Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New American Cooking, Roasted Oysters a Low Country Tradition

Fall in the Low Country of South Carolina was always my favorite time of the year. It always means along with the cooler temperatures people gathering for local events and social season galas again after the long hot Summer months. It also means a return to Oyster Season and one of the great traditions of the Low Country, the Oyster Roast.

Now Oyster Roasts are sort of the fall version of a Pig Picking in the Low Country. A gathering for any reason and a feast based on the bounty of the beds which line the offshore waterways of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Traditional roasts take place out of doors in the evening and always involve communal eating tables and lots of beer. Oysters are usually brought up in big crusty bunches called and are placed in a large oyster roaster which is typically a metal barrel on it's side with a heating element under it or coals inside of it with a grate to hold the oysters above the heat wet burlap bags are placed over the oysters to cook them by literally steaming and roasting them in their own juices. Pretty spectacular as far as roasting goes. They are then brought to the table in big clumps and with a hammer and a shucker guests are invited to help themselves and feast on the bounty of the sea before them. Today there are large mobile oyster roasters which travel around and position themselves where ever the party is and provide the services needed to cook the oysters for the dinner. They look kind of like huge BBQ trailers and are backed up near the action to provide culinary drama as well as the facility to roast the oysters. All in all, oysters served up with cocktail sauce,hot sauce and copious amounts of beer are the order of the day. ANd please someone tell me what could possibly be wrong with that!!! These meals are usually accompanied by all the usual suspects. Bowls of cole slaw and potato salad and baskets of cornbread or biscuits adorn the table. But the real star of the show is of course the oysters themselves.

Recently, I attended a brunch with my friend Melissa at Ditch Plains a bar/restaurant in NYC and we ordered the roasted oysters as a starter. It came on the half shell swimming in an herb garlic sauce and toasted baguette under each oyster. It reminded me of the roasted oysters I have had in Florida while working at Seaside Music Theatre in Daytona Beach Florida several years ago now. And as Melissa and I spoke about it I remembered having a similar dish at home which might have been made by my Grandmother with Smoked Oysters in a chaffing dish and served with toasts. But regardless, I knew I would recreate these in some fashion at the West 20th Central Kitchen.

So in planning this I decided that I wanted to make this as a starter dish and make it pretty easy. By that I mean that you know I don't like to work hard to get seafood out of shells. So I wanted to make this from shucked oysters and make it in a scallop shell. However, I thought that the idea of a garlic compound butter and toasted bread sounded kinda amazing! So off i went.

Just for the record I love scallop shells. They are so old school and so elegant in my mind. They were always around when I was little for special occasions. Plus the rich lovely seafood dishes prepared in them came to the table right out of the oven piping hot and brimming with goodness. Cream sauces, or crusty buttery bread crumb toppings over scallops, oysters, shrimp, crab, or even lobster. They were the stuff of special occasion meals or holiday dinners. They were the things of crisp white linen tableclothes, sparkling glassware and dancing candle flame. In short something special.

So here is my redition of a home oyster roast. Done in a scallop shell and baked in the oven with all the garlicy, buttery goodness of a french seafood preparation. I hope you try it for one of your special occasions or just a week night when you are feeling adventurous. Enjoy Ya'll.

Roasted Oysters in Garlic Compound Butter

1 pint fresh oysters
4 to 6 scallop shells ( baking shells depending on the size of the oysters)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1/2 stick of butter unsalted at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons white white
1 teaspoon finely minced shallot
1 box rock salt


Mound some rocksalt on a baking sheet
Place the scallop shells in the salt to keep them level
Drain Oysters and divide among the scallop shells
Cream butter and other ingredients together
Divide the butter in big dallops among the Oyster Shells
Place into a preheated 375 degree oven
Bake for 5 to 7 mins
Then broil for 2 mins till oysters are browning in the butter

Serve with slices of lightly toasted baguette  Enjoy!

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