by Deborah Eisenhut

You either love them or hate them but these strange and expensive bivalve water creatures eaten raw, can be a surprisingly tasty and healthy food choice.

New York City was a dominant oyster “bed” in the 17th century where street vendors and saloon owners alike began serving oysters to incoming emigrants.  They were cooked all different ways such as scalloped, fried, baked, grilled, dipped in butter, pan roasted and stewed.  The rest as they say, is history.  Coastal oyster farming is now a huge industry and recognized safer than previous centuries of commercial harvesting, especially with costal pollution.

Oysters are high in zinc, calcium and iron which helps the energy system and strengthens bones.  Oysters are environmentally helpful as they filter 30-50 gallons of water a day.  Not all oysters make pearls but personally have bitten down on a pearl eating a raw oyster.  It is rare but a delightful surprise when it happens.  It is advised to only use and eat raw oysters harvested in the winter months containing an “R”, mainly because they are more flavorful and safer coming from the very cold water.  Since oyster shells are high in calcium, they are wonderful additions to the home garden, enriching the soil and producing brighter flowers.

As with any seafood and especially one you may consume raw, it is important to secure the freshest, cleanest product available and even then, should be avoided by anyone with a compromised immune system, small children or the elderly. 

From first hand experience in a large family that loves oysters and an avid attendee of oyster roasts and festivals for many years, these ugly little messy creatures evoke an interest and surprisingly delicious way to create uncommonly good eats!

Easy Butter & Baked Oysters

Layer rock salt or uncooked rice in a baking pan.  Chop fresh thyme, tips of marjoram, chives and parsley.  Pre-heat oven to 425.

Scrub the oyster shells and shuck the oysters (watch how to YouTube video) over a bowl to catch liquid.  Discard top shells to your garden and place oysters on bottom shell with liquid in each in the prepared baking pan. 

Melt 1 stick of butter and mix with ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs until lightly browned.  Add chopped herbs and mix then spoon over each oyster.  Top with a sprinkling of paprika.

Bake 8-10 minutes until baked through and topping is golden brown.  Serve with lemon wedges.

Fried Oyster Po Boy

Use French bread or baguettes, or hoagie rolls.

1-quart fresh oysters, well drained           1 tsp. black pepper

3 large eggs,                                                   4 French bread rolls or

3 cups cornmeal                                            2 baguettes, cut in half

¼ cup all-purpose flour                                2 tomatoes, sliced

1 ½ tsp. salt                                                    1 cup lettuce

1 tsp. Cajun seasoning                                 ½ cup mayo

½ dill pickle slices                                          hot sauce optional

In medium bowl beat eggs, stir in oysters and let stand 5 minutes.  In a plastic storage bag, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, seasoning & pepper. Drip off excess egg from oysters, one at a time & add to bag.  Shake until well coated.  Fry in batches if necessary, in a quality vegetable oil for 3 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove and drain on paper towel.  Spread top of roll with mayo and on bottom of roll put lettuce, tomato, & sliced pickles.  Add a heavy layer of fried oysters. Serve with additional hot sauce, optional.

Savory Oyster Stew

4 TBLs butter                                                        ¼ tsp salt

1 large onion, finely diced                                  ½ tsp pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced                                        6 cups whole milk or half & half

½ tsp finely chopped red pepper                      1 tsp dry parsley

¼ tsp paprika                                                        16 ounces fresh raw oysters, undrained

Melt butter over medium heat in a 3 qt. saucepan, add onion, sauté for 5 minutes, add minced garlic& sauté another 2 minutes making sure it doesn’t burn.  Add red pepper, paprika and S/P.  Sauté another minute to toast and then lower heat.  Drain oysters, reserving the liquid.  Reduce heat of saucepan to low, add milk, parsley and oyster liquid.  Cook over low heat until mixture is hot, begins to steam and bubble around edge of pan.   DO NOT ALLOW TO BOIL.  Add S/P and oysters and cook on low until oysters begin to curl on edges.

Serve with cheese or garlic toast or crackers.  This is a soul warming dish on a cold winter night!