Thinking Outside The Shell
Out with the swimsuits and in with the scarves. Don’t look so sad. You know you’ve been eagerly eyeing your Uggs for weeks. Now that we’ve said toodles to too-hot afternoons and swapped our Coronas for chais, we open our hearts to fall and our bellies to brine. Being a few sandy steps away from the ocean means taking advantage of its bounty year-round.
Yes, the rumors are true. The following oysters have been rated R. Sure, you can eat these shell-bearing specimens in those non-R-months, but that doesn’t mean you should. Unlike us locals, these bivalves dig the chilly water. Hence those R months (September, October, November, etc.) putting them at their peak. So if you’re planning on knocking oysters back in their freshest form, remember that the R in raw has a purpose. If you’re not from here, you may only swallow these decadent delicacies on vacation. But for us – oysters are part of the Port City package. And when the holidays hit, we take full advantage.
We chop, bake, stew, slurp, and slip them into our holiday meal in every way possible. Farm-to-table may still be all the rage, but this time of year, ocean-to-plate is where it’s at. Not so familiar with these briny bad boys? Here are three out-of-this-world recipes to tweak your T-day with a pinch of coastal pride.
Is it five o’clock already? No? Oh well. Vodka’s already out. I like to kick things off with a kick – and what goes better with mollusks than Marys?
Don’t toss those beautiful shiny shells. Use this appetizer as an opportunity for a show-stopping presentation. So once we pop their tops, we’ll loosen them up with a spiked mix of zesty lime, hot sauce, and tomato juice. We’ll even use the oyster “liquor” from the shells for our cocktail. The best part? This impressive app is mixed up in minutes.
Sunday Bloody Sunday Oyster Shooters
(Makes 12 shooters)
1 dozen fresh oysters in shells
3 ounces good quality Bloody Mary mix (preferably Zing Zang)
Juice of half a lime
½ teaspoon fresh grated horseradish (or substitute 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish)
Several dashes Worcestershire
Hot sauce to taste
Pepper to taste
2 ounces vodka (preferably Tito’s)
Garnish: Fresh dill sprigs and large-grained salt (such as
kosher sea salt)
DIRECTIONS: Scrub the oysters under cool running water to remove outer grit. Using a shucking knife or a small knife with a heavy blade, carefully pop open each oyster. Loosen the oyster meat so it’s no longer attached and place the bottom shells with their oysters onto a platter.
In a cocktail shaker, add the Bloody Mary mix, lime juice, horseradish, Worcestershire, hot sauce, pepper, vodka, and ice and shake until chilled.
Pour the mixture over the oysters in their shells. Garnish with the dill sprigs and salt.
After the booze, it’s time to get fresh – with a salad course, of course. If anyone in your gathering is scared of the sprouts, they’ll never know.
The thinly shaved Brussels taste like crunchy cabbage slices. For a hint of bitter and a burst of brightness, I toss in peppery radicchio. Every salad needs a pop of acidity, and I achieve mine with pickled carrot ribbons. If you can find rainbow or heirloom carrots, they’ll bring a playful, multicolor hue to the bowl.
Onto the oysters. A quick dip in some seasoned cornmeal, and they’re fried for a golden garnish. For the dressing that mingles this masterpiece to life: an herbaceous blend of buttermilk, lemon zest, and garlic.
Fall Greens with Pickled Carrots, Fried Oysters & Herby Buttermilk Dressing
4 thick carrots (preferably rainbow), peeled lengthwise into ribbons
1⁄3 cup water
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dill seeds (optional)
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
Herby Buttermilk Dressing (recipe follows)
1 pound Brussel sprouts, shaved on a mandolin or thinly sliced
1½ cups radicchio, shaved on a mandolin or thinly sliced
16 shucked oysters, drained and picked over for shell pieces
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup cornmeal
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying (about 6 cups)
Garnish: Several strands of chives, snipped to 3 inches long
DIRECTIONS: Place the carrots in an airtight container. In a small saucepan, whisk together the water, apple cider vinegar, sugar, dill seeds, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour the pickling liquid over the carrots, cover the container and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the Herby Buttermilk Dressing and refrigerate until you’re ready to use. Move on to frying the oysters.
Preheat the oven to 200°.
Place the eggs into a shallow bowl. In a separate shallow bowl, toss the cornmeal with the paprika, cayenne, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and the pepper. Set up an assembly line from left to right with the eggs, the cornmeal mixture, and a large plate at the end. One at a time, dip the oysters first into the eggs, allowing the excess to drip off and then into the cornmeal. Coat them evenly and shake off any excess. Place each coated oyster onto the plate.
In a large heavy pot or deep fryer, heat the oil to 360°. If you don’t have an oil thermometer, the heat should be at medium-high, and the oil should be very hot but not smoking.
Working in batches, add the oysters to the pot and cook until golden brown and slightly crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes depending on their size. Remove the fried oysters with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Immediately sprinkle them with salt. Place the cooked oysters on a baking sheet in the oven to keep warm while you finish frying.
In a large bowl, toss the pickled carrots, shaved Brussel sprouts, and radicchio to combine the greens. Divide among four plates and lightly drizzle the buttermilk dressing over top. Garnish each salad with even portions of fried oysters, another drizzle of the dressing, and the snipped chives.
Herby Buttermilk Dressing
(Makes about ½ cup)
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons buttermilk
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 small clove garlic, grated
Salt and coarse black pepper
DIRECTIONS: In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, chives, parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The Main Event
Sorry turkey, but we’re all here for the stuffing.
In my coastal rendition of this holiday classic, I bring together the bold flavors of earthy sage, dry sherry wine, and bright zesty lemon. Oh, and lots of butter. Because, well, butter.
And since today is all about the shell, the oysters and their juice share a starring role. Instead of traditional bacon, I opt for peppery pancetta that adds a delicate crunch and an unctuous contrast to the citrus, which caramelizes in the oven like a pro. Sage’s warm fragrance will remind you that it’s November, and the salty oysters will spin you into seaside heaven.
Sage Stuffing with Pancetta, Sherry & Oysters
(Serves 8 to 10)
12 cups 1-inch cubed French bread (about 2 loaves)
4 ounces pancetta, diced into ½-inch thick pieces
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 leeks, white and light-green parts only, diced
1½ cups diced celery
1 medium clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt and coarse black pepper
1 cup chopped oysters, with about ½ cup oyster liquor reserved
¼ cup dry sherry
1½ cups low-sodium chicken stock, plus more if needed
2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 lemon, thinly sliced into rounds
Garnish: 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 250°.
Arrange the bread cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake, stirring occasionally, until dried, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the pancetta until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the pan along with the leeks, celery, and garlic. Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper and sauté until the leeks are translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the sherry, oyster liquor, and stock. Simmer for 5 minutes. In a small saucepot over low heat, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter.
Raise the oven temperature to 400°.
In a large bowl, toss together the dried bread cubes, pancetta, chopped oysters, stock mixture, half of the melted butter, sage, and the lemons. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit more stock. Transfer the mixture to a buttered 3-quart baking dish and drizzle with the remaining butter.
Bake the stuffing until the top is golden brown and the lemons are caramelized, 40 to 50 minutes. Garnish with the parsley and serve immediately.
You’re now officially armed with a feast fit for a coastal crowd. Go on, have another oyster shooter. You deserve it.
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to timelessfotographie.com