Oysters on the Half Shell (with mignonette recipe)

A platter of oysters on the half shell rested on a rock salt bed.

Inside: How to buy, clean and shuck fresh oysters in their shell with photos and tutorial video, plus tips for serving and different garnishes.

Oysters on the half shell are a simple, delicious seafood appetizer usually served with a simple mignonette, horseradish or prepared cocktail sauce, lemon wedges and/or hot sauce. Making them at home is easy and rewarding. I’ll show you how to shuck and serve raw oysters on the halfshell.

Fresh oysters on a rimmed tray.

What are oysters on the half shell?

Oysters on the half shell are raw oysters, shucked and served in their own shells usually with an accompaniment like horseradish or a simple mignonette recipe. Making them at home is quick, easy and sure to impress.

My experience with oysters:

I grew up in coastal Virginia, where the regional cuisine included rockfish, flounder, blue crab, and fresh succulent oysters pulled from the Chesapeake Bay.  

At my grandparent’s house on Carter’s Creek (a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay), we would load up on bushels of bivalves. Consequently, I grew up eating oyster stew for lunch, oyster dressing every Thanksgiving, and having oyster roasts in the backyard with friends and family.

Enjoying oysters on the half-shell is second nature to me, and though they might seem intimidating at first, with a little practice, you’ll gain my experience with oysters in no time.

This is one of the simplest (and most classic) raw oyster recipes you’ll find.

Newsletter Signup
Join our community of food lovers!

Get my latest recipes, helpful kitchen tips and more good things each week in your inbox.

Why this recipe works:

  • It’s quick and easy to shuck oysters; it just takes practice.
  • You can make oysters on the half shell for one, two or ten people, so it’s easily scaleable.
  • You can use any cold-water oysters for this appetizer (East or West Coast).
  • The simple mignonette recipe takes 5 minutes to make (but you can also use other garnishes).


A tray of unshucked East coast oysters.
  • Fresh Oysters – in their shell.
  • Shallot – a cross between onion and garlic, this punchy allium gives a fresh bite to the mignonette recipe.
  • Whole Pink Peppercorns – when crushed these pretty pink peppercorns add a fruity peppery quality to the oyster mignonette.
  • Champagne Vinegar – is softer and lighter than other vinegars but brings a bright tangy quality fo the oyster sauce recipe.
  • Rice Wine Vinegar – made from rice fermented into wine, and then to vinegar, it adds a clean, bracing flavor to the mignonette recipe.
  • Sugar – you don’t need much sugar, but a little takes the sharp bite out of the mignonette.
  • Kosher Salt – I recommend Diamond Crystal kosher salt, which is less salty by volume than Morton’s.
  • Fresh Thyme Leaves – look for tender, bright green thyme as opposed to aged, green-gray leaves.

How to choose oysters for serving raw on the half shell:

  • Go to a reputable fishmonger or order oysters online. We get our Chesapeake Bay oysters from Rappahannock Oyster Co. (not an affiliate, just a fan). They come in mesh bags packed in styrofoam coolers and are delivered between 35°-45°F.
  • Other oysters to try are Atlantic Blue Point or Malpeques and Kumamoto, Hog Island Sweetwater, Olympia or other Pacific oysters,
  • Oysters should have a fresh, briny smell, like the ocean. Any unpleasant odor from a bivalve may mean it’s dead and should be discarded.
  • Try to find smaller oysters that come from colder waters for this preparation. I prefer to use the Gulf oysters for cooked recipes, as they tend to be larger.
  • Raw oysters are alive, and sometimes their shells will crack open just slightly; however, when you touch them, the mollusk inside will tighten up, and the shell will close. If you have an oyster whose shell remains open, even after being handled, it has likely died and should be discarded.
Cleaning the sand and debris from the oyster shell.

Oysters live clustered together in the silty bottom of salty and brackish waters. Consequently, when they’re harvested, the shells can be caked with mud and detritus and they need to be well cleaned, especially if you’re serving raw oysters on the half shell. No one wants a mouth full of silt.

How to clean oysters to serve on the half shell

  • First, check to see that the oyster has closed its shell tightly, to indicate that it’s fresh and alive.
  • Run cold, fresh water over the oyster and use a hard-bristled brush to remove any sand, caked-on dirt or grime. Rinse several times with cold running water to be sure you’ve removed all the grit.
  • Continue in this fashion until you’ve cleaned the oysters you will eat. Do not clean any oysters that you’re saving for later. They don’t need the trauma.
Breaking the hinge of the oyster to shuck it.

