Friday, September 5, 2008

R is for Oysters

“Obviously, if you don’t love life you can’t enjoy an oyster.”
-Eleanor Clark, The Oysters of Locmariaquer

I saw this quote in an ad a few weeks ago, and it prompted me to learn about Clark's book, which is now on my "to do" list. It also made me hungry for oysters (and yes, I do love life) but I found myself looking for an “r” in August, to no avail.

You’ve heard that old saying, right? Don’t eat oysters in a month that doesn’t have an “r” in it. I’m not saying it’s true, but I am saying that in general, when it comes to advice, folklore and general wisdom about seafood, I take heed. One bad experience with mussels in Belgium (and the week following that ordeal) where enough to teach me a lesson.

In case you’re wondering, I found this article, from the Seattle Post, which explains that in May, June, July and August, Oysters are spawning, which takes a lot of energy. “During reproduction, an oyster consumes the energy stored in its plump little body to aid in its heroic and taxing effort. The result is a tired, flaccid, mushy oyster with a milky appearance.”

The author writes that it’s really okay to eat oysters in the summer, and you’re not going to die from eating one. “It's that they're, er, busy and, as such, not at their prime for eating.”

Well, September is here, and friends, I found my “r”. So oysters it is. As if those slippery little suckers weren’t well enough alone, or with a little Tabasco (or vodka! Yum!) here’s a recipe I found on for Oysters Rockefeller, a dish so rich that it was named after one of the wealthiest men in the US, John D. Rockefeller.

3/4 cup firmly packed watercress sprigs (2 oz before discarding coarse stems), finely chopped
1 1/3 cups firmly packed baby spinach (1 1/3 oz), finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped scallion greens
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons minced celery
3 tablespoons coarse fresh bread crumbs (preferably from a day-old baguette)
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon Pernod or other anise-flavored liquor
Pinch of cayenne
3 bacon slices
About 10 cups kosher salt for baking and serving (3 lb)
20 small oysters on the half shell, oysters picked over for shell fragments and shells scrubbed well

Toss together watercress, spinach, scallion greens, parsley, celery, and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon bread crumbs in a bowl. Melt butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, then add watercress mixture and cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in Pernod, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste, then transfer mixture to a bowl and chill, covered, until cold, about 1 hour.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F.

While watercress mixture chills, cook bacon in cleaned skillet over moderate heat, turning, until crisp, then drain on paper towels and finely crumble.

Spread 5 cups kosher salt in a large shallow baking pan (1 inch deep) and nestle oysters (in shells) in it. Spoon watercress mixture evenly over oysters, then top with bacon and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons bread crumbs. Bake oysters until edges of oysters begin to curl and bread crumbs are golden, about 10 minutes.

Serve warm oysters in shells, nestled in kosher salt (about 5 cups), on a platter.

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