I'd never tried an oyster until I started seeing Jeremy. His family was big on seafood growing up, and while mine was too, we definitely had more Greek-style seafood (a lot of fish and octopus) than anything else. Meanwhile, Jeremy grew up in the San Francisco bay area where there were shellfish galore; so oysters, mussels, and clams were good friends to his family. The first time he had me try an oyster was my junior year of college down at the Hermosa beach pier. The men shucked a rocky coin for each of us, waved some fresh lemon juice over its insides with rough hands, and flicked in a tad of hot sauce. The half shell was then handed over to us very carefully, much more so than the hectic dash of its preparation. This being my first time having a raw oyster, I was a bit put off by the appearance, but in went and down it came, all the while with eyes squeezed tightly shut. I remember thinking that the texture was very smooth...and the flavor was remarkable. Creamy, rich, and savory, it tasted of the sea in the best way possible. Unlike anything I had eaten before. So, when I was approached to post a recipe from Michael Chiarello's new cookbook, Live Fire, that's all about cooking outdoors over an open flame, I immediately knew the recipe I was going to make as soon as I read the words "Oysters" and "Grilled".
I'd never prepared oysters myself before this post, and grilling them sounded both approachable and delicious (I'm a tad obsessed with smokey flavors). Per the suggestion in the cookbook, I used blue point oysters for this recipe, (the Whole Foods near my house gets them fresh daily, and if you don't have a specialty seafood market in your town, Whole Foods is a great chain option for quality seafood). I placed the whole oysters on the grill and about 3/4 of them popped open about 1/4 inch after 4 minutes of grilling, but the rest stayed shut. I know they say not to eat oysters that don't open, but darn it I was hungry and at least wanted to look inside to see if they were okay or not. As it turned out, all the oysters that did not open had an oyster crab inhabiting the shell along with the oyster bit. Yes, I did scream when I opened the first one and saw the weird pink little crab, but after some googling I learned that they were considered a "delicacy", so I picked them out and placed them atop the half shells, too.
Jeremy ended up being out of town for work when I made these, and although it took me a bit longer to get the fire lit on my own, I was secretly glad he was gone because it meant I got to eat all the oysters myself. And they were delicious. Chiarello calls for a slab of proscuitto to be seared on the grill before being cut up into small chunks to be served atop the grilled oysters. He also has a little citrus, parsley, red onion, and olive oil sauce called a mignonette that you refrigerate to thicken and then drizzle atop each piping hot oyster before serving, which adds a wonderfully bright and cool contrasting element to the creamy toasty oysters. Now, the recipes in this cookbook all sound amazing (grilled poundcake!!), but what I loved most about it was learning about the various outdoor cooking techniques, like cooking over a hearth or fire pit, and using a hot box, rotisserie, or spit jack.
Chiarello also goes over the tools you can utilize in detail, like iron crosses (a giant iron cross that you can attach whole animals to, like lamb, and lean near an open flame) or a plancha (a thick slab of metal meant to sit on an open flame that creates an amazing crust on everything that's cooked atop it). He also goes over recommended wood, food, and wine pairings, which I found absolutely fascinating (who knew that the smoke from a cherry tree goes wonderfully with lamb and a Pinot Noir?) And even more importantly, he outlines what woods not to use for the fire and why (willow, for example, contains too much water to create the desired flame). But my favorite portion of the book is the chapter dedicated to cooking over dying coals and embers. I'd never thought of utilizing these flickering heat sources as a slow-cooking method, but the recipe for baba ghanoush made from ember-roasted eggplants made me see dying coals in a whole new light. You can even roast garlic cloves nestled directly in them!! And the generous folks over at Chronicle Books have offered to give away a copy of Live Fire to one of you as well, so you can enjoy the summer outdoors even while preparing dinner. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter widget below. The giveaway closes on July 11th at midnight PST. Good luck everyone!
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Note: This post was sponsored by Chronicle books and they provided me with a copy of Live Fire, however all opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat leaf parsley
3 tablespoons red onions, very finely diced
4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1/2 teaspoon Calabrian chile paste
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
24 oysters in their shells
(1) 2-ounce chunk of proscuitto (You do not want to get it sliced, you want it in one big piece. You can purchase it this way at an Italian deli or a Whole Foods.)
1/2 tablespoon whole peppercorns, for garnish
First, tend to your oysters. Place them in a large bowl filled with cold water and use a brush to scrub off any loose particles on the outside of the shell. Rinse them well and discard the water they were submerged in. Place them on a platter in the refrigerator with the deep-cup side of the shell facing down and cover with a cool damp towel.
Now you can make the mignonette. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the parsley and olive oil (doing so keeps the fresh herbs from browning as quickly). Then whisk in the onion, lemon juice and zest, chile, salt, and pepper. Cover and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.
Ignite a charcoal grill or turn a gas grill to high heat. When the grill is hot, scrape off your grill rack to ensure it is clean. Then, if you are using a gas grill, decrease the heat to medium high. Wipe down your grill rack with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.
Lay the chunk of proscuitto on the grill and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until there are visible grill marks. Remove it from the grill and allow it to cool while you prepare the oysters.
Make sure your gas grill is hot or that your coals are glowing bright red. Wipe down the oysters with a towel and place them on the grill rack. When all 25 oysters are on the grill, close the grill lid and allow to cook until you hear the oysters popping open, about 3-4 minutes.
Remove the oysters from the grill with a pair of tongs and snap off the top shell, taking care to keep the juice in the bottom shell from splashing out. Use an oyster knife to gently release the oyster from the bottom of the shell, still taking care not to spill any liquid. Set the oysters aside.
Cut the proscuitto into strips about 1/4 inch thick and 3/4 inch long. Fill a few serving dishes with crushed ice and sprinkle the peppercorns over it for a garnish. Carefully transfer the oysters, still resting in their half shells, onto the bed of ice and top each one with a few slices of grilled proscuitto. Spoon the mignonette over each half shell, and keep the remaining mignonette in a bowl to be passed around for extra drizzling. Serve immediately.