Recipes that celebrate a Lowcountry treasure: the oyster

features@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 9, 2013 

There I was at Sea Eagle Market, purchasing flounder for our evening meal, when I looked around and realized that everyone seemed to be buying oysters. This prompted me to ask for some Bluffton oysters, already shucked, only to be told that all shucked oysters had been sold and only a few clusters remained.

My introduction to oysters was as a child when Daddy would bring a bushel of them home and have an oyster roast in the yard. I can remember him bringing them inside and showing me how to open an oyster. I also remember the enjoyment of eating them, a feeling that lingers to this day.

When I moved to Beaufort, it was not long before I heard the name, Mazie Atkins. I learned of her shucking and selling oysters. During the season, I would purchase oysters by the quart from her and carry them home to my parents.

The history of oysters is a riches-to-rags-to-riches story. As a favorite food of emperors and kings, oysters were transported with difficulty, and at great expense, and devoured at banquets. They were synonymous with decadence and excess. Oysters were also the staple of the poor, the main ingredient in stew, roast and pottage made to stave off hunger. Time brings on changes as the days of inexpensive oysters belong to America's past.

Although there is a belief that oysters should only be eaten in months that end with an "r," this is not entirely true. Due to advanced methods of food preservation, they are available year-round. Oysters may be bought in the shell, fresh or frozen, shucked or canned. Oysters in the shell are generally sold by the dozen. Shucked oysters are oysters that have been removed from the shell and are generally sold by the pint or quart. These should be plump, creamy-colored with a clear liquid and free from shell particles.

OYSTER STEW

Makes: 4

36 shucked oysters and liquor

1 quart light cream

8 tablespoons butter

Salt

Worcestershire sauce

Paprika

Tabasco

Remove oysters from the shells, strain and reserve 1 cup of the liquor. Heat the liquor and cream in a saucepan. Melt the butter in another saucepan. When it froths, add the oysters and stir gently until they are hot and the edges begin to curl. Stir in the cream mixture; season to taste, and serve immediately.

PAMPERED OYSTERS

1 1/2 pints oysters and liquor

2 cups milk

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons cognac

6 ounces lump crabmeat

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Drain the oysters and set aside. Measure 1/2 cup of the oyster liquor, mix with the milk, and heat in a saucepan. Melt the butter in another saucepan, stir in the flour, and cook until straw yellow. Remove from the heat and whisk in the hot milk. Remove to heat and cook, stirring constantly, for at least 5 minutes. Remove from the stove and allow the sauce to cool.

Place eggs, yolks, salt, pepper and oysters in a blender, and process at high speed for 1 minutes. Add 1 cup of the sauce, 5 tablespoons of cream and the cognac; process for 15 seconds.

Pour the mixture into 6 buttered ramekins. Place in a pan of boiling water and bake for about 30 minutes or until set.

While the oysters are baking, stir 3 tablespoons of cream, the crabmeat, and lemon juice into the remaining sauce. Adjust the seasonings and heat.

Unmold the oysters and top with the crabmeat sauce.

OYSTER ON THE HALF SHELL

36 shell oysters

Cocktail sauce

Lemon wedges

Shuck oysters. Arrange a bed of crushed ice in shallow bowls or soup plates. Place 6 half-shell oysters on the ice with small bowl of cocktail sauce in center. Garnish with lemon wedges.

SPINNAKER SALAD

12 shucked small oysters

2 pounds fresh asparagus

2 ounces Roquefort cheese

3/4 cup sour cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 large sweet onion

Cayenne pepper

1 cup peeled, seeded diced tomatoes

Remove the oysters from the shells, pat dry, and chill. Reserve the liquor for another use. Wash, trim and peel the asparagus. Blanch in boiling salted water for 1 minute. Refresh in ice water, drain, and chill.

Mix the Roquefort cheese with a small amount of sour cream, and gradually add the rest of the cream. Season to taste. Slice the onion into paper-thin slices. Arrange the asparagus stalks on chilled plates, place 2 oysters over the asparagus, top with onion rings, and spoon dressing over the salad.

Garnish with a dash of cayenne pepper and a tablespoon of diced tomatoes.

CORN CASSEROLE

1 pint oysters and liquor

6 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped green and red sweet peppers

2 cups scraped corn

Pinch of sugar

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 egg

1/4 cup light cream

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Drain the oysters, reserving 1/4 cup of the oyster liquor. Melt the butter in a skillet; pour off and reserve 2 tablespoons for the bread crumbs; saute the onions and peppers until they are tender.

Remove from the heat, stir in the corn, pinch of sugar, and celery seed. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Whisk the egg, oyster liquor and cream together in a bowl.

Spread a third of the crumbs on the bottom of a buttered 1 1/2-quart baking dish; spoon some of the vegetable mixture and oysters over the crumbs Repeat the layering, and pour the egg-cream mixture over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining crumbs and melted butter.

Bake about 20 minutes, until the casserole is thoroughly hot and the crumbs are golden brown.

Source: "Oysters," by Joan Reardon (2000)

Columnist Ervena Faulkner is a Port Royal resident and a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. Email her at features@beaufortgazette.com.

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