Saturday, December 20, 2008

eager for the treat

Like wine, oysters take on characteristics of the terroir, so to speak, in which they are raised; the wildly different tastes result not from biology but from the variant diets, temperatures and salinity offered by the water in which the individual oysters spend their lives.

From Gem of the Ocean in the 20 December issue of the Economist.

Not too long ago I was in the Bay Area and joined a friend for dinner at an unremarkable French something or other in San Jose. He was tasked with reviewing the restaurant: dinner was on the house and the company was stellar so I happily complied.

I can't remember my entree. Duck maybe? I do remember the oysters that came before. They were from Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula, where my Aunt has a place, and where the beach is thick with oyster shells thrown back to the beach post-consumption where they then act as wedding beds for future generations of their kin.

I dressed my half-shell and slid it down. I was unprepared for the tears that followed: Brief and salty, like the oyster's own liquor.

The oyster tasted of home; the home I left for Chicago that for a confluence of reasons I was just then acutely missing. Like my own Madeleine the oyster contained all of that: the chill mist, the briny smell of the Puget Sound, the table surrounded by family. Surrounded by friends.

When I was living in Seattle, in the winter months, I would pick up fresh Olympias at the Pike Place Market and serve them up per Patricia Wells' direction for a simple Bordeaux fisherman's meal: oysters on the half-shell, accompanied by hand-seasoned sausage, a green salad, a crunchy loaf of bread, and a humble wine.

I served this meal to my dad once, when he was passing through town, and it may have been that we finished two humble bottles of wine but, whatever the reason, when he pushed back from the table the man who has dined with Jim Morrison at Chicago's Playboy Mansion and devoured ribs with Muddy Waters on Nob Hill said: "That was the best meal I've ever had."

And so I've posted it here for you.

Huîtres et Saucisses
From Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking

1 dozen oysters, shells well scrubbed under cold running water, shucked
Crushed ice
8 ounces (250 g) bulk pork sausage meat
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Place the oysters on a plate of crushed ice. Arrange the oysters balancing them so they do not lose any of their liquid. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and refrigerate. Remove the oysters 10 minutes before serving.

Ed: This would be a good time to prep that salad. Toss just before serving.

In a medium-size bowl, blend the sausage meat with the thyme (herbes de provence is also nice), pepper flakes, and salt. Mix well with your hands to blend thoroughly.

Shape the pork mixture into 4 equal-size round patties about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick.

In a medium-size skillet, cook the patties over medium-high heat until golden brown on the outside and cooked all the way through, about 5 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels.

Serve the sausages immediately, accompanied by the oysters, slices of buttered, crisp-crusted bread, and chilled white wine Or red. Per your druthers. And don't forget your choice of dressing for the oysters. I dig horseradish, cocktail sauce and Tabasco.

Serves 4.

p.s. title from the walrus and the carpenter, of course »


Jack Lyons said...

Tell your dad I love him :) He seems like such a swell guy to have for a dad.

suttonhoo said...

I will.
He is.

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