Chef Mads Refslund of ACME in Manhattan likes to give oysters the opportunity to shine in and outside of the shell. "I incorporate oysters into unusual dishes such as lamb-and-oyster tartare with green almonds. I also blend oysters with parsley and oil to create a creamy emulsion, almost like a mayonnaise, [that's] great with crudités such as radishes and turnips." You need some serious skills to properly prepare oysters. Luckily, Chef Refslund isn't stingy with his secrets. "Since a lot of cooking is done during the summer with open flames, roasting oysters is easy yet impressive. The heat from the fire opens them (no need to learn how to shuck) and then a dollop of mushroom or herb butter to melt inside them will wow your guests."
As far as a drinking partner is concerned, Refslund mentions, "The juniper notes in a classic gin martini would suit oysters nicely, or a Whiskey Sour." He suggests pairing creamier oysters, such as the East Coast Belon, with big stouts, like Guinness. "Oysters with high salinity will go well with a lager and sour beers, such as pilsners," he says. For diners new to oysters, Refslund adds, "Taste them with different cold white wines to see how a pairing brings out their characteristics."
If you don’t love them raw, try oysters grilled or make a stew. To ensure you don't cut yourself shucking, wear a glove or ask your fishmonger to do it for you. I don't know how much truth there is to the aphrodisiac rumor, but there is an unexpected pleasure about the oyster experience. If you're looking to build an oyster plate at home, Refslund has some advice.
"Of course the most important thing is very fresh oysters, and if you are serving them cold, then ice is essential. If you're serving them at home, you can crush ice the old fashioned way: make a sack of ice out of a dishtowel and use a hammer to crush the cubes. At ACME I serve fresh oysters with rose-hip vinegar and grape seed oil, which keep a great balance between the salinity and creaminess of the oysters. We also serve grilled oysters with celery and parsley juice on a bed of pine branches that we light before they leave the kitchen. This gives an aromatic, smoky layer to the enjoyment of the bivalves, which really suits them. Mignonette is traditional but a purist will eat oysters without any accouterments. A few drops of fresh lemon juice are a nice way to enjoy the oysters' flavors with a little extra brightness."
For those of you who aren't fans of raw oysters, there are plenty of other options, including this traditional deep-fried recipe that combines the flavors of the Deep South and the Chesapeake Bay.
- 1 pint of oysters (usually 20–30, preferably no larger than a half dollar), shucked and stored in their own liquor)
- 1 pint buttermilk
- 1 dry pint cornmeal (about 2¹/³ cups; I get a crisp crust by using Anson Mills Antebellum fine yellow cornmeal.)
- 1 dry pint all-purpose flour (about 2¹/³ cups)
- 1 tbsp. Creole seasoning
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. Old Bay
- Reserve buttermilk in separate container. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until well-blended. Remove oysters from liquor, draining excess so oysters are still wet but not dripping. Place all of the oysters in buttermilk. One at a time, remove each oyster from the buttermilk, allowing the excess to drip back into the container. Toss to coat all sides in the breading (gently press the breading onto the oyster to help it adhere). Transfer to waxed-paper-lined plate or cookie sheet until oysters are all breaded.
- In a heavy stockpot with high sides fitted with a deep-frying (or candy) thermometer, bring at least two inches of peanut oil to 375ºF.
- Keeping the heat at a steady 375ºF and working in batches of six, fry the oysters until they are golden brown and just cooked through, about 90 seconds. (The oysters will curl slightly when they are done.) Using a slotted spoon, remove oysters and drain on brown-paper-bag-lined plate. Sprinkle Old Bay on top.