Sometimes, East Enders don’t know how good they have it. With an abundance of oyster farms off the coastline, all one has to do is pull over to the side of the ride to grab some super-fresh bivalves. As a result, oysters have become their own East End food group, if you will, finding their way to the table for everything from summer soirees to holiday gatherings.
While shucked raw oysters are the choice way to serve oysters—over ice with some lemon wedges and homemade cocktail and mignonette sauces for a special treat—there are plenty of ways to prepare and serve oysters that can elevate any holiday experience.
“When the temperature drops, oysters develop a fatty outer layer as a defense to cold water. This makes for a brinier and richer flavor, which is actually my favorite type of oyster to work with,” says Alex Bujoreanu, executive chef at R.AIRE at The Hampton Maid in Hampton Bays.
Bujoreanu notes that, when shopping for oysters to use, he always looks for ones that are a bit smaller but have a deep shell—that way, it has plenty of space for whatever may be added to the oyster itself.
Max Mohrmann, co-founder of private catering company Fyr + Salt, says that he and his co-founder, Jonathan Shearman, work closely with Peeko Oysters. This partnership has offered Mohrmann and Shearman an immersive education in oysters. In December, as they now know, oysters switch gears from reproduction to hibernation. “This results in a heartier oyster, which is perfect for the wood-roasted preparation we like to serve,” he says.
Ramp Up The Holiday Table
A good oyster preparation starts with a cold shuck of scrubbed oysters, says Mohrmann. “You want the oysters to have a cool, clean chill to them while you’re shucking them,” he says.
Once oysters are cleaned and shucked, it’s time to take preparation to the next level. There are plenty of ways to make oysters that will surprise and excite guests that aren’t as complicated as one may think. Mohrmann says that using a compound butter and some herbs is a great way to easily prepare an oyster dish that everyone will be chatting about.
“For those who don’t have access to a live wood fire, an Ooni oven or even the broiler in your kitchen oven can be used to achieve a similar effect,” he says. Once done, add a splash of wine or a squirt of lemon for a bit of acidity and the dish is good to serve.
Bujoreanu also favors smoking oysters, as it tends to lend a “wow” factor to the dish. He uses rosemary to smoke his, he says, as it brings a seasonal, rustic flavor to them. He also explains, however, that taking them to the grill is another way to up the ante on the Feast of the Seven Fishes—or any holiday gathering.
“After you grill them, top them with a Champagne sauce. This produces a dish that has a balance of both sweet and savory flavors,” says Bujoreanu.
Chris Kar, chef at Jamesport-based The Dimon Estate, takes his winter oyster recipes very seriously. For a bit of comfort, he combines oysters with everyone’s favorite accompaniment—bacon—in his twist on oysters Rockefeller.
“I top the oysters with hollandaise sauce and finish it with a smokey bacon maple jam. From there, I roast them until the hollandaise browns a bit. It’s my favorite cold season oyster preparation,” he says, noting that home cooks will want to balance the salty, briney oyster with sweet, smoke, umami and fat properly in order to impress guests.
While there is something wonderful about a pure, cold oyster during this time of year, served simply with a fresh homemade mignonette, he says, there is an easy way to take them to the next level during the holidays. “If you want to put a dash of caviar on top, that would really take it to another level of posh,” says Kar.
Slurp and Sip
Part of any holiday gathering is a little fancy tipple. And, when serving elegant food like oysters, one will want to ensure the drink complements the bite.
While Champagne is always a perfect match for oysters, there are plenty of sippers that will be a great companion for these holiday dishes. Mohrmann notes that Fyr + Salt’s grilled oysters call for a splash of Corey Creek’s Coquillage (a Chardonnay aged on North Fork seashells) after the oysters are pulled from the grill—and that this wine is an ultimate pairing for any oyster-based meals.
The Dimon Estate’s Kar echoes this sentiment, saying that it is his favorite for pairing with oysters, as well as other shellfish.
Not a Chardonnay fan? Mohrmann says that Sparkling Pointe’s 2019 Brut Sparkling Wine, and classic gin martini are also sippers that bring the holiday spirit but will elevate the flavor of oysters, as well. Bujoreanu says that a classic gin and tonic is his favorite way to pair up bivalves, but to also try a Txakolina—a white wine that has a slight effervescence with lemon and floral flavors. But it’s not all about the whites, either. Andrea Tese, owner of Minnow at the Galley Ho, favors Macari’s Dos Aguas, a red blend with raspberry, baking spices and tobacco, to pair with grilled oysters.
When it comes to oyster preparations and pairings, there really is something for everyone this holiday season.