We’ve all heard some version of when not to eat an oyster. Don’t eat them in months without an R! Or is it ending in an R? Or is it said like a Pyrate — with an “ARRRRR?”
Even I have trouble keeping it straight, but here’s the general logic: Since oysters reproduce in the warmer months (May through August — see, no “R’s” there), there’s a chance that a “summer” oyster will be either spawny (creamy and gooey, as opposed to bright and nearly crisp), or skinny — as in “I got nothin’ left.”
But throw a dozen or so warm-weather oysters on the grill, in a stew, or even in the oven (our Pacific Northwest summers can be cool and blustery), and you’ll bypass any texture concerns (and as a bonus, destroy any naturally-occurring bacteria that proliferate in warmer temperatures).
So I say there’s NO time to not eat an oyster, and summer becomes the perfect opportunity to get creative with cooking them.
Of course, you can always bread and pan-fry them (it’s hard to beat a crispy fried oyster zinged up with a squeeze of lemon and some homemade tartar sauce), but in the summer I usually want to go for something lighter and brighter.
Here’s a handful of my favorite ways to cook oysters, all of which enhance, intensify and embrace the earthy brininess of this most perfect food.
Our friend John, who is a master with barbecued ribs, homemade elk burgers and house-smoked salmon (and who helped me bag my first Silver), knocked our socks off with a spicy, creamy bisque dotted with oysters and heated up with Tabasco and cayenne. It’s also excellent with shrimp, crab or whatever leftover fish you might have hanging around.
John’s Oyster Bisque
- 1 Qt. small oysters (cut if large) OR 1/2 lb. cooked lobster meat, crab or shrimp
- Light olive oil
- 2 TB. minced shallots
- 2 TB. chopped green onion
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 TB. dry sherry
- 1 tsp. paprika
- Dash of cayenne
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tsp. Better Than Boullion vegetable base (or lobster, if you prefer)
- 4 oz. tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 4 TB. butter
- In a saute pan, heat a little light olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté shallots, onions and garlic for one minute. Deglaze the pan with the white wine.
- Add Worcestershire, Tabasco and thyme and sauté for another minute. Deglaze the pan with the sherry.
- Add paprika, cayenne, hot water and boullion and combine well to dissolve boullion. Stir in tomato paste and add the bay leaves. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Whisk in heavy cream and butter and bring to a boil.
- Add oysters and simmer until cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. (If using cooked shellfish, stir in and reheat gently.)
Serve with crusty bread and a cold beer.
Another friend, Jerry, has treated us many times with his famous “Oysters Jerome.” They’re hot, savory and crunchy with a buttery breadcrumb topping. I tend to avoid bread at all costs — but not when Jerry’s around with his shucking knife.
(As told to me by Jerry over a third vodka-something)
- 1 dozen small oysters, shucked (here’s a great article on how to shuck an oyster)
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 Tb. butter, divided
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup coarsely ground bread crumbs
- Preheat broiler to medium-high. Place shucked oysters on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Saute garlic in 1 TB. butter until softened and turning golden. Add white wine and reduce by half.
- Add chopped parsley, lemon juice and black pepper to taste. Spoon over oysters.
- Melt remaining 2 TB. butter and toss with bread crumbs. Spoon approximately 1 TB. buttered crumbs over each oyster.
- Broil just until bread crumbs are toasted and oysters are just cooked through, approximately 5 minutes.
Serve with additional lemon wedges
Whether it’s on a Weber, your camp stove, or an open campfire, there’s nothing simpler or more elemental than a barbecued oyster. You can use whatever topping you like once you take the oyster’s lid off.
I like to use melted garlic butter (here’s Martha’s recipe for Roasted Garlic Butter), but you can add chives, grated Parmesan, your favorite barbecue sauce, a splash of white wine and chopped shallots or beer and a little lime. Or wait, that’s for drinking with the oysters….
- 1 dozen medium to large fresh, live oysters
- Melted garlic butter or topping of choice
- Heat the grill to hot hot hot. Set the oysters, cup side down, over the fire and cook ’em for about 10 minutes, until the juices start to trickle out and the lids start to release. (Unlike clams, most oysters will not “pop” open, though they may open slightly.)
- Carefully remove oysters with tongs to a rimmed baking sheet. You can let them cool slightly, or use an oven mitt instead of a glove to shuck them. Be careful, the juices will be hot, and you want to sure to preserve as much as possible.
- Using tongs, set the opened oysters back on the grill or grate, and spoon on a good tablespoon of garlic butter or your seasoning of choice.
- Grill for another 3-5 minutes until the butter and juices are bubbling.
Don’t get fancy with these — just set them on a rimmed baking sheet or cafeteria tray (or a platter with some rock salt, if you must) and wash them down with some cold lager.
My paramour the Oysterman probably eats an oyster every day, and has possibly prepared oysters more ways that most people could think of.
Some of the oysters on his farm grow so large they’re considered unmarketable — but we call them “trophy oysters.” They are to regular oysters what a Ribeye is to a Petit Filet.
Dan’s way of taking advantage of this generous amount of oyster meat is to sauté until the juices run out, the flavors are concentrated, and the oysters are firm and golden.
While you might not be able to find palm-sized oysters in your local seafood market, get the largest you can because these will reduce down significantly. What you’ll end up with are delicious, crispy, browned, buttery, caramelized oyster steaks. You’ll want to use a knife and fork for these.
DAN’S TROPHY OYSTERS
This is more of a technique than a recipe. If you don’t want to make Roasted Garlic Butter, you can use regular butter with some finely chopped garlic. You could also add a splash of soy sauce for even more umami, or throw in some grated Parmesan cheese at the end of the cooking time.
6 Large oysters, shucked
- Roasted Garlic Butter
- Melt about 1 TB. garlic butter in a large sauté pan. Lay oysters in the sizzling butter and cook on medium-high heat until they start to give up a lot of their juices. Using a lid, drain the juices (reserve the nectar to drink, dip, make a sauce or add to oyster stew).
- Add a little more garlic butter and continue to sauté the oysters, draining again, until the oysters have stopped giving off liquid.
- Add more butter and cook until the oysters have reduced considerably, are golden brown with crispy edges and the garlic is caramelized.
Splash them with a little hot sauce if you like and serve with, hmmm…a cold beer?
While Dan makes a mean sautéed oyster, this is actually his favorite way to prepare them, because it brings out the complexity of the oyster’s flavor in a way you can’t taste with raw oysters. They become buttery and rich, almost like a fine paté.
Simply steamed, chilled, and dotted with a squeeze of cocktail sauce and a sprig of cilantro, these might be the perfect summer alternative to that raw on-the-half-shell experience that you won’t try again until…OctobeR.
SIMPLY STEAMED SUMMER HALF-SHELL OYSTERS
- 1 dozen small oysters, scrubbed
- Cocktail sauce & cilantro sprigs for garnish
- Set oysters in a steamer basket over a cupful of water in a large stock pot.
- Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Steam about 10-12 minutes. Oysters will not pop open, but will develop a hollow sound when tapped.
- Remove oysters with tongs to a bowl or platter and cool in the refrigerator at least 1 hour.
- Shuck oysters, taking the extra step of flipping the oyster meat over to show the smoother underside. Dot with a zesty cocktail sauce and a sprig of cilantro.
Serve these with a crisp white wine, bubbles or some icy chilled vodka.
Now you can eat oysters whenever you want, and suddenly, summer is…perfect.