Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oregon Oysters are Delicious

A few years ago I learned about Oregon oysters and decided that I must learn to eat oysters.  I'd never had an oyster before. Although I really like clams, I avoid mussels because I don't like a big gush of mushy guts in my mouth when I'm eating.  Remember Tidal Wave Bubble gum?  That juicy center?  Disgusting. No thank you.

But if you are going to eat local, then a part of that is eating what grows well here, not just what you can get to grow here.  Acceptance, not imposition.

Oysters grow well in Oregon (and the PNW in general), so I tried to eat oysters.  Tried is the main word, because whatever I did was absolutely disgusting.  I tried frying them.  I tried breading them.  I tried raw.  And then I was done.  Oysters were something that I caulked up to a long term objective and an acquired taste--something I'd have to work at over time and eventually learn to tolerate.  But at the time, all I could do was gag.

Fast forward a couple years.  The desire to learn to eat oysters is still there, and I have not made any progress. Then I find a place on N. Williams called Eat, An Oyster Bar.  The only reason I went into this place is because I heart Cajun food.  And with oysters so close, how could I not try them again.  This time different.  The server even offered to give me a couple for free just to give it a shot.

So I did.

I ordered their Oysters Rockefeller.  Baked oysters with creamed spinach and cheese melted over the top.  Browned under the broiler.  My life changed.  They were delicious.  The oysters were petite.  The spinach was mild and the cheese just sharp enough and browned enough to bring texture and substance.  It was a revelation.  Finally. Finally. Finally, after several years of hopes and disappointment I'd found the key to a truly local treasure.

Then the server brought me a couple raw oysters.  The smallest Tillamook Sweets they had.  On the house.  Just to try.

With great trepidation I poured one into my mouth and braced for the disgusting gush of shellfish mush I'd experienced with dread so many times before.  But this time was different.  The oyster was soft, but not an exploding shit bomb of guts in my mouth.  It was briny, and sweet.  It was something I did not need to fear.  In fact, I wanted some more of them. They were delicious, and I was amazed.

All of this is a big lead up to the actual point of this blog post, which is that I am making oysters as an appetizer for this year's solstice dinner. Normally, for the appetizer, I put together a charcuterie and fromage plate.  But this year I'm trying to increase the amount of seafood in my diet.  Plus solstice dinner always has a local focus.  Plus I have finally found the path to the mysterious Oregon oyster, and it is delicious.

So this weekend I tested some recipes.  Next Saturday (6 days away! Yikes!) we will be doing solstice dinner, and I need to know if the oysters will work.  After reading far too many recipes and opinions, I narrowed it down to two finalists.  Here they are.

Oysters Rockefeller
Based on a recipe from The Best of Gourmet.  I've written about this splendid cookbook before and I'll do it again here.  Here is my version of the recipe in a nutshell:

  • Saute spinach, parsley, watercress, and scallions in butter. Chill.
  • Shuck your oysters,then set in salt.
  • Sprinkle bacon over the top of the oysters.
  • Put some of the spinach mix over the top, sprinkle shredded  and bake.

Now, I changed their recipe a bit because I didn't use Pernod and bread crumbs in the spinach mix.  Instead I kept it to greens and then added a layer of Parmesan over the top. This is how Eat does it, and that's good enough for me.  It was good.  And very attractive.  But next time I think I'll add some cream to the greens.

Baked Oysters with Leaks and White Wine Cream Sauce
Based on a recipe from Fish and Shellfish by James Peterson.  James Peterson just writes the best cook books.  This was a much more mild recipe than the Rockefeller.  It was luxurious and buttery.  It was delicious.

Saute fine julienne leaks in butter.
Shuck your oysters.
Put the leaks in the shells, then oysters on top.
Spoon the white wine and cream reduction over the top.
Bake and then broil to finish.

I left out all the details of Mr. Peterson's instructions on how to cook the oysters.  There were a few steps involved.

These were very tasty. Rich and buttery.  Not as picturesque as the Rockefeller oysters though.

Not sure what way I'll go for Solstice dinner next weekend but its outstanding to finally be able to do oysters.

By the way, Eat also sells oysters direct. If you are looking for a good place to get local, sustainably farmed Oregon oysters, stop by Eat and see what they have.