The oyster: A Lowcountry favorite

rodcrafter@islc.netJanuary 19, 2014 

In his book "A Moveable Feast," Ernest Hemingway wrote:

"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans."

It has been said that you should never eat oysters during months of the year that didn't contain the letter R. While a bit of folklore can be attributed, it was more a lack of proper refrigeration in those early days that didn't keep oysters well during warm-weather months: May through August.

From a health standpoint, you can't rely on the "R" rule. While the bacteria that tends to make us sick (Vibrio vulnificus) is more prevalent in the summer, oysters harvested between September and April still can be contaminated if the water is warm enough for bacteria to grow.

About the only folklore that has a bit of fact attached is that many oysters are meatier in months that have "R" in their names. Many old timers around the shucking house referred to this variety as "arsters."

Oysters are thought to be able to process up to 10 liters of water an hour. Which proves that the environmental quality of water is directly proportional to the quality of oysters produced in the area.

I have often heard people mention this or that area has salty, sandy or sweet tasting properties to the harvest. This in itself has a varied and argumentative status. While each self-proclaimed master of culinary preparation strives for the enjoyment their guests and patrons derive from the shelled and shucked epicurean delights, the fact remains they are subject to the environment and have little control.

Unless you import oysters from more suitable regions you are destined to taste the waters from which they were harvested.

I once associated this with the method oysters were prepared, given the time and care necessary for a successful roast. I have tasted pluff mud from the hurried, shell from the eager to separate, as well as the divine sweetness of the well-raised and carefully cultivated. Each has their own distinctive flavor.

I used to be able to shuck with the best -- and have the scars to match my burden.

The Roast

There is a type of madness associated with the opening of the shellfish season -- the current oyster season is from Oct. 1, 2013 to May 15, 2014 -- and while many claim to be the best, few complaints follow anyone who hosts possibly the oldest tradition along the coast during the season: The Oyster Roast.

My preference is the open pit, old burlap, a sheet of heavy metal and plenty of seasoned oak. Combined with good company, a few spirits, an assortment of crackers, sweet pickles, hot sauce, mustard, catsup and lemon juice, your gathering around the table and the fire will be memorable. With all this, it is no wonder an estimated 2 billion pounds of oysters are eaten every year.

Today I spend more time ensuring my guests eat well and enjoy themselves than I do partaking of the food itself -- which I have been told is the norm for the educated and upper crust. I'm not that refined, I just have a lesser degree of tolerance for some of the foods, as well as a number of individuals I entertained during my youth. Unfortunately, roasted oysters are among things I must avoid.

Whenever the mention of a roast is raised, I instinctively reach for my mother's recipe card. While others may bask in the warm feeling of a full stomach from shucking and chucking, I delight in the one remaining indulgence I am able to derive from the occasion.

Oyster Stew


1/2 cup butter - 1 cup minced celery - 1/2 gallon whole milk - 1 quart half-and-half cream - 3 tablespoons minced shallots, Add just enough Sea Salt, Pepper, and I will add a pinch cayenne pepper for taste. (Some things I can tolerate while others I can't do without, regardless of the circumstances.)

Oyster stew may be pure and simple, or rich, hearty and spicy. The main ingredient here is slow. Do not allow the milk to boil or overcook the oysters.


Melt butter in skillet over medium heat, cook shallots and celery until tender. Pour milk and cream (Half and Half) in pot over medium heat and watch carefully. Mix in butter-shallot-celery mixture. Stir continuously. When almost boiling, add oysters. Continue stirring until oysters curl at the ends, which indicates the stew is stew.

Serve with old-time oyster crackers (the round ones), add a bit of cool lime wedges and lemon slices to a pitcher of sweet iced tea and rub your belly, as you are now content.

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