Oyster RecipesAugust 8, 2015

Oysters on the Half Shell with Blueberry Mignonette Recipe

When it comes to oyster accoutrements, anyone who knows me knows that I am a devout purist. I love to savor them unadulterated, seasoned only by what mother nature has provided. That’s not to say that I can’t enjoy some tasty toppings every now and then. Here’s a brand new creation that I hope you’ll love as much as I do.

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There’s a hot new oyster condiment in town, and it’s blueberry mignonette. Summery, sweet-and-tangy, and super eye-catching.

A mignonette is liquidy condiment comprised of minced shallots, cracked pepper, and vinegar. There are many variations on the classic, including champagne mignonette, cucumber mignonette, and pink peppercorn mignonette. They are simple to enjoy, easy to make, and keep for several weeks in the fridge.

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The mignonette mimics what a squeeze of lemon does for an oyster: the acid helps balance out the brininess of the liquor. When appropriately applied (read: in moderation), it can help enhance the taste of an oyster. Or at the very least, shake things up a bit. The shallot can also provide a bit of a crunch to this slippery snack.

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I found that this blueberry mignonette goes perfectly on a round of briny Bluepoint oysters. I have had this idea for awhile now, but never really had the motivation to experiment. Now that I have my bright new kitchen space to work in, coupled with the fact that the end of peak blueberry season is approaching, I wanted to give it a shot before they are ushered out of my local greenmarket.

I also tried pairing the oysters and blueberry mignonette with a blueberry ale from Blue Point Brewing Co. It also worked splendidly! Unlike some other brews, this blueberry ale isn’t too sweet/fruity. This aromatic ale helped balance the slightly sweeter nature of the sauce. For that special blueberry-slash-oyster-obsessed loved one in your life, this trio will definitely win you some major brownie points.

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In A Half Shell’s Blueberry Mignonette

Recipe by Julie Qiu
Makes enough for at least 2-3 dozen oysters

Ingredients

1 cup of fresh blueberries
2 small shallots or 1 medium shallot, finely diced
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon freshly crushed black pepper

Instructions

  1. Pour the white wine vinegar and rice wine vinegar together in a small bowl
  2. Add diced shallots to the vinegar mix
  3. Use a food processor to puree the blueberries and add to vinegar mix
  4. Top off with freshly crushed black pepper
  5. Set in the fridge to chill and marinate for at least a couple of hours

Other Applications

After setting the mignonette in the fridge overnight, the liquid thickened into more of a sauce. I learned that it also goes really well over a simple pan-seared wild duck! Every winter, I can expect B to go off on at least one duck hunting expedition and return home with a duffle full of frozen mallards, gadwells, and teal. We’ve been trying to eat down the stockpile of ducks for months. Any help you can provide would be much appreciated.

Oyster RecipesAugust 5, 2015

Roasted Oysters with Uni Butter Recipe

Ah yes, one of my favorite (albeit oddly scheduled) days of the year. Happy National Oyster Day everyone! I’ve celebrated this unofficial holiday a little bit differently every year. Today, I’m going to share my latest culinary experiment: Roasted Oysters with Uni Butter!

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Back in June, B and I moved out of our tiny cave-of-an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan into a sun-soaked one bedroom loft in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Living in between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street feels quite appropriate for an oyster blogger, don’t you think? We have quickly come to love our new neighborhood (I’ve already staked out my favorite oyster happy hour joint!). I’m also in love, love, love with my kitchen! Thanks to a skylight above the cabinets, I’m actually able to capture decent photos without the aid of lighting equipment. That means more at-home tutorials and recipes to come…

You Uni Live Once

Uni (pronounced “ooh-nee”), aka sea urchin roe, has got to be one of my favorite things of all time. Intoxicatingly sweet, pungent, and oozing with primordial brine, it’s a food that you either love or hate. Like oysters, uni tastes like where they come from and different regions produce very different tasting uni. If you like bold, buttery, umami-filled flavors, you would like uni. It’s like the taleggio, foie gras, or century egg of the sea. Sometimes it’s sweet and almost citrusy. Other times it’s downright funky. You have to be bold. After all, you uni live once. (HA)

