“It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.” -Jonathan Swift
We love oysters. They are briny and taste of the sea in the best of ways. Fresh, sweet, salty…they dazzle the senses. Add just a touch of tartness in the form of lemon or vinegar and you have something that touches every taste receptor in your mouth, that dances across your tongue with a myriad of different sensations. They are a joy to eat and we would like other people to relish in that joy in the same way.
Oysters are one of our favorite things about New England. The bounty of Atlantic oysters and the seasons, particularly Autumn, are the best things New England has to offer. I’m not sure in what order. Our oceans abound with perfect conditions to farm oysters and, lucky for us, it’s not too difficult to get our hands on large numbers of them to have an oyster shucking party. 12 friends, 130 oysters, several good oyster knives, a good first aid kit, and beer, cava and sake–the perfect recipe for a fabulous night! There are a ton of good descriptions of how to shuck an oyster on the internet or in A Geography of Oysters by Rowan Jacobson so I won’t attempt to describe the best way. I will say, practice makes perfect and it certainly is a lot of messy fun!
This was a party for the first year Emergency Medicine residents and friends at Rhode Island Hospital. Lucky for us, Rhode Island is a hot bed of good oyster activity. Our 130 oysters came mainly from Rhode Island and Massachusetts but we did get one delicious variety from Prince Edward Island as well. Here is our recipe for oyster success:
We got 50 Walrus and Carpenter Oysters, farmed in nearby Ninigret Pond. These were sweet and plump with a deep cup; deliciously briny with a clean finish. We picked them up from owner and farmer Jules at his house in Providence and look forward to continuing to use him as a source of oysters in the future. It also feels great to support local entrepreneurs!
The remaining oysters we got from American Mussel Harvesters as walk-ins to their wholesale business. If you just call a little ahead, they have the oysters all ready for you. From them we got 30 Quonset Points, 30 Wellfleets and 20 or so Raspberry Points. The Quonset Points are farmed in Narragansett and are sweet and plump with interesting orange shells. The Wellfleets are the intensely salty, delicious examples of the bounty of Cape Cod and were definitely some of the first Atlantic oysters I had ever tasted. They are sometimes difficult to shuck because they don’t all have deep cups but their texture and flavor made them a favorite of many of our partygoers. Lastly, the Raspberry Points, amazing, large creatures from P.E.I., Canada. Sweet, briny, perfection. Just amazing! We saved these for last and it was well worth the wait. I’m salivating just thinking of them.
All of the oysters were delicious as is, without the need for lemon, horseradish or other accoutrements. Still, what is an oyster without a little lemon, a little tang to cut through the salt every now and then?
Of course we had lemons and horseradish out for the oysters. But Roger and I also made some delicious sauces to accompany the oysters. Each was delicious in its own way, making oysters more accessible to the newbies and elevating the flavors of each oyster.
Spicy tomato granita: This is my answer to cocktail sauce using ingredients classically used in a bloody mary. Roasting the tomatoes for an hour or so provides sweetness that is picked up in the oysters. Added bonus, ice crystals stay put on the oyster long enough for it to reach your mouth, no spilling of precious flavor!
Cucumber water: This was delicious and fresh. The cucumber gets at the sweeter, more delicate flavors while the ginger and jalapeño add the spicy sensation that activates endorphins even more than the act of eating oysters itself.
Lemon-Chive Mignonette: Traditional mignonette uses shallots, vinegar, and pepper. This version has a little more brightness from the lemon and all the floral aroma of the lemon zest, chives provide a herbaceous onion element (plus it’s FODMAPs-friendly). Yum!
Cucumber and Lime Infused Sake: This drink is bright, crisp and refreshing, the perfect complement to sweeter oysters. The floral aroma of the sake complements the gentle freshness of the cucumber extremely well! It only takes a small amount of planning for the infusion needs at least two days but it is well worth the wait.
Several Belgium-style or pale craft beers and sparkling wine. Plus of course sparkling water! Oysters are delicious accompanied by things with bubbles!