Ultimate Oyster

I’ve eaten dozens and scores of oysters on the half shell over the decades, once carrying a cooler full of them back to Minneapolis for Christmas when one could still carry a cooler full of oysters on a plane to the delight of security personnel.

These lovelies were not eaten on the half-shell. Rather, they were on the half-shell, but they were not raw.

I sort of set out to make barbequed oysters. I didn’t want just cooked oysters slathered with sickly sweet barbeque sauce, though, I wanted to replicate the ones I’ve had twice at the Marshall General Store on Tomales Bay. Both times I was up in Marshall for work – once to write a profile of cheese maker Marcia Barinaga for Culture magazine, the other time to tour the Straus Creamery. The oysters are cooked on a grill with some garlic butter and then lightly brushed with a barbeque sauce.

The thing is, I flew through Houston airport last month. I had a two-hour lay-over at lunch time. I hit Pappadeux’s and treated myself to a dozen raw oysters. They arrived, plump and fresh, with a dish of cocktail sauce and a dish of something much more intriguing. I’m pretty sure it was a mignonette made with sweet and spicy pepper jelly. And yet… I had no pepper jelly at hand.

So instead of barbeque sauce or the magic I had at the Houston airport (stranger things have happened, surely, than the discovery of something delicious at an airport?), I made my own spicy concoction that I dub spicy mignonette. I heated up the grill, set the oysters cupped shell-side-down on the grill, cooked them until the shells loosened, took them off the grill, easily shucked them, topped them each with a bit of garlic and parsley butter (a.k.a. beurre maitre d’hotel), put the oysters now on the half-shell back on the grill to cook through (look for the edges to just start to curl up), used tongs to carefully lifted them off the grill and onto a platter without spilling too much of their juices or the yummy butter onto the flame, and served them with the spicy mignonette.

We worked our way through the two dozen oysters pretty quickly. I sat, happy with my work, watching as my dashing husband went back at his shells to pry off any remaining bits of oyster and my omnivorous son licked his shells clean. Then they both attacked the remaining sauce with bits of bread. Dipping and eating until the dish was as clean as the oyster shells. Trace of neither bivalve nor sweetened and spiced vinegar was left when we were through.