The premium uni, sourced from Hokkaido and select Santa Barbara purveyors is expensive, whereas Northeastern uni is lesser in price and respective quality. A tray of these little delicacies can cost about $16-25 per tray at retail, but can go up to $5-8 per piece in a respectable sushi bar. For this experiment, I received a gorgeous tray of fresh uni, presumably from Japan, from Samuels and Son Seafood as part of their uni recipe contest. Nothing beats $Free.99.

Ingredients

  • 10-12 lobes uni
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 dozen 3+ inch raw oysters, East or West Coast
  • Chives
  • Fleur de sel

Making Uni Butter

First thing’s first: making the uni butter. It took all of my willpower to not to eat the whole tray in one go. In any other situation, I would have. But I held off. For you guys. One of the great things about uni is it’s pillowy texture, so I was a little sad to pulverize these guys up. I have never attempted to make uni butter before, so I decided to follow some guidance by Camille Becerra of Navy.

Step 1: Refrain from eating uni straight from the tray.

Step 2: Set aside 10-12 large lobes of the uni. Warm up a stick of butter to room temperature.

Step 3: Using a food processor, blend the uni until smooth. It should look like orange gak.

Step 4: Add in the softened butter gradually… or all at once, if you’re super impatient like me.

Step 5: Once the uni and butter have blended together, drizzle in half a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Blend a little more. Set aside.

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Preparing the Oysters to Roast

Whenever you cook oysters, know that the meat will shrink a bit during the process. I try to use the largest and meatiest oysters for my dishes. For this experiment, I had some Bluepoints and Pemaquids on hand.

Step 6: Shuck at least half a dozen, if not a dozen or two. Don’t know how to shuck an oyster? Check out my video tutorial or this blog post.

Step 7: Set your oysters on a bed of kosher salt, rock salt, crumpled aluminum foil, in a baking pan or tray. Alternatively, you can whip out your BBQ Oyster Grill or Oyster Bed. The point is to make sure that your oysters don’t tip over its precious juices during cooking and transport.

Step 8: Add a small dollop of uni butter on top of each oyster. Use about one teaspoon for a small oyster, a two to three for a larger one. The butter will melt and cover the entire meat naturally.

Step 8: Turn on your broiler. Place the oysters under the flame and watch it. The butter should melt fairly rapidly. Once it starts to bubble and brown, take the oysters out immediately. Don’t over cook your oysters!

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Garnishing Your Roasted Oyster

The oyster shells are going to be quite hot coming out of the oven, so handle with care. Roasted oysters are meant to be enjoyed immediately, so don’t dilly dally around. Make these your #1 priority.

Step 9: Garnish your roasted oysters with some chopped chives and Fleur de Sel. I also couldn’t resist myself and added a final piece of raw uni on top for good measure.

Step 10: Enjoy.

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Check out how I’ve celebrated National Oyster Day in the past…

Oyster RecipesApril 11, 2014

Broiled Oysters in a Loftin Shell

I've become a little obsessed with roasted oysters. Like tasting raw ones, there's an art to cooking them. When it comes to technique, every oyster chef has their way of doing things. Here's one that I would not have thought to try, but could it possibly be an oyster game changer?

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Loftin Oysters are little ceramic oyster shell-shaped stoneware that you use to bake/roast/broil/grill/smoke oysters without having to deal with real oyster shells… making my photo above kind of inaccurate (but so meta). One sack contains a dozen oyster dishes (retail $65) and none are shaped the same. The shells are made of organic clay compounds that are designed specifically to withstand high oven temperatures and direct flame. They can be cleaned with mild detergent and are dishwasher friendly.

