and scoop under the oyster to loosen it from the bottom shell.
It's traditional to place shucked oysters on a bed of crushed ice when serving, but the ice often melts quickly, and it's difficult to form the indentations in which the oysters are placed. Coarse sea salt mixed with just a little bit of water is a great alternative. A salt bed won't melt, and it supports the oysters very well.
While oysters are delicious on their own, they can also be enjoyed with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice, cocktail sauce, freshly grated horseradish, or mignonette, a seasoned vinegar sauce. For extra-special occasions, oysters can also be topped with a spoonful of caviar.