The Lost Art of Cooking Oysters, by John Willoughby and Chris Schlesinger, April 21, 1999

“Superfresh raw oysters on the half shell with just a spritz of lemon juice are one of life’s great gustatory treats. But these plump, briny little creatures are also wonderful cooked with other flavorful ingredients. And the cooking takes only minutes.

The best-known cooked oysters are Oysters Rockefeller, created at Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans at the end of the last century. This dish of oysters on the half shell, covered with spinach, bread crumbs and butter, and then baked, is said to have been named Oysters Rockefeller because it is so rich.

Baked stuffed oysters were also popular early in this century, but many cooks now shy away from the classic preparations, having been turned off by inferior versions in which the poor oysters are buried under mounds of bread crumbs or gooey sauces. But when made in your own kitchen with slightly updated flavor combinations, stuffed oysters is a fantastic dish.

The only real trick to making these dishes is shucking the oysters. Place the oyster on a flat surface, flatter side up and slip an oyster knife or dull paring knife into the hinge. Twist forcefully until the oyster pops, then twist off the top shell. Sever the muscle that holds the oyster meat to the bottom shell.

Too much work? Here’s an easy out: grill the oysters. When just warmed through, after two or three minutes on the grill, an oyster’s shell separates, making it easy to open. Five minutes on the grill, and the shell actually opens slightly. This method also imparts a trace of smokiness to the oysters, complementing their delicate, briny taste.

Just about any type of oyster is good for cooking, though the more expensive ones are probably best appreciated raw. A tip: simply buy the variety that is freshest on the day you plan to cook.

If you cook oysters, you can also ignore the old maxim that they should be avoided in months without an ‘R’ (May through August). This was true in the days when refrigeration was rare.

Today, it makes some sense with raw oysters, because in the hot months many oysters spawn, which makes them more watery and fatty. But that does not affect their taste in cooked dishes.

So break out the grill and the cold beer and get ready for summer with an oyster feast.”

-Excerpt and image courtesy of The New York Times, Times Machine, “The Lost Art of Cooking Oysters,” by John Willoughby and Chris Schlesinger, April 21, 1999

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