The idea behind the cookware came from the Loftins, a family of New Orleans-native seafood lovers who wanted a better way to enjoy cooked oysters. During the fall of 2011, Kyle Loftin and his wife, Ali, brainstormed a way to make chargrilled oysters at home after a busy work day, without having to deal with the time-consuming process of shucking and clean up. After experimenting for months with materials and design, Kyle and his brother Mike finally identified the ideal clay mixture that could withstand the heating and cooling exposure during daily use. Then in 2013, they began production in a small home-based workshop and started taking orders at the end of the year.

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All you need to enjoy cooked oysters on the half shell now is a container of shucked oyster meat.

But here’s the catch: a pint of shucked oyster meat isn’t that easy to come by in New York City, a bivalve-obsessed market that’s more infatuated with dollar oyster happy hours and signature oyster creations than DIY oysters at home (although that could be changing…). Shucked meats aren’t nearly as popular in the Northeast as they are down south, where Loftin and many of their clients are based.

If I were to have oysters at home — and I often do — I buy unopened oysters nearly 100% of the time. I’ve only purchased shucked meats once during the holidays to make oyster stew (mmm yum!). So when Loftin Oysters sent over one of their charming burlap sacks of oyster stoneware for me to try, I couldn’t help but wonder: if my oysters came with shells anyway, what’s the point of having these?

Curious as always, I decided to just try them out and determine if there were any hidden advantages in taking the “scenic route” aka shucking oysters and then cooking them with the Loftin Shells.

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Several dozen Potomac Whitecaps arrived by courier one afternoon from Marshall and Garrett Taylor of Potomac River Oyster Company. These mighty Virginicas from Lottsburg, VA were just as formidable to shuck other many of the other Chesapeake oysters that have come my way. Every oyster measured over 3-3.5 inches and had a substantial heft to them. They have deep cups and smooth, flat tops. Gargantuan teardrop shapes. Extremely fresh. I scrubbed the bunch clean with a vegetable brush and uncovered several tiny wriggly worms on the outside, which is a sign of recently harvested product. But despite my best efforts, most of the hinges and tops still crumbled and cracked in half when I shucked them.

The flavor of the Potomac Whitecap tasted true to its Chesapeake origin, but also unique. They were mild and clean, with little salinity in the liquor. Upon chewing, I experienced the most surprising white mushroom flavor. The meaty, tender texture also reminded me of sauteed mushrooms. White button mushrooms! Was the name playing a trick on me? Or were they named for having such a quality? Regardless, I’m nicknaming them the underwater mushrooms of the Potomac. The finish was light and buttery.

I slurped several raw and saved the rest for the recipe.

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To test out the stoneware out, I decided to make Broiled Oysters with Sriracha-Lime Butter. I chose this recipe because A) it looked super simple and easy to make, yet totally delicious and B) imagined that broiling was the harshest cooking condition my dinky apartment oven could muster up.

Broiled Oysters with Sriracha-Lime Butter using Loftin Oysters

Ingredients

2 dozen pre-shucked oysters
12 Loftin Oyster shells
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
2 teaspoons shallots, minced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cilantro, minced (optional if you’re not a cilantro fan like me)

Instructions

1. Mix the soft butter with the shallots, sriracha, lime, salt, and cilantro. Let it solidify a bit in the fridge. It doesn’t have to be completely solid, but it shouldn’t be a liquid.

2. Meanwhile, heat up your broiler until its very hot.

3. Place the shells on a broiler-friendly baking sheet or tray for easy carrying and then place one shucked oyster meat into each Loftin Oyster shell. (Bonus tip: I pre-heated my tray of Loftin Oyster shells in the broiler for a few minutes before placing the meat on to give the bottoms a little more cooking time.)

4. Drop a dollop of the Sriracha-lime butter onto each oyster.

5. Broil for 3-4 minutes. The butter should a little bubbly.

6. Remove out of the broiler and let cool for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Be careful handling the shells as they will still be very hot. Repeat process with the remaining oysters.

