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