Two weekends ago I went to Clearwater beach with my great friend, Jamie Claire, and keeping with our usual beach-going tradition we finished our day by visiting one of the small, local restaurants for seafood and drinks. Looking through the appetizers I noticed the raw oyster selection and mentioned how I’d never had a raw oyster. Or any oyster for that matter. She looked at me with a face that meant whatever I was saying was not jiving with her and this problem needed to be rectified immediately.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy seafood or shellfish. In fact, I love all variations of clams, mussels, crabs and lobsters and would rub them over my naked body if it wouldn’t make me a social pariah. That is how much I enjoy seafood. But SOMEHOW I have made it this many years into my life without eating one.
Since I am and always have been leery on raw oysters, we decided to forego them for this trip and put in for an order for a half dozen oysters rockefeller. When our oysters rockefeller arrived, my nose filled with the scent of briny Mollusca and sweet butter, and my mouth immediately salivated.
I don’t know where or why you people have been hiding these things from me my whole life, but I don’t appreciate having such delicious foods being kept a secret!
The following week I could not get the taste of oysters rockefeller out of my mind. My dreams were filled with dancing oysters moving saucily to a cheery tune while squirting themselves with lemon wedges and singing lyrics that creepily begged me to eat them. After the third day of this nonsense I knew I had to find out where to buy my own oysters and satiate the craving STAT.
There was only one problem though: I have never killed and eaten a living thing before.
Wait, no, scratch that. That’s a lie. When I was 8 I ate two earthworms for twenty-five cents each on a double dog dare. And then I bought a Firecracker popsicle from the ice cream man to wash down the gritty, dirty remnants of my two former squirmy worm friends. I think we can all agree that Firecracker popsicles are terrible, but even back during my childhood fifty cents couldn’t buy you the good ice cream, so the whole scheme was a wash.
As stated in a previous post, I grew up in a southern home so I went fishing, but always threw my catches back, and acquired a hunting license that ended up gathering an impressive amount of dust until it ultimately expired, just as I’d planned. My aversion to hunting began when I was a little boy (like, 4 years old little boy) and my well-meaning dad took me to our porch where there waited a grotesque scene of a decapitated deer head lying on newspaper and its lifeless body next to it as he wanted to show me and my brother that he had “killed Bambi.”
Cue the tears and terror of a four-year-old boy with a little dutch boy haircut. I think it’s rightfully understood why I’m a little less than enthusiastic to go out with a glock and waste some deer for venison jerky. Also I don’t think you use glocks for hunting, but what would I know?
So anyway, let me start this over. In my adult life where I have much more respect and compassion for living things, I have never killed and eaten a living thing before, so this would be a first for me.
I went to my local store and bought two dozen oysters which sounds like a lot, because it kind of is a lot. Twenty-four living creatures in a plastic bag, sitting in my passenger seat just waiting to get baked alive.
When I got home and opened the container I quickly realized by the revolting stench flying out of the bag that a few of my friends had already been dead before I got them home. Of course, I also may have been a bit too vigilant in inspecting for dead ones since I am acutely wary and nervous of possible impending food poisoning (“This one was closed before I scrubbed it and now it’s open and won’t close when I tap it. Is it dead?”). By the end of my inspection I was annoyed (“You WERE a closed oyster and now you’re open and look dead!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE OYSTERS?!?”) and had eleven oysters that I was certain were alive and ready to be baked.
After I read that oysters can be tricksters and may actually be dead and still closed, I decided that instead of opening and baking them, I’d steam them open (*see note listed above recipe). The last things these things would remember is that at one point I’m screaming at them to be alive and the next I’m throwing them into a boiling pan with water, stock and wine. If they’re thinking anything at this point, it’s that this guy here is kind of wishy washy and, say, he doesn’t actually have our best interests in mind, does he?
With a few swift movements of my hands and loud humming to shift my mental focus, they all went into Into the pan and it was all over. I murdered them. My mind quickly shifted to the story of The Walrus and the Carpenter singing and dancing and luring the baby oysters from safety (“Oh Oysters, come and walk with us!”) and I felt terrible.
Of course once I got a whiff of them cooking my sentiment shifted from feeling sad to feeling hungry, and I was surprised at how quickly my guilt left me.
Once they finished steaming, I opened them up fully, discarded half the shell and baked my formerly-bivalved dinner pals with shallots, panko, garlic butter, parmesan cheese and spices until they were golden brown on top. They were all dressed up with nowhere to go….except my stomach.
Looking over their remains — the shiny, briny shells — I recited a little poem I made up before bidding them farewell forever:
Little oysters, you taste so sweet
I’m glad you don’t have any feet
or faces, either, cuz that’d be creepy
and cooking you would make me weepy.
Little oysters, in my belly
I’m sad that some were way too smelly
for me to eat, to taste, to savor
instead you’d have a nasty flavor.
So little oysters, I thank you
for tasting good on shell, in stew
I’m sorry I cooked you up in ghee
but truth be told, better you than me.
Time: 30 minutes
* This recipe has been altered so the oysters are not steamed prior to baking, I found that steaming prior to baking was an excessive step and compromises the flavor, so unless you’re a paranoid freak like me, don’t steam before baking
- One dozen FRESH oysters
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/8 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/8 cup Panko
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Lemon wedges
- Kosher salt
- Scrub oysters well with a firm-bristle brush and set aside in enough fresh water to cover all the oysters.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees
- Melt butter over medium heat and saute garlic until aromatic. Add a small amount of the sauteed garlic and butter to the Panko, not to exceed 1/2 the total butter mixture. Include the olive oil, Parmesan cheese, mix well, and set aside.
- Add the minced shallot to the rest of the butter and saute until soft. Include white wine and season with salt and pepper and simmer until reduced by a third and remove from heat. Allow to cook for 10 to 15 minutes and then add to the Panko mixture.
- Remove the flat shell on the oyster so the large, cupped shell remains and retains the oysters’ natural juice. Leave oyster on the half shell, do not shuck completely. Liberally apply kosher salt to a baking pan and set oysters on the baking pan. Add about a teaspoon of the mixture to each oyster until none is left and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove oysters from oven and serve immediately with squeezed lemon and parsley.