7. Enjoy!

On a related note: It is possible to grill or roast oysters without having to open the shells at all. They oysters will naturally open up on their own. But then there’s the inevitable hassle of having to insert your accoutrements mid-roast, which isn’t all that elegant or convenient. I don’t think that the flavors blend as well that way either.

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The final result was delicious! The heat in the Sriracha blended nicely with the citrusy lime and butteriness of the oyster. We gobbled them down in a matter of minutes. Making the second batch was a cinch as well. I would’ve probably used a little less butter if I had to do it over again. Once my experiment was done, I sat down to think about what I liked and disliked about it all.

What I Liked:

  • They provided a reusable, wobble-free base for each oyster that would normally require rock salt or aluminum foil to help stabilize.
  • Many of the natural shells were unsuitable to use for this recipe since they were broken at the hinge. Loftin Oysters provided a helpful solution to salvage those meats.
  • I could pre-heat them to give oysters that extra sizzle on the bottom!
  • The shells could contain lots of ingredients if desired. Some natural shell shapes wouldn’t have been able to accommodate.
  • The packaging of this product is really nice. The burlap bag is super cute and the way the shells sound when you shuffle them around just begs you to take them out and use them.

What I Disliked:

  • Handling the shells when hot was tricky. My tongs couldn’t grab the edge right so a few of them tipped over in transit.
  • The bulkiness in size and weight. They’re quite a bit heavier than real shells, which made transferring them to and from the oven a little more challenging. I’ve been working out though (*flexes*), so I managed okay. Although I can’t imagine someone like my mom having an easy time with it.
  • Having one set meant that I could only cook and serve a dozen at a time, which isn’t ideal when entertaining guests.
  • The appearance of these shells weren’t as detailed and refined as the ones shown on the website. I think they could be improved upon with a slightly thinner, more shapely edge.

Overall, I enjoyed using the Loftin Oyster Stoneware. It’s simply a must for anyone with easy access to shucked oyster meats, as it makes oysters a heck of a lot more accessible for home consumption. I think think the two biggest improvements that could be made are in the design of the shells (more refinement on the bottom side, thinner edges, more oyster-like appearance) and providing a solution to handling them. Perhaps a custom tong or holder?

For me, I think it offers a nice backup setup when I’m cooking oysters in the half shell. I really couldn’t find a way to justify the double duty of shucking oysters and then cooking them in another shell, unless if I had to. For outside grilling, I have my handy BBQ Oyster Grill to keep my oysters stable and secure. I don’t think Loftin Oysters will ever replace the wonderful (albeit cumbersome) experience of roasting/grilling/cooking oysters in real oyster shells. However, I DO think that they just opened up a whole new playground for shucked oyster meats. And that, I think, could potentially be an oyster game changer around the country — if positioned the right way.

 

Roast Oyster Recipes

Here’s also a few other cooked oyster recipes that I contemplated trying.

Oyster Gratin (with a story about the SA Knysna Oyster Festival!)

Oysters with Irish Soda Bread and Guinness Stout

Broiled Oysters

Many, many other recipes on Loftin Oysters’ Pinterest page!

Also, I had some really nice roasted “farm style” oysters at Grand Central Oyster Bar the other day… need to get that recipe as well!

 

Where to Buy Shucked Oyster Meats

East Coast Oysters – Chesapeake Gold Shucked Oysters from I Love Blue Sea

West Coast Oysters – Taylor Shucked Oysters from I Love Blue Sea

Oyster RecipesJune 12, 2011

Sea & Spice: A Mignonette Experiment

Prometheus Springs + mignonette ingredients + a bunch of west coast oysters. Put them together and what have you got? An awesome Memorial Day weekend tasting experiment.

Pomegranate Black Pepper

I prefer my oysters naked, but when I am in the mood to dress them up in a little somethin’-something’, my go-to condiment is the classic mignonette sauce. Mignonette sauce is a simple relish that is composed of red wine vinegar, shallots, and peppercorn. Its tangy, tart, and peppery taste can help add a great kick to the oysters, as long as you don’t add too much (it can be overpowering). Many restaurants serve their mignonette sauces with unique, modern twists (e.g., using pink peppercorns instead of black or adding in yuzu citrus juice).

