Tidewater Kitchen - October 2008

Oyster Pearls of Flavor


Pamela Meredith-Doyle

   No Eastern Shoreman is indifferent toward oysters – either you like them or you don’t. And while only the true fans savor the finest in its raw, slippery state, cooked oysters have numerous followers.
    Oysters in the shell are purchased by the dozen. Shucked oysters are sold in half-pints, pints and quarts. Large oysters, known as “selects,” are used chiefly for serving raw and for frying. Smaller oysters, or “standards,” are cheaper and equally good for most purposes.
    Watermen have told me that the standard oysters are younger and more tender than selects. Maryland is famous for its delectable oysters and the season is from September to April, so enjoy!

I cannot think of oysters without thinking of our good friend, Doris Fortenbaugh. This fabulous recipe was given to me by Doris. This will soon become one of your favorites, too.

1 pkg. Pepperidge Farms bread crumbs
1 pint or 1 quart oysters
¼ to ½ lb. butter (depending on the number of oysters) – melted
Baco Bits

Line a greased casserole with oysters in their own liquor. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, then pour the butter over the top.
Sprinkle with a few Baco Bits and bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until bubbly all over.
Do not leave this in the oven too long as overcooked oysters are tough.

This was Ed Cannon’s favorite! After a full day of gardening, this dish would bring him to our home in Sailors Retreat.

1 quart standard oysters with liquor
2-3 cups fresh saltine cracker crumbs, coarsely crushed
1 stick butter
1-2 cups milk
¼ t. sea salt
1/8 t. freshly ground pepper

In a 2-quart greased casserole place alternate layers of oysters and cracker crumbs, dotting each layer with butter, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Top with crumbs and butter. Add milk until liquid almost reaches the top of the casserole.
Bake at 350° until browned – approximately 45 minutes. Serves 6.

Our waterman friend, Jimmy Lempke, provided most of the oysters for our family and cooking school meals. He encouraged me to make this stew.

1 to 1½ pints oysters
4 cups milk or 3 cups milk and 1 cup thin cream
4 T. butter
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Old Bay seasoning, if desired

Scald the milk with the sea salt and pepper. Cook the oysters in their liquor over low heat until the edges curl (not more than 5 minutes). Add the oysters, liquor and butter to the milk.
Serve with oysterettes or other crisp crackers. Sprinkle Old Bay on each serving for an extra “zip.” Serves 4.

This recipe is from the Holy Smoke Cookbook in Oxford. It is good as a main dish or as hors d’oeuvres in a chafing dish.

2 lbs. smoked sausage
1 quart standard oysters
2 cups sauterne wine
1 t. Tabasco sauce
½ t. garlic salt
½ t. salt
Juice of ½ lemon

Cut sausage in 1-inch pieces in a large frying pan. Add all the other ingredients except the oysters and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat for approximately 2 hours. Add the oysters and cook for 30 minutes longer.

Mrs. Kitching, restaurant and inn owner on Smith Island for 25 years, told me how she steamed them.

Get oysters in the shell – as many as desired as they go as soon as you cook them!
Wash and scrub the oysters. Place on a heavy baking sheet and bake in a 400° oven for about 5 minutes, or until the shells open. Sever the muscle and remove the top shell.
Serve with melted butter, vinegar or horseradish sauce (recipe to follow).

½ jar of the best freshly grated horseradish you can find.

Add ketchup according to your taste. I like less as I enjoy the horseradish. You may like half horseradish and half ketchup.

These are a favorite at cocktail parties!

Standard oysters in the shell, as many as desired

Scrub oyster shells, then shuck. Dip individual oysters in melted butter, vinegar or horseradish sauce and serve with soda crackers or saltines.
Fill large roasting pans or glass baking dishes with shaved or finely cracked ice. Arrange the oysters on the half shell on top of the ice. Serve with your dipping sauces in bowls on the side and lemon wedges.

Another favorite at cocktail parties!

1 pint standard oysters, drained
½ lb. bacon

To prepare the oysters for this dish, empty the oysters into a sieve placed over a saucepan to catch the liquor.
Cut each strip of bacon into thirds. Wrap the bacon around each oyster and fasten with a toothpick. Arrange on a rack over a drip pan. Bake in a hot 425 ° oven until the bacon is crisp and brown. Yield 30 to 40.

No fire house on the Eastern Shore is without this recipe if there is an oyster feed to raise money. A fireman friend gave me this one.

1 pint standard oysters, drained
¾ cup self-rising flour or pancake mix
1 t. baking powder
½ cup evaporated milk
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
¾ cup cooking oil - enough to fill frying pan 1½ inches deep.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir milk into mixture to make batter. Drain oysters, reserving liquor, and add oysters to the batter. Coat thoroughly.
Heat oil in 10-inch frying pan. Drop batter-coated oysters individually into hot oil with a fork. The oil is ready when a drop of water splatters. Cook until brown on one side and then turn carefully. Cook until golden brown on the other side. This yields about 36.
If the batter becomes too thick on standing, thin with oyster liquor.