OYSTERS TO DELIGHT
I learned to eat oysters as a child. So I didn't see anything unusual about slurping down a nice juicy oyster from the shell. Give me oysters, a little lemon, some hot sauce and I'm a happy camper!
This fall, while at Wallola Bay in Washington, we had the lunch choice of a fancy coastal restaurant - the local oyster farm. We ended up with a quart of just shucked oysters shared while sitting on a log on the beach. Now that defines gourmet. Nothing beats newly shucked, absolutely fresh oysters raw!
However, squeamish folks, or those who have to buy their oysters canned or in jars do well with cooked oysters. This isn't a bad introduction for anyone! Then too, you need to realize that oysters offer a nice habitat for some exotic diseases and, like all seafood, can cause other problems if not kept cold until needed. Hence the old saw about not eating oysters in months without an 'R.' This doesn't, incidentally, apply in the southern hemisphere.
Unfortunately, civilization and its habit of dumping sewage and such into bays hasn't helped oysters that happily filter out just about anything that passes through their shells. So oysters from pure water are the choice. Oysters not long from the water that have been carefully iced are a must, too!
Oyster types seem pretty much a matter of local taste and availability!
OYSTER CHOWDER, OR STEW?
The difference between chowder and stew is, according to one wit, whether or not you can stand a spoon up in it. The rule for both is simple. Everything needs to be fresh. Our rule is two cups of milk to two cups of shucked oysters and their liquid for chowder and one to more oysters for stew.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat add flour and cook until barely browned. Add milk gradually and stir until hot, but never boiling. Drain the oysters and heat their liquid in a separate pot to a boil. Melt remaining butter and lightly saute oysters until their edges curl and they plump - you may want to add more butter. Add heated milk and remaining butter to pot, stir and serve at once in heated bowls.
This recipe started in Hangtown, a now renamed burg in the California foothills. During the Gold Rush a chemically enhanced prospector staggered into town with a poke full of gold. He asked for the most expensive thing to eat available. This turned out to be a combination of eggs and oysters fried up in butter with a bottle of brandy on the side. While the brandy is optional the dish still retains its considerable merits. There are at least several schools of preparation for this dish. Some use only egg yolks, others use cream, some use milk. Everyone agrees on the butter and brandy or cognac. Our choice is a set omelet that's started on the stove top and browned off under the broiler, it beats flipping!
Shuck the oysters. Chop them into gumdrop-size pieces. Start the broiler. Add two tablespoons of butter to a skillet or other utensil that can go under the broiler over medium heat. When butter foams toss in the diced vegetables and cook for a minute. Add the oysters and cook for a minute. Add the brandy and cook for a minute. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and let the eggs set until they thicken and brown a bit around the edges. Then add the remaining tablespoon of butter and brown off the top under the broiler.
You can, if you like, sprinkle on grated jack or other mild cheeses, but too liberal a hand with cheeses or seasonings kills the oyster flavor.
Perfect fried oysters, like perfectly roasted chicken, are a lot harder than most think. The key seems to be absolute control of temperature - we use 375 degrees in an electric skillet, and decent oil that's not left over from a fish fry four months ago. A batter helps reduce spattering and forms a golden shell to seal in the flavor. As with crepes, you need to mix the batter and then let it set up for about 30 minutes.
Mix batter and let it rest 30 minutes while you shuck oysters. Heat oil to 375 degrees in an electric skillet or fryer. Dip oysters in batter and cook a few at a time in oil until golden brown. Serve with your favorite sauce.
Oysters are, of course, cold, and more than five or six big ones will cool the oil to the point where the batter absorbs oil before it cooks. The results very, very greasy! So it's important to let the oil come up to the proper temperature before you add the oysters. On the other hand, if the oil is too hot, big oysters will get dark brown too fast and be cold in the middle.
Do realize that your fryer or skillet may have its own ideas about temperatures. One of our's does a great job at 325 degrees, the other requires a 375 setting.
A buddy claims fritters are the Cajun solution to Yankee guests, but he claims to have caught and released a 20 pound bass. Besides, hospitable Cajuns would come up with more food.
So oyster fritters must be a Yankee invention. They're a good way to stretch oysters and, if you must, you can add some clams or cooked fish to stretch the dish.
Cut oysters into pieces. Stir flour with baking powder and add the eggs and milk. Stir until smooth. Add oysters and their liquor. Melt half the butter in a skillet over medium heat and fry big tablespoons of batter and oysters until golden brown. Scoop out onto paper towels set on a hot plate and keep warm until everything is finished if you can - nibblers are a menace here.
We like this best with a home-made tartar sauce.
Scoop the cooked yolks out of the eggs and dump the yolks with the raw yolk into the blender. Beat. Then start dribbling in the oil bit by bit as you blend. Once the sauce thickens add the wine vinegar to taste. Remove the sauce from the blender and stir in the other ingredients. Add more wine vinegar if you need it. We're frugal so we coarsely chop the cooked egg whites and add them to the sauce that's also a treat on fried oysters.
Looking at these recipes one thing is clear. We don't like to wait long for our oysters. So here's a dandy quick open face sandwich recipe that goes even quicker if you cook your bacon ahead or use Bacon Bits.
Cook the bacon in a skillet, cool and crumple. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the soft centers from the rolls ñ we save them for stuffing. Brown the rolls in the oven on a cookie sheet for about ten minutes. Cook the oysters quickly in the skillet in either butter or bacon grease until their edges curl. Place oysters in the roll halves. Top with cheese and sprinkled bacon, and return cookie sheet to the oven until the cheese melts.