For a long time, I’ve had the desire to develop my own special mignonette sauce. So when I discovered Prometheus Springs, a one-of-a-kind collection of spicy and sweet Capsaicin elixirs, the idea of using it as my “secret ingredient” instantly popped up. First of all, I love these beverages. I discovered them at the LUCKYRICE Night Market–I had one shot of the Lychee Wasabi and was instantly hooked. It  first tastes sweet, but then blazes down your throat like a good hot sauce. Capsaicins are known to have medicinal properties that help improve and maintain your well being. So in that aspect, they are much like oysters, which contain a burst of vital minerals and omega 3 fatty acids.

I first purchased a case of 12 Prometheus Springs from their website to start. Then through a series of random Facebook posts and emails, I met up with co-founder and CEO Rahul Panchal at Ippudo, over some savory pork buns and Shishito peppers to talk shop. He, a fellow food lover and masterful cook, recommended using the Pomegranate Black Pepper and Lemon Ginger flavors. I decided to do extra due diligence and experiment with them all. So off I went!

Wait a minute… what about the oysters?

Oyster Wreath

Timing for this project couldn’t have been better.

I had the very good fortune of being in touch with Martin Reed, the founder of i love blue sea (an environmentally-conscious purveyor of sustainable seafoods) during the same week when I was toying with the mignonette idea. As part of a Memorial Day weekend “fun pack,” i love blue sea shipped to me six dozen beautiful West Coast gems (thanks again Martin!!!). They arrived at my apartment doorstep in a medium-sized FedEx box padded with chilled gel packs. Each of the six oyster types were kept in their own bright, yellow mesh bag and labeled with a laminated harvest tag.

All six varieties are shown above, arranged more or less by size. I actually only decided to use two dozen for the mignonette experiment. I felt it sufficient and wanted to share the rest of the goods with some friends over the holiday weekend. Yes, I know–how unusually generous of me, right? 😛

Prometheus Springs Oysters and Prometheus Springs

The first step was to shuck all of the oysters. This wasn’t too daunting as I had shucked the four dozen a couple days earlier. As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. It also helped that these sturdy West Coasters were a breeze to open. I recently learned from David George Gordon (a.k.a. The Bug Chef) that shucking West Coast (Gigas) oysters can be slightly different than shucking East Coast (Virginica) oysters. When it’s too difficult to go through the hinge, you can slide the knife over to the side. I had no trouble opening my batch through the hinge, but if they are too “craggy,” the alternative method may prove to be better.

If you’re interested in learning how to shuck, here is a collection of videos on the subject that can help you out!

The next step was to make the mignonette sauces. I added just a few teaspoons of red wine vinegar to about a cup of Prometheus Springs. Then I sliced up a small shallot very thinly and mixed them in. Lastly, I crushed some pink peppercorns into the mix. I tried to maintain the Prometheus Springs as the most prominent ingredient in order to evaluate its particular effect on the oysters. Of course, the ratios can be adjusted to make it more of a classic mignonette rather than a Prometheus-based one.

Finally, the last step was to mix and match the oysters with the different mignonettes. Before we begin, I want to mention that all of the oysters that I received from i love blue sea were gorgeous! Leave it to the West Coast to excel in aesthetics. I photographed each variety in many ways, but felt that the fork helped give a little more context to the oysters’ sizes. For the tasting, I tried one oyster on its own (to “calibrate” my palette) and then tried the remaining two or three with different Prometheus mignonettes. Below are my notes from the pairing:

Kusshi Oysters

Kusshi from Deep Bay, British Columbia
Plain: Petite, plump, and smoothly salty. They had a lovely creamy texture and cucumber flavor.
With Pomegranate Black Pepper: Positive! It adds a nice dash of sweetness that compliments the salty flavors well.
With Lemon Ginger: Positive! The lemony tang brings out the cucumber taste, while the ginger keeps the finish clean.
With Lychee Wasabi: Neutral.

