icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Recipes and Stories

24 October 2014: Broiled Oysters on the Half Shell

Broiled Oysters Savannah

One of the best things about autumn on the Georgia and Carolina coast is that our briny-sweet oysters come into season. Though the old maxim about harvesting them only in months with an R is no longer really observed, savvy locals know that local oysters are at their best when the weather cools and they're past their summer spawning.

One of our region’s most popular and ancient ways enjoying the harvest is an oyster roast, a party in which the oysters are cooked over a pit of hardwood coals, a method that predates the European colonists. It actually isn’t roasting, but rather broiling in the original sense of the word.

Until the twentieth century, broiling, even indoors, was done over the heat rather than under it. A cast iron grate was rubbed with fat and placed over a bed of hardwood coals and the food was then cooked on top of it. Only after the development of gas and electric fired ranges in the twentieth century did the method we now recognize as broiling—that is, under the flame, was possible.

The first recipes for broiling oyster the modern way were exquisitely simple: The shellfish was simply opened, nestled in the deep half of its shell, blanketed with a nice piece of bacon, and run under the flame until the bacon was crisp. This old Savannah recipe is only slightly more complicated, and stays close to that simplicity and near-perfect combination of flavors, but with a lighter hand on the fat . . . if you happen to worry about such things.

Serves 4–6 as a first course

24 live oysters in shell
¼ cup finely minced thick-cut bacon (about 2 slices, see notes)
¼ cup finely minced green scallion tops (about 2)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup cracker crumbs
Whole black pepper in a mill
1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges

1. Position a rack 4–6 inches from the heat source and preheat the broiler for at least 15 minutes. Shuck the oysters and cut them loose from the shell, leaving them in their deep halves. Discard the shallow half. Spread a ½-inch-thick layer of rock salt on a rimmed baking sheet or line it with crumpled foil. Press the oyster shells into the salt or foil until they are level and stable.

2. Mix together the bacon, onion, lemon zest, and crumbs. Liberally grind pepper over it and toss until well blended. Sprinkle the bacon-crumb mixture evenly but lightly over each oyster: don’t put it on too thick; it’s meant to enhance the flavor of what’s beneath it, not to bury it.

3. Broil until the bacon-crumb topping is golden-brown and the gills are lightly curled, about 4 minutes. Serve at once with lemon wedges.

Note: To mince bacon without losing your religion, put it in the freezer until it’s very firm, about half an hour, and use a sharp ceramic knife. The bacon won’t stick to the ceramic blade as much as it will to a steel blade.

Recipe from Essentials of Southern Cooking: Techniques & Flavors of a Timeless American Cuisine (Lyons Press/copyright © 2013 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved)

Be the first to comment