Four years ago my parents hosted an oyster feed on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Since then we’ve spent the holiday in Savannah and New York City and have not been able to gather everyone together for a repeat event. Until this year.
My dad spent days scouting the best regional oyster varieties and most competitive prices. And on Friday morning, he picked up about 400 of them — yes, 400 — including salt oysters to eat raw, Chincoteagues to steam, and buckets of oysters to fry and to stew.
It’s important to note that fresh oysters — such as those we ate raw and steamed (pictured above) — must be alive until just before consumption. If the oyster’s shell is tightly closed, it’s safe to eat. If it’s even just slightly open, toss it. (Which we learned from our seafood-loving Massachusetts friends.)
If you can get past the fact that you’re about to eat a live mollusk, how do you go about opening the shell and getting the little bugger out? You shuck it. With a special knife that has a short, sharp blade. And you wear heavy gloves (which Nick is not wearing in this photo because he was only posing). Professionals need just three seconds to shuck an oyster. My uncle can do it in about twenty.
Once open, add a bit of cocktail sauce and a squirt of lemon. Then slurp it up, right out of its shell.
What? Does that not sound appetizing? My sister was brave enough to try one, but I think it will be a long time before she has another.
I don’t mind eating them raw, especially with lots of lemon, but I prefer them to be steamed. Thanks to my brother and cousin, we had an ongoing supply off the grill and smoker.
Chincoteage, VA is well known for its oysters, and they make great steamers. While on the grill, the shell opens, making them easy to serve. You could top them with bacon and cheese, but we stuck to cocktail sauce and lemon. With shrimp on the side.
The steamed oysters were my favorite of the day — I think I ate a dozen myself.
The fried oysters, however, were popular among the more squeamish guests. Dad breaded 160 of them the night before, then he and my uncle dipped them into the deep fryer and lined them up for sandwiches. I like mine with just a bit of mustard.
We also had creamy, buttery oyster stew. Mom bought a shiny new pot just for the occasion. And Dad loosely followed a recipe, quadrupling the measurements and adding lots of scallions and black pepper.
We topped the bowlfuls with crunchy oyster crackers and huddled around the heater in the garage while listening to college football on the radio.
As if the oysters weren’t enough, Dad and Nick deep fried a turkey, too.
Nick cleaned the turkey, injected it with creole butter, and rubbed cajun spices on top. Then he kept it cold until we were ready to dunk it into the hot peanut oil. (Cold, but not frozen. The turkey must be completely thawed to avoid the risk of explosion!)
They make a good team, don’t they?
And Nick was honored to carve the crispy, juicy bird. (He said he felt like Crosby on the Thanksgiving episode of Parenthood.)
I hope the Oyster Feed becomes an annual event, although Dad said he had an ulterior motive this year. You know oysters are aphrodisiacs, he said. Yes, I think my father is encouraging procreation of his oldest daughter and her husband. And here I thought that duty was reserved for my mother and sister.
Are you a fan of oysters? Do you like them raw, steamed, fried, or stewed?