Oysters Easy

Most of the time, we eat our oysters raw, fried or in gumbo. There is nothing wrong with that, but imaginative chefs assembled in Gulf Shores a couple of months ago got me going in new directions. Why not? It is easy to buy oysters already shucked and whip up dishes in minutes.

One of the chefs at the Oyster Cook-off was our own Alon Shaya, this 2015 winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef South and our Chef of the Year 2013 and ’15.

Now what was a masterful chef from Israel doing at The Hangout in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where the annual event was held? He covers a lot of territory. In fact, he spent one year in Italy visiting all of its regions, studying their cuisine before returning to his now-home New Orleans to open Dominica with chef John Besh. Since, he has opened Pizza Dominica and Shaya, the city’s first Israeli restaurant.

“I’m just an Israeli guy making Louisiana oyster stew,” he told the Alabama audience. In fact, he added pillow-soft gnocchi to a creamy base and drizzled it over oysters on the half shell. Asked what his favorite oysters are, he said, “I think I like Gulf oysters the best.”

Shaya didn’t compete in the cook-off but served as one of numerous celebrity chefs. The big winner in competition was Ron Stone, executive chef of Wolf Bay Lodge’s two locations in Orange Beach and Foley, Alabama. His Creole Cajun Kebab placed a grilled oyster, grilled shrimp, fried oyster, fried crawfish and piece of tasso over an oyster on the half shell, all topped with a three-cheese Mornay sauce. Stone says Gulf oysters are the best tasting in the country.

“You can do anything with them,” he said. He should know. He served more than 1,200 of them in one afternoon.

There was little chefs didn’t do with an oyster on the half shell. One covered them with gumbo; another topped them with caviar. All were on the half shell, requiring the purchase of sacks of oysters. For the home cook, buying freshly shucked oysters by the dozen, quart or gallon from fresh seafood markets is the easy way to go. January is a peak month for oysters from a colder Gulf. The following are easy entrées for using them.

Oyster-Spanich-Artichoke Casserole

2 dozen oysters with liquor
3 Tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds fresh spinach or 1 8-ounce package frozen leaf spinach, thawed and drained
1 large can quartered artichokes, drained
4 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup oyster liquor
Salt, pepper and Creole seasoning to taste
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon butter, cubed in ¼-inch cubes

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and check for shells. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.

Melt butter in large skillet. Over medium heat sauté onion and garlic for 2 minutes. Add spinach and artichokes and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in cream cheese until it melts.

Add seasonings, lemon juice, oyster liquor and oysters, and simmer, stirring, until oysters curl. Spoon mixture into baking dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and then Parmesan.

Dot with butter.

Bake until bubbly and beginning to brown on top, about 25 minutes. If not lightly brown, place under broiler.

Serves 4

Oysters Fettuccine

4 dozen oysters
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, chopped
½ cup oyster liquor
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon Creole seasoning
Additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 pound fettuccine

Drain and check oysters to discard any shell. Reserve oyster liquor. Heat a large pot of salted water for cooking fettuccine.

Melt butter in a large pot. Add flour and stir to make a blonde roux. Add green onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in oyster liquor and heavy cream. Add Worcestershire and seasonings, holding back on salt until oysters are added. Add oysters and cook until they curl. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan. When melted, add parsley. Cover to keep warm.

Boil fettuccine until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and add fettuccine to pot with oysters. Toss and taste to adjust seasonings. Serve with extra Parmesan if desired.

Serves 4 to 6

Scalloped Oysters

2 dozen oysters
4 pieces bacon
2 cups breadcrumbs made from stale
French bread
2 Tablespoons butter
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons dry sherry
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon
dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Drain oysters, reserving liquid, and check for shell. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-7-inch or 8-by-8-inch baking dish.

Fry bacon in a large skillet until crispy and place on paper towels. Crumble bacon and discard grease.

Spread breadcrumbs on baking sheet and toast under a hot broiler until brown. This only takes a few seconds, and breadcrumbs should be stirred at least once.

Melt butter in same skillet and sauté green onions, celery and garlic. Add ½-cup oyster liquor, sherry, nutmeg, thyme and pepper and simmer for 3 minutes. Add oysters and cream and simmer over low heat until oysters curl. Remove from heat and stir in breadcrumbs and parsley. If mixture is dry, add more oyster liquor until slightly juicy. Add salt to taste. Place in baking dish and top with bacon. Bake in oven until bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6




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