Thursday, June 23, 2011

For The Love of Oysters

Many many years ago when the world was young and so was I, I fell in love with oysters. I have always seen food as an adventure and have never been afraid to try anything except pork products. Oysters were no exception and my first experience with them was raw at now defunct Studebakers Restaurant on the west coast of Florida. You see on Sundays it was all you could eat seafood as long as you kept drinking. Fruit de Mer in abundance and dancing too. It was oldies but we didn’t care, we had free seafood and libations at prices no longer seen.
It occurred to me to often down several dozen oysters with friends as the fishmonger/server guy took us through the different varietals. And I quickly graduated from oysters doused in cocktail sauce and horseradish to au naturel. A fresh oyster needs nothing but your assistance in enjoying! Interesting now that I look back I was never really interested in shucking them, only eating them. Though I really enjoyed watching the performance of some shuckers my goal was to consume as much as they and my body would let me.
Fast-forward I’m in the grocery just recently staring down at some of the most delicious looking oysters I had seen in a minute and my mouth quickly watered ’a la Wendy Williams’ at the memories of my years of oyster eating chow downs that were so important to me at one time. I had to get some and test the waters so to speak but how to shuck them?!? Did I need a shucking knife now? Well my trusty fish monger told me 15 minutes on the freezer and they would relax enough so that a knife would slip right in! Turns out he was right and I must say I impressed even me!!! Turns out it impressed my husband’s difficult to please Aunt as well! The kitchen Gods smile!

A little history about oysters

The jewels of the sea fully scrubbed and ready for the freezer

Oysters have a long history on the human table. There is proof that they were consumed as far back as pre-historic times. Traditionally, oysters were considered to be an aphrodisiac. Due to their high zinc content and also the fact that they are rich in amino acids it turns out these help generously in the sex department.
These lovely creatures vary in North America from a West Coast oyster such as the Tornado Cove or Royal Miyagi which taste less like the ocean and a bit more buttery and or even the distinctive taste of the famous Kumamoto from Humboldt Bay The Blue Point from New York and the Cape May in New Jersey. There are more varieties as well and the water and its content will really determines its flavor.

It was once assumed that oysters were only safe to eat in months with the letter ‘r’ in their English and French names. This is a myth whose basis in truth is that in the northern hemisphere oysters are much more likely to spoil in May, June, July, and August. This is really about the water temperature and my only advice because man always messes with nature (pollution), people who have a low immune system may want to stay away from them during these months. I don’t know but also do not think this applies to farm raised oysters.

What To Do! What to Do!

Oysters are eaten in every way possible including pickled! It or its liqueur is also used in a variety of drinks. Oysters Rockefeller is divine but I cant ever imagine anything more delicious as cracking open the shell fresh caught with nothing but anticipation!. Oysters to me are best served raw and cold! Rich in vitamins and minerals (please note I feel nothing farm raised is going to be what I think nature intended so I only buy sustainable wild seafood), they are also low in calories which make it a great for calorie conscious folks.
Oyster has a very complex flavor and depending on which region your oysters are from the flavor will also vary. Their ‘flavor profile’ you will find sometimes sweet with a fruity finish, sometimes briny, salty, and the texture can vary as well. I realize there are those who will never get over the explosions of flavor from a very delicate fleshy yet firm texture but I delight in it!
Below is my own version of a Mignonette sauce, which is just a lemon wine and shallot based sauce that works well with wine and when the plan is to consume as much oysters as possible.

The oysters will need cleaning so a good sturdy kitchen or seafood brush comes in handy here.  As an amateur I made sure I scrubbed to avoid any grit when serving.   I then placed them in the fridge for approximately 12 to 15 minutes.  This does depend on the fridge so its ok to start checking after 10 minutes or so. 
Slipping the knife gently under preserves the delicate meat

You won't see any big crack openings but an ever so slight space to insert your knife. I used a big towel to avoid cutting my hand off.  Shucking does take some strenght and some getting used to.  I also used my kitchen counter as a level surface to avoid spilling one drop of the delicious oyster liqueur.   When shucking, once the oysters have opened gently take the knife and run under the oyster to detach it from the shell and make it easier to eat.  I then placed the oysters on a bed of ice, saran wrapped and placed them in the refrigerator while I made the sauce.

Saucy Sauce

I knew I wanted to have a lemon based sauce, but also light enough to complement and not mask all the flavors and textures the oyster so lovingly shares. To accomplish this I compiled the following ingredients
1/2 a medium jalapeño finely chopped
Small bunch of cilantro finely chopped
1 mediun shallot finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
fresh ground pepper
dash of red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients together well. Spoon about 1/2 a tablespoon on  each oyster depending on size and to taste.  Serve immediately so a not to allow the lemon juice to cook the meat.

Finely diced shallots, jalepenos, lemon juice and more tops the oysters.

Whiney Winey

This can be a very contentious issue.  You know, the wine thing!  Seems everyone is their own best..... and worst sommelier and more and more everyone has their own opinion on which wine works with what, and why.  Well I, also being opinionated will make my own suggestion.  To compliment my oysters a clean light wine is best so I got a chardonnay/chenin blend.  The chard for the oakiness and subtle flavor, the chenin for its light and fresh taste so as not to cancel the oyster flavors but rather round the flavors out.  Both have a bit of fruitiness so the blend is superb for most oyster varietals.

The finished delightfully delicious dish

It is still a dish I'm working on getting my husband to try.  He simply could not get past the glistening jewels staring back at him.  I've heard it said that most try their first oyster almost always raw, and on a dare.  Frankly I enjoy them so I dont think I'm ready to dare him yet!

Mofongo, Its Easy!

Plantains Ripe and Green

Fried plantains, ripe and green, they are as much a part of my heritage as apple pie to America. And though not Puerto Rican I have always enjoyed a well made Mofongo. Well to be honest it really is very difficult to mess up mashed plantains and pork cracklings mixed together in a garlicky sauce. Mofongo, is one of the most popular dishes in Puerto Rico. It has clear roots in the Fufu of West Africa.


Fufu is a mash of yams or other starches served as an accompaniment to meat or vegetable stews. To eat fufu, pull a small ball of mush off with your fingers, form an indentation with your thumb and use it to scoop up stews and other dishes. Or place large balls in individual serving bowls and spoon stew around them.
Now when I think of it, I grew up eating mashed green bananas with butter salt and pepper. Don’t knock it till you try it with well cooked Five Spice Stewed Chicken. I must now pick my jaw up from of the floor. Oh yes this was about Mofongo!

Mofongo in a Pilon

The classic way to serve mofongo is in the bamboo mortar (pilón) in which it was mashed. Sometimes the meat is added right in the center of the mash and served as a complete dish. I have also seen it formed in balls as a side dish. Now here is where you can make it more user friendly. No charronnes! I don’t eat it but it does add the delish flavor with the garlic and olive oil. You can still add the garlic and olive oil or omit all together. If you choose to omit, work quickly as it will dry out quickly.

Served as a side

Now I decided to go a stretch further.  After frying the plantains the first time, mash them while warm and cover with a damp cloth so mixture stays moist while forming cups.. Lightly grease a small cup with canola oil (the best is a Asian tea cup).
Take the greased cup and stuff it with the mashed plantain. Form a shell with the mixture about ¼ inch thick and gently slide the plantain cups from the tea cups. These are then refried to form what you see below. Any stewed meat mixture from shrimp, chicken, pulled pork, beef, goat. Ah the delight!!!

I made a chicken chipotle mixture with raisins chopped cilantro and scallions pictured below. One cup per person was enough served with rice and a salsa salad.

Decilious chicken filling