January 14, 2014 - Radio Kitchen - Oysters
As we suffer through some very nasty weather this winter, it's good to stop and think about the Watermen of the Chesapeake Bay who are going out day after frigid day to harvest their oysters. We're in the heart of oyster season right now, and it's a good time to talk about a few of the things you can do with our splendid bivalves.
Here's an essential reminder. First step in all oyster recipes: clean them, using a garden hose with a high pressure nozzle if you have to.
The easiest way to enjoy oysters is on the half shell: and you might want to try a classic condiment, mignonette sauce (minced shallots, cracked pepper and red wine vinegar.)
Close behind for ease of preparation is the roasted oyster. This involves placing your oysters on a deep sided baking pan, up to two layers deep, and pouring water in the pan. Place in a 450 degree oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes. The oysters will open up. Carefully remove the pan, drain the remaining water, and cover the oysters with a damp towel. Set aside on a wire rack and allow the oysters to steam. When they are cool enough to handle, you can remove the flat shell and dab your oysters with whatever sauce you want.
Quite often you can work with shucked oysters that come in a jar. One of the best ways to use them is to make fried oysters. (And P.S., remember to keep a couple dozen clean oyster shells on hand for serving shucked oysters.)
Most recipes have two parts: a sauce for the final garnish, and a seasoned breading for the actual frying. The breading is often a mix of cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper and additional spices. And you'll need some milk or buttermilk for dipping so that the breading will stick. We like to use peanut oil or canola oil, heated to 350 degrees. Work in small batches and don't let the oysters over-cook. As soon as they start to turn golden brown they are done!
A lot of recipes are, in essence, stuffed oysters. The most famous is Oysters Rockefeller, developed at Antoine's in NOLA. Many so-called Oysters Rockefeller recipes feature bacon and spinach, which is odd, because it is obvious that Anotine's admittedly secret recipe features neither.
The classic Antoine's recipe has been deconstructed endless times, but it amounts to preparing a roux based seasoned paste with finely minced herbs and vegetables that is piped decoratively onto oyster in its half-shell. It is then baked and served.
The more frequently encountered version of Oysters Rockefeller is actually a Oyster Florentine Gratinée. You make a small batch of creamed spinach, toss in some crumbled bacon, top off the oysters and sprinkle with grated cheese. Maybe not the authentic classic, but still delicious.
One of my all time favorite recipes is very regional. The dish is called Oysters Maryland, and I learned the recipe from the Maryland's Way cookbook. Heat a dozen plump shucked oysters in their own liquor until cooked. Next, place a dozen toast points in a flat oven dish. Place a thin slice of country ham on each piece, then top it with an oyster. Prepare a simple creamy béchamel sauce, with a dollop of sherry, and top each oyster with a dab of the sauce. Bake in a moderate oven until the sauce bubbles, garnish with parsley and serve immediately with a glass of Madeira.