The Dish: Charlie Palmer’s Lovely Oyster Recipe

by Editorial

Charlie Palmer Oysters_Credit Bill Milne web ready 2 (2)

Location, Location, Location

The next time you peruse a list of oyster offerings at a restaurant, remember this fact: East Coast oysters, from Maine to the Gulf, belong to the same species despite variations in appearance, flavor, and texture. But since oysters truly are what and where they eat – right down to mineral content, salinity, and water temperature – different regions produce a variety of tastes.

Regional Revelations

Oysters from warmer waters, like the Louisiana gulf area, are “meatier” with a mild salinity content that benefits from the added flavors of creamy cheese sauces and breading. That’s why many of my restaurant’s cooked oyster dishes, such as Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters Bienville, or the iconic Oyster Po’Boy come from New Orleans. Cold water oysters, particularly the distinctive oysters from the Chesapeake region, tend to be smaller and slightly crispy with a uniquely briny flavor best suited to a raw bar.

Cultivating Flavor

While long-term programs are being established to revive the over harvested Chesapeake Bay, local agriculturalists are growing out some fine regional specialties, like Rappahannock and Stingrays. For those unaware of it, aquaculture may sound like a modern science. However in the 1820s, oyster entrepreneurs transported oysters from the East Coast to depleted beds in the over fished waters of San Francisco by boat around Cape Horn, a trip that picked up speed with the opening of the first trans-continental railroad in the 1860s. An oyster’s sustainability is just one reason the cultivated varieties are just as good as those in the wild. Agriculturists may increase an oyster’s chance of survival by managing reproduction, but oysters continue to feed only on what nature gives, hence regional differences. But that’s what makes them fun: oysters have the power to transport diners through taste.

Love Spell

On Valentine’s Day, the menu at Charlie Palmer Steak always features oysters, and for good reason. When Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual rapture – famously painted rising from sea foam on an open shell platform – bestowed her romantic qualities on oysters, it was more than just a myth. In addition to their obviously provocative appearance, oysters are loaded with zinc, iron, and other staminainducing nutrients. So, any lovebirds out there should consider oysters for a more romantic evening. I’ve included one of my favorite oyster recipes for putting together a seafood platter at home. Remember, picking up the oyster and trying to pry open it in your hand, like a clam, is a standard amateur mistake. Consider yourself warned, and bon appetit!

Oysters on the half-shell with green apple-cucumber dressing

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

From Charlie Palmer’s Practical Guide to the New American Kitchen, Melcher Media Inc., 2006 Depending on the occasion, oysters — particularly those topped with this refreshing green apple and cucumber mignonette — pair well with a tropically brewed, slightly spicy amber beer like San Miguel Dark Lager, or a crisp Pinot Gris with a citrus snap from Oregon.

Ingredients

3/4 cup Mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 green apple, unpeeled

1/2 English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded

24 oysters, scrubbed clean

For serving: crushed ice or kosher salt

Shucking

Opening an oyster is something that must be done carefully with an oyster knife, preferably one with a stainless steel blade. An oyster shell has two parts: one cupped to hold the body and the other relatively flat. Using a towel, hold the oyster on a stable work surface, cup-side down with the point facing you. Insert the tip of the knife through the hinge and turn your hand until you hear it pop. Give a full twist to scrape the blade across the top of the shell, cutting the muscle that attaches the oyster. Then cut the bottom muscle, keeping the oyster level at all times so you don’t lose any of the juice.

The Dressing

Whisk together the Mirin, vinegar, oil, and shallot in a medium bowl. Julienne the apple and cucumber, then dice them fine. Immediately drop them into the Mirin mixture (the acid in the wine will keep the apple from turning brown).

The Oysters

This can be done several hours before serving, but oysters are best when fresh. It’s preferable to make the dressing, assemble the serving plates, and open the oysters at the last minute.

Get out a sheet pan. Take a piece of aluminum foil twice the length of the pan and crinkle it up to fit the pan and create a contoured bed for the opened oysters. You want them to stay level so the liquor doesn’t tip out of the shells. Open the oysters and nestle them into the foil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To Serve

On each appetizer plate form a mound of salt or crushed ice. Flatten it slightly. Spoon the dressing over the oysters while they are on the pan and then carefully transfer them to the plates, arranging six oysters on each. Serve with cocktail forks.

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