Shucking oysters is a fairly simple process of cracking the hinge of the shell, and dislodging the adductor muscle from the top and bottom so that the oyster floats loose in its brine.

That said, shucking can also be fraught with peril – a sharp knife held in one hand; bearing down to increase the pressure. All it takes is one slip — and it WILL happen. Therefore, I highly recommend using a good oyster knife and a pair of LEVEL 5 cut-resistant oyster gloves (affiliate links) before you start.

Separating the oyster from the shell by cutting through the adductor muscle.

How to shuck oysters without hurting yourself:

  • Wear oyster gloves to protect your hands. Rest the oyster, cup side down, on the kitchen towel to secure it and prevent it from slipping. 
  • Insert the oyster knife tip into the hinge, forcing it open and twisting to break the seal; t may take several tries.
  • Wipe the knife’s blade off on the towel to prevent any bits of stray shell from returning to the shucked oyster. 
  • Slide the oyster knife parallel, along the inside top of the shell (the flat side) to disconnect the meat from the adductor muscle. Discard the flat shell so that the oysters are resting on the cupped side of the mollusk. Run the oyster knife beneath the oyster in the shell to separate it from the muscle. Take care not to lose the oyster liquor. 
  • Transfer the shucked raw oysters in their shell to a rimmed sheet pan or a serving platter lined with crushed ice or rock salt so they stand upright without leaning and leaking the oyster liquor. Continue to process the seafood in this manner.
A shucked oyster in the shell.


  • Oysters on the half-shell are best eaten when they are very cold. If you’re shucking them before guests arrive, refrigerate them for an hour or so until you’re ready to serve.
  • Don’t dress the shucked oysters with the champagne mignonette until just before you eat them.
  • If you can access shaved ice, it’s perfect for serving oysters on the half-shell, otherwise, a bed of rock salt will hold them steady (but won’t keep them chilled). Spread an even layer of crushed ice on a tray and rest the shells on the ice. Serve with the mignonette recipe or your favorite accompaniments.


  • If you don’t have champagne vinegar, you can substitute red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar instead.
  • You can also serve the shellfish with lemon wedges for squeezing.
  • Many presentations include a small dish of store-bought or fresh grated horseradish and another dish of ketchup. You can make the cocktail sauce by combining ⅓ cup of ketchup with a heaping tablespoon of prepared horseradish, a squeeze of lemon, and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.
  • A few dashes of hot sauce is another tasty accompaniment.
A tray of oysters on the half shell with mignonette.

How to store oysters at home:

  • You can store oysters in your refrigerator, covered well with a clean, damp towels. To do this, run a clean dishtowel under water and squeeze out the excess so it’s damp but not sopping wet. Place the whole oysters in a large bowl and cover completely with the towel. Using this method, you can keep oysters alive for a week (or two).
  • Anecdotally, when my parents lived in Virginia, they would keep a bushel of oysters in their garage during the winter months when the temperature hovered about 40°F. The shellfish would last for several weeks to a month.
  • Once you’ve shucked they oysters, they should be eaten, or cooked in a recipe.
  • I don’t recommend eating raw shucked oysters if they’ve been kept for several days in the refrigerator, unless you’ve purchased them that way from the fishmonger in a sealed container. Instead, use them in a cooked recipe like Pan Fried Oysters Oreganata or Deep Fried Oysters with Remoulade.
A closeup of the half shell oysters on a bed of rock salt.


How long do oysters on the half-shell last?

Shucked oysters last for up to 5 days. However, I consume raw oysters the day (if not the hour) they are shucked.

How do you eat oysters on the half shell?

They are typically served on a bed of ice or rock salt to hold them upright and prevent the liquor from leaking out. Top the oyster with mignonette sauce or other condiments, tip the shell to your mouth and slurp the oyster out.

Do you chew oysters?

Many people swallow them whole, but if you want to experience the briny flavor and goodness, it’s best to chew them a few times before swallowing.

Serving oysters on the half shell with a spoonful of mignonette sauce.

Tried this recipe? Leave a rating and review.

