Once you get them shucked, this is as simple as it gets, and memorable for any gathering!
May is the month of my mother’s birth, her death, Mother’s Day, and, of course, here we are in the middle of Memorial Day Weekend, my thoughts turning to all of those who are no longer here: my father, my brother, and most recently my sister, plus many other relatives and friends. I thought I would honor my mom by featuring one of her absolute favorite foods – oysters.
It’s in my genes. Because they were her favorites, she had lots of recipes using them. My Aunt Elda lived by the shore, and would bring us oysters by the bushel basket, literally. I have fond memories of mom and her sisters sitting around said basket, slurping these delicacies with sheer delight. There was always enough to make something else with them, a baked oyster casserole perhaps, or a chowder.
We’ve yet to find a pearl
But her favorite was straight from the shell, always with a joke about looking for a pearl. My grandchildren have followed the example, so I’m teaching them to be experts at shucking. You never know when you’ll find that pearl, yours to keep.
Essence of the sea
When we taste an oyster, we taste the sea, pure and simple. There is nothing that can transport me to the shore better than a plump oyster, fresh from the shell, preferably with just a squeeze of lemon. Add a glass of Prosecco and a friendly companion, and all is well in the universe. Truly.
A light touch in cooking
But some prefer their oysters cooked, so this is one of my favorite ways to offer them up, lightly dressed for the charcoal grill, with plenty of flavor. Don’t bury the oysters in a cream sauce, or cover them up with stuffing and spinach and bacon! Let the little bivalves shine in their splendor.
Practice makes perfect
Shucking oysters is not hard, but it does take a little practice. You will need a very sharp, sturdy knife or thin-headed screwdriver, and if you plan to cook a lot of them, a protective glove is handy. My son bought me two, I think he was worried I would hurt myself, or maybe he did not want the job. There are plenty of YouTube vides available to demonstrate shucking better than I can write here, including this one from a great New England icon Legal Seafoods in Boston. Shucking oysters. They know their seafood there!
Know your source
Buy your oysters from a reputable fish source and always ask when they came in to the store. Ask where they are from as well. We generally get our oysters from Maine and Massachusetts, but sometimes New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut lend their harvests to the local shops. I have one vendor who enjoys getting some exotics in now and then. By exotic, I mean west coast. West coast oysters have a completely different flavor than east coast, but they are still delicious. But being a localvore, I enjoy our New England oysters best. There is also a Maine source that has cultivated oysters from a French strain, and those are superb too!
Same oyster, different terroir
For the most part, east coast oysters are all the same species, but they vary markedly in flavor depending on the unique terroir of where they are raised. The waters, the soils, other marine life, maybe even the phase of the moon, etc., all contribute to the great variety of flavors, and there are lots of oyster snobs out there! Did I say snobs? Oh, sorry, I meant connoisseurs.
Store them with care
After you get them home, they will store for a few days, in the refrigerator, covered with a damp towel. Always store them flat side up, so no moisture will leak from the oyster’s bowl-shape. You don’t want to lose that precious liquor.
I’ve used a charcoal grill here, but broiling works fine; you just won’t get the smoky flavor.
Light and Lively Grilled Oysters
- 12 oysters
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- Dry white wine or lemon juice
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
- Freshly finely grated Parmesan
Shuck the oysters, and bestow upon yourself a reward of one or two raw oysters for your hard work. Cook’s treat. Place in an oyster tray, or a sheet tray nestled in crumbled aluminum foil, taking care not to tip the precious liquor from the shells.
Sprinkle just a tiny bit of garlic on each oyster, followed by a teaspoon or so of white wine, and just a few crushed red pepper flakes. Sprinkle parsley over all, and grate the Parmesan lightly. This should all be minimum, so the oysters shine through.
Grill or broil for five to 6 minutes, depending on size, or until the cheese is melted, and serve! Don’t overcook.
Sylvia LaFlamme Grover, my beautiful mom, on her 75th birthday
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