Kumamoto (CA) Oysters

Kumamoto from Humboldt Bay, California
Plain: Small, soft, semi-briny, earthy, and slightly sweet
With Pomegranate Black Pepper: Positive! The fruitiness of the mignonette brings out a distinctive smokiness in the oyster, which is further complimented by the peppery heat.
With Lemon Ginger: Neutral.
With Lychee Wasabi: Neutral.

Cortes Island Oysters

Cortes Island Oysters

Cortes Island from Deep Bay, British Columbia
Plain: Medium salinity, earthy undertones, and minerally finish
With Pomegranate Black Pepper: Neutral. It was a valiant effort, but the sweet and earthy flavors do not harmonize well.
With Lemon Ginger: Neutral.
With Citrus Cayenne: Negative. For some reason, it brought out a fishy, pungent taste in the oyster.

Marin Miyagi Oysters

Marin Miyagi from Tomales Bay, California
Plain: High salinity, sweet with complex fruity undertones, ultra creamy, and metallic finish. My favorite of the batch!
With Pomegranate Black Pepper: Neutral. It brings out the metallic tang–which can be good/bad.
With Lemon Ginger: Neutral.
With Lychee Wasabi: Neutral.

What is clear here is that the Marin Miyagi stands very strong on its own. No need for mignonette whatsoever!

Buckley Bay Oysters

Buckley Bay from Baynes Sound, British Columbia
Plain: Large, meaty, melon and grassy flavors, medium salinity, metallic finish
With Pomegranate Black Pepper: Positive! It is nicely balanced, refreshing, and echoes with sweetness.
With Lemon Ginger: Positive! The mignonette brings out the oyster’s more subtle, earthy undertones. Hints of caramelized onions came into mind.
With Spicy Pear: Negative. Pear and metallic flavors do not go well together.

Buckley Bay Oysters Steamboat Island Oysters

Steamboat Island Oysters

Steamboat Island from Puget Sound, Washington
Plain: Large, mild (to zero) salinity, vegetal flavors, very creamy
With Pomegranate Black Pepper: Neutral.
With Lemon Ginger: Positive! The ginger helps to clean up the finishing flavors on the palette, and makes it a bit more refreshing.
With Mango Chili: Neutral.

Oysters and Prometheus Springs Tasting

As I enjoyed tasting the different mignonettes with the oysters, I did notice a consistent flaw to my formula. The way that Prometheus Springs was created makes the heat hit your palette last. The delayed spiciness forces the fruitiness to compete with the tart vinegar, where in many cases, the vinegar wins. Furthermore, the heat also overpower some of the delicate finishing flavors the oysters. I’d be curious to try and rebalance the recipe to see if these affect can be mitigated.

All in all, my final conclusion is that more experimentation needs to be done! The Pomegranate Black Pepper is the winning Prometheus Springs thus far, but I still see great potential in the Lemon Ginger and Mango Chili. The pairings with the Kusshi and Kumamoto were the most successful. In some cases, like that of the Marin Miyagi, the mignonette isn’t necessary. I’d be interested to conduct my next one with both East and West coast oysters.

Until then, happy shucking! If you want to try your own Prometheus Springs mignonette experiment, here are the basic ingredients to get you going:

1 dozen freshly shucked oysters (try starting with Kusshi or Kumamoto)
1 cup of Prometheus Springs (recommending the Pomegranate Black Pepper)
2-4 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
1 small shallot, thinly sliced into matchsticks and use half
1 teaspoon of black or pink peppercorn

To purchase sustainable seafood from i love blue sea, visit their website.
To purchase Prometheus Springs Capsaicin Elixirs, visit your local Whole Foods or buy online.

More photos can be found on Flickr.