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December 30, 2014

Roasted oysters a simple treat for the holidays

Oysters and the holiday season just go perfectly together.

The native bivalves get served raw, roasted, scalloped, fried, stewed and in dozens of other creative ways.

Decades ago, my parents hosted an annual Christmas party. In the dining room, my mother would have a beautiful table of hors d’oeuvres that included filet mignon with horseradish sauce, meatballs and ham biscuits and, at the far end, a large cut crystal bowl filled with raw oysters.

I vividly remember two men, who shall remain nameless, making beelines for the oysters and staying in that area the rest of the evening. Year after year, we all would get a kick out of their love for oysters. I have no idea how many quarts got quaffed each year, but that big bowl typically emptied.

Roasted oysters have become my favorite — thanks to a method we learned through a neighborhood event. Each December, Lou volunteered to help Ben, a gentle giant who earned his living as a Northern Neck waterman, arrange cinderblocks to form a pit, build a fire and get the coals red hot for the Weems oyster roast.

When the coals got good and hot, they would place a sheet of steel above the fire, dump a half-bushel of oysters at a time and cover them with wet burlap sacks. Within about 10 minutes, the oysters would be ready, their shells slightly separated, their plump meat warm and succulent.

In recent years, Lou has settled on an easier method. He heats our gas grill to at least 600°F, spreads two or three dozen oysters right on the grate and closes the lid.

Seven minutes later, perfectly roasted oysters emerge.

If outdoor roasting doesn’t work for you, an old turkey-roasting pan and an oven will do the trick. Heat the oven to 500° F, place a cup or two of water in the bottom of the pan and fill with oysters. Roast for 20 minutes or until the shells pop slightly open.

It’s a great way to entertain your friends who love oysters.

And, after years of decline, Virginia oysters have rebounded. With strict management, the state has opened oyster grounds that had gone undisturbed for decades.

Additionally, oyster farming has proven quite successful across Virginia’s Tidewater, including the lower Rappahannock River.

Grocery stores around Fauquier carry fresh oysters in the shell. Prices vary widely. Seafood retailers typically charge $100 or more per bushel, which will feed a crowd.

Prices at the dock typically start at half that.

Depending on the source, you may have to wash mud from the oysters, which watermen harvest with dredges.

A simple process, washing requires only a hose and a heavy pair of rubber gloves. You may want a brush to remove heavy grit and barnacles.

To eat the freshly-roasted morsels, you’ll want an oyster knife to pop them open and a fork.

Some like to dip them in melted butter or cocktail sauce.

But, they need nothing.
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nova_gjones · December 30, 2014 at 1:25 pm
Lord, I love this. In 60's and 70's I went down to the Fish Market in DC near Main and the 14th Street Bridge. Back then, they actually brought the oysters up the Potomac River and it would be about noon when the oyster boats would show up and people were there to purchase their haul. Oh, you could buy a peck for about $5 or a peck of clams for about $3.... Those were the days! Lost but not forgotten.
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