It is often said that when you have first-rate ingredients, the very simplest preparations are best. Nowhere is that axiom more applicable than with oysters, which are splendid eaten raw with only a squeeze of lemon. There are also many ways to cook oysters, but probably none as popular as frying.

Another excellent way to enjoy oysters, and one that doesn’t require opening them with a knife, is roasting. To roast oysters, scrub the shells well and roast, with the curved shell down, either in a hot oven or on a grill, until they open. Then plop in a dollop of softened butter. If you want to gild the lily, prepare in advance a compound butter seasoned with lemon, hot sauce, shallots, chopped parsley or other herbs.

The ideal way to serve and eat roasted oysters is just when they come off the grill or out of the oven. So gather your friends and family around, supply them with plenty of white wine and French bread and eat the oysters immediately.

The three recipes this month are for oysters and spinach with pasta, an oyster gumbo and individual oyster pies. In different ways, each recipe shows off oysters to their good advantage. The preparations are not difficult or time consuming.

Oyster recipes usually call for adding the oyster liquor during cooking. The problem today is that oysters are packed in water, not their own liquor. If you are fortunate enough to have the liquor from your oysters, by all means add it along with the stock or broth called for in the following recipes.

Oyster Pies

These individual pies are ideal to serve as a first course. You will need 4 (4-6 oz.) ramekins. Oyster sizes vary greatly, so if yours are small or extra large, you might need more or less than called for here.
1¼    cups all-purpose flour
¼    teaspoon salt
8    tablespoons cold butter
3-4    tablespoons ice cold water

4    tablespoons butter,  plus additional for ramekins
¼    cup diced shallot
¼    cup diced leek
½    cup chicken stock or broth
¼    cup dry white wine
½    cup heavy cream
2    tablespoons saltine cracker crumbs
coarse salt and freshly ground
black pepper
pinch cayenne
 24    oysters

1    egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon

1. Crust In a mixing bowl, whisk flour and salt to combine. Cut butter into small pieces and add to bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into flour until it resembles coarse meal. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing it in with a fork, until dough forms. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a ball. Divide dough into 4 pieces and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
2. Filling Preheat oven to 400 F. Cook shallots and leeks in butter on low heat until very soft, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock and wine. Increase heat and cook until thick and syrupy. Add cream and simmer until thickened. Add cracker crumbs. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne.
3. Butter ramekins and divide oysters among them. Spoon sauce over oysters. Leave a space at the top of each ramekin for expansion.
4. Roll out each piece of dough to fit ramekins. Place dough on ramekins, press edges to seal and cut off excess. Brush crusts with egg wash and cut vents in crust. Place ramekins on a heavy duty baking sheet and bake until crusts are browned, about 20-25 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.

Oyster Gumbo

Use a heavily smoked pork and venison sausage, if available. If not, use a smoked pork sausage.
½    pound smoked sausage
8    cups chicken stock or broth
¼    cup dark roux
2    tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1    onion, chopped
1    stalk celery, chopped
2    cloves garlic, minced
1    bay leaf
½    teaspoon dried thyme leaves
coarse salt and freshly ground
black pepper
hot sauce
1    quart oysters, drained
2    tablespoons chopped parsley
2    tablespoons chopped green
onion tops

1. Place sausage and chicken stock in a pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove sausage from pot and set aside to cool. Add roux to stock and whisk to combine.
2. Meanwhile, in a large, heavy pot, cook onion, celery and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Add stock and simmer. When sausage is cool enough to handle, remove casing and discard. Slice sausage and add to pot. Add bay leaf and thyme. Simmer for one hour.
3. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, cayenne and hot sauce. Add oysters and cook only until they begin to curl and are heated through. Serve gumbo with cooked rice, garnish with parsley, green onion tops and filé.
Makes 4 servings.

Linguine with Oysters & Spinach

Use the best quality pasta you can find for this recipe. The extra money you’ll spend is more than worth it.
6    tablespoons butter
1    leek, white and yellow parts only, chopped
4    scallions, chopped
2    cloves garlic, minced
½    cup chicken stock or broth
¼    cup dry white wine
4    cups packed baby spinach, stemmed
24    oysters
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½    pound linguine

1. In a large, nonreactive skillet, melt butter and cook leeks, scallions and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock or broth and wine, increase heat and boil to reduce. Meanwhile, cook linguine according to package directions.
2. When liquid in skillet has reduced by about half, add spinach and toss, while cooking, until wilted. About a minute before linguine is ready, add oysters to skillet and cook briefly, just until they start to curl.
3. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Drain linguine, add to the skillet and toss. Divide linguine, oysters and sauce among 4 shallow bowls.
Makes 4 servings.

Cooking Tip

Smoked sausage is frequently an ingredient in gumbo. Many, if not most, brands are made with an artificial casing that is not pleasant to eat. But removing the casing before cooking also removes most of the smoke flavor. One solution is to cook the sausage in the stock or broth you are going to use in the gumbo, then remove the casing before slicing the sausage. That way the smoke flavor is retained in the broth and the gumbo.