Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Coming Late to a Tradition

Cranky and I were called away from California sometime in the early 80s for a three-year stint in Florida — where I ate my first raw oysters on the half shell.
It was a tentative introduction to bivalves in Cocoa Beach. The shucker (knowing I was a novice) would open an oyster and slide it over to me on the bar. No ice. No fancy mignonette. There was lemon and Tabasco, take it or leave it. Saltines if you needed them.
I made it through about six oysters before my personal organic system had to withdraw. Whew.
But I was hooked.
Before long I was eating raw oysters by the dozen (or more), in Key West, St. Pete, Winter Park, Ft. Myers. Always with the lemon and Tabasco.
All good things must pass, however, and we returned to California.
A colleague of Cranky's in San Francisco learned that our pretty little Edwardian two-story in the Glen Park neighborhood had a brick barbecue pit. She had won some contest, and needed to pick up a sack or two of fresh oysters in the shell. Might we be amenable to holding a BBQ oyster party in our back yard for a dozen or so people we didn't know?
Well, that was a big fat no. And I'll tell you why.
It wasn't because we didn't know anyone. It was because she wanted to cook the oysters. Barbecue them! Lady, you are talking to a newborn slurper; we don't eat them cooked.
But see, I hadn't lived close enough to Marin County to know the deep, abiding legacy of the barbecued oyster. And as far as I'm now concerned (having become a dedicated convert), there is only one way to make them. If you're not going to eat them raw.
1) Start a fire.
2) Put the oysters on the grill.
3) When the top shells pop open from the heat, wrench them off (using gloves), and apply a Bordelaise sauce, New Orleans style, to the plump meat. (Today I just used melted butter, vermouth and minced chives.) Put them back on the grill.
4) As soon as the oysters shrink away from their shells, yank them off the fire and top each with a zesty (but not stupid) tomato BBQ sauce. Must be vinegary and a tad sweet.
I had one barbecued oyster today. Sadly only one. See, the smoker was otherwise crowded with cured pork and duck meats. It's all that would fit. More later.


Zoomie said...

Killer! Love those barbecued oysters!

limoncello said...

Oh my. I grew up in Marin County and ate my first oysters barbecued. I kinda liked them but didn't love them. But then I got hooked on raw, and there appears to be no turning back. Yes, I've had the signature ones at Salt House and Anchor and Hope, but alas...I would rather swing by San Francisco Fish Co. on a Saturday morning and have a few of the raw ones from the little table out front, with...lemon or Tabasco.
But I will continue to sample the barbecued ones when offered, because the more things I love to eat, the better. And I may just be converted back.

kudzu said...

Honey, one is better than none.

dancingmorganmouse said...

I ate my first oyster on the half shell on July 14, 2009!
We bbq mussles - I think Mr Brown would leave me if I suggested doing that to any oyster.

Kevin said...

One of my brothers lived in Florida for awhile and once he brought a bushel of oysters up to Tenneessee on visit - we smoked them and man were they good.

kudzu said...

PS "Barbecued" oysters are a West Marin tradition -- though I prefer to think of them as grilled, since you do them that way. I remember my first experience with them, in a friend's Bolinas yard, with Hog Island's recipe for "Hogwash" and another friend's mignonette -- fabulous; converted me.

Heather said...

That sounds pretty good, actually. We have amazing Wilapa Bay oysters up here that I can't relate to at all, since I don't really go for the raw bivalve thing (nobody's perfect), but grilled like this, they sound amazing.

Greg said...

Love em but I am a customer of one in my household. I had this big adventure planned at Hog Island but no one wanted to go.

Zoomie said...

Morgan, the barbecued mussels sound wonderful - how do you do it?

cookiecrumb said...

Zoomie: Since you use your grill a lot, maybe you can give these a try at home. Easy!

Limoncello: Y'know, the raw ones seem more pure, but the lowbrow 'cue ersters have snacky deliciousness, like a bag of BBQ potato chips. Hard to resist. YET -- I have had *lousy* BBQ oysters, so they're not always good.

Kudzu: The one was just enough to prove to me I can do this. PS: Cranky also got one.

Morgan: Congratulations! Aux barricades!
I totally grok bbq mussels. That said, why won't Mr. Brown give an inch? (Oh well, if the marriage would be in danger, forget I said it.)

Kevin: A bushel?! I bet you all just gobbled the whole amount up with pitchers of beer.
We test-smoked two oysters yesterday, and... it worked! I was overjoyed.

Kudzu: Of course, West Marin. I just thought that might be too much geographical finesse for some readers, but it is truly a local deal.
As for BBQ vs. grill, well we actually performed this magic on the top shelf of our smoker! While we were doing bacon. The oysters took longer to cook, but still came out Just Like I Wanted.

Heather: Because you are intuitive and skilled, I bet you could come up with a version that we'd all love to hear about. Be creative and let us know.

Greg: No, it wouldn't be much of an adventure at Hog Island if you were the only taker. Imagine schlepping along bologna sandwiches for the timid ones... Too bad. Go to Tony's in Marshall; there's more than oysters on the menu. In fact, the nice young grill man there taught us how to {shh...} grill BBQ oysters.

denise said...

yes yes yes...love 'em at the marshall store in west marin. we always order 6 raw and 6 bbq (sans bbq sauce). TASTY!

cookiecrumb said...

Denise: Oho! *Sans* BBQ sauce. Still, sounds so good.
The evil thing is finding out how easy it is to do at home, and you don't even have to know how to shuck oysters (unless you're eating them raw).

denise said...

we had the luxury of buying our oysters at the farmers market and then grilling them in our backyard when we lived in point reyes, but here in sf, we do not have one inch of outdoor space. ho hum...

dancingmorganmouse said...

Cookie - Mr Brown is a total oyster snob, though he'd probably call himself a purist!

Ashley said...

I was converted from a raw oyster purist by a little salsa verde & queso fresco...add just after the shells open, heat just long enough to make the queso melt. so. good.

cookiecrumb said...

Ashley: OMG, salsa and cheese? I might never have thought of that. (And I live in California? Dope.) I will really have to try it. Merci.