Your comments and shares are invaluable to me and the thousands of readers who use this site daily. If you've made the recipe, leave a star rating and review. We want to hear how you liked it.

We'd love it if you shared the recipe with your friends on social media!

Oysters on the halfshell with tangy mignonette.
Print Pin
4.67 from 6 votes

Oysters on the Half Shell with Mignonette

Oysters on the half shell is a simple, elegant appetizer. Mignonette is a simple oyster sauce recipe to serve with the shucked oysters and takes 5 minutes to prepare.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Keyword oysters
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6



  • 1 shallot finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon pink peppercorns crushed with a mortar and pestle or pulsed in a coffee grinder
  • 4 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves minced
  • 3 dozen oysters shucked, on the half shell


  • fresh lemon wedges to squeeze over the seafood
  • horseradish freshly grated or from a jar.
  • tomato ketchup (to mix with the horseradish for an impromptu cocktail sauce)
  • your favorite hot sauce try Tabasco, Crystal’s or your favorite brand.
  • saltines



  • Combine 1 shallot, 1 teaspoon pink peppercorns, 4 tablespoons champagne vinegar,4 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon sugar, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves in a small bowl. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Set aside.


  • Hold the oyster with a clean dish towel and insert the oyster knife into the hinge of the oyster, twist until it pops. Run the blade of the knife along the top and bottom of the shell to dislodge the oyster, being careful to preserve the liquor in the shell.


  • Line a serving platter with crushed ice. Nestle the oysters in the ice to keep them chilled and upright so you don’t lose any oyster liquor.
  • Another option for serving is using a bed of rock salt. The coarse salt will create a shallow cavity to hold the oysters upright so the liquid doesn’t leak. However, it won’t keep the oysters cold. I recommend using this for smaller quantities of a dozen or fewer so they can be eaten quickly.
  • Spoon a little mignonette onto an oyster in its shell, or serve with other optional condiments.


YouTube video


Calories: 10.54kcal | Carbohydrates: 1.63g | Protein: 0.23g | Fat: 0.04g | Saturated Fat: 0.01g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.01g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.01g | Cholesterol: 0.2mg | Sodium: 99.01mg | Potassium: 30.61mg | Fiber: 0.37g | Sugar: 0.67g | Vitamin A: 20.23IU | Vitamin C: 0.92mg | Calcium: 7.74mg | Iron: 0.25mg

Pin it for later!

A Pinterest Pin to save for later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. 5 stars
    I’d never shucked oysters before, and it took me a few tries to get the hang of it… Some of those suckers are tough to get open — but I dominated. Love the fresh mignonette — it’s tangy and bright and balances well with the raw oysters.

  2. Ana Huard says:

    5 stars
    Love oysters and definitely will be a challenger for me but I will try to make them.

  3. Terry Powell says:

    G’day All, your oysters look a touch different to ours but the anatomy is the same. To be a touch indelicate , yours look like they squeezed out of a ferrets bum !! When you open the oyster and free it from the adductor muscle use the blade to flip over the oyster. You should find it will be more attractive to the eye and a better presentation on the platter.
    Bon Appetit !!!

    From the Land Downunder !!

    1. That is the funniest description! I’ll take your suggestions under advisement!

  4. I am seriously not a sea food fan, but this looks amazing! Maybe, at some point in my life…I will allow this haha!

    1. I know not everyone likes oysters — but for people who do — this is a classic!

  5. These oysters look so tasty! I just might have to make them for Christmas!

    1. I just received a shipment from Rappahannock Oyster Co. I’m so excited!!!!

  6. I think my friends are gonna think I’m amazing if I serve these. You’re going to make me look LEGIT! 🙂 So beautiful and perfectly festive.

    1. You are legit – and I’m sure you’re friends think so too!

  7. I’ve never had oysters, so these sound like fun. Your presentation looks marvelous. Thanks for the recipe.

    1. Debi – oysters are one of my all time favorites. Give ’em a try!

  8. 5 stars
    We too, served the same oysters with a mignonette sauce for Christmas; and are serving them “Rockefeller” style for New Year’s. Yum!

  9. Beth howell says:

    5 stars
    I live in Hampton, Virginia, and am thrilled with your regional recipes!

    1. Wow! Small world! I’m glad you are enjoying them! I was thrilled to receive these oysters as a Christmas gift!