Green mignonette for oysters
Oysters have played an important and prominent role in my Pacific Northwest family's food history since the 1850s.
Growing up, I spent time periodically in Oystervillle, Washington, a small town on the Long Beach Peninsula, which spans the distance between the Pacific Ocean and Willapa Bay. Appropriately named, Oysterville's tideland was home to a abundance of the bivalves found in their native habitat beginning in the early 19th century. Later, when they began to cultivate the oyster seed, oystermen discovered that the Willapa Bay with its twice daily tide change and surrounding sea water estuaries was an ideal habitat for oysters, clams and eventually mussels.
So from a very early age, I was familiar with the bivalves at their source (my family's oyster beds in Yaquina Bay) and their final destination (our family restaurant, Dan & Louis Oyster Bar). On the central Oregon coast, I shook the winter mud from the large trays we submerged in the bay, and in Portland, at the restaurant, I shucked and served the oysters. And ate them every chance I could.
When possible, choose oysters from a live tank of circulating water supplemented with nutrients. If you can't find them in a tank, pay close attention to the date on the harvest tag that is required to be on the bag. Only select those that have been away from their natural salt water habitat for less than one week.
To shuck and enjoy the oysters in their raw form, see Techniques. If you prefer your oysters cooked, I like to lightly steam them. Put them in a steaming basket suspended over boiling water until their shells pop partially open. Remove the basket from the pan and remove the top shells with an oyster or butter knife. You'll find it's much easier than it is to shuck a raw oyster. Use the knife to release the muscle on the bottom shell and then slurp away! Or you could serve them with my twist on a classic mignonette, or my twist with shallot, cucumber and jalapeno, a combination that serves as the perfect balance to the briny and creamy qualities of both raw and cooked oysters. Allow at least 6 oysters per person.
The oysters pictured above and below are Shigokus. Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington State grow them in their inland waterways.
makes enough to top 18 to 20 oysters
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 jalapeño pepper, split, seeded and finely minced
3 tablespoons finely diced cucumber (about 1/2 peeled, seeded small cucumber)
1-tablespoon fresh herbs such as parsley, fennel tops, chives and tarragon, or a combination
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (preferably fruity, and not too acidic)
2 tablespoons good-quality white wine or champagne vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 medium sized lemon
Freshly ground black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside for at least 15 minutes, to let the flavors develop and mingle.
Spoon onto shucked oysters--raw, grilled or roasted--before serving, or put the bowl on the table with a small spoon.