One charmed fall weekend Jody and I were asked to judge the oyster shucking competition at the annual Wellfleet OysterFest. A free weekend in Wellfleet. Close proximity to more straight-from-the-ocean bivalves than I could ever reasonably consider eating. Bring it on. But watching pros shuck oysters was a revelation, like sitting in the passenger seat of a professional race car while rocketing around a track at 185 mph., inspiring equal parts terror and admiration. The goal was to shuck a couple dozen oysters as fast as possible. Winning time was a bit under two minutes – that is, an oyster every five seconds. Chipped shells, mangled oysters, debris and, oh yes, the occasional splash of blood, were all penalized. Talking with some of the competitors afterward, I heard one story after another of inattentive shuckers putting the the blade of an oyster knife through a palm or the base of a thumb. Haha. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? As someone who has shucked a fair number of oysters in his life, I still take a deep breath before I do it, I make damn sure I’m paying attention*, and I never ever hold the oyster in my hand–I pin it to a hard surface with one hand and attack the hinge with the other. But you don’t have to do this. We’re offering you a tasty alternative this week that will allow you to skip the knife-and-shell business altogether: Grilled Oysters with Wasabi Mayo.
As a recent presidential candidate might have said, had he been a cook, which seems doubtful: Grilled oysters self-open.
No blunt knives, no protective gloves, no trip to the ER. This is so easy it almost doesn’t qualify as a recipe. You mix the wasabi powder and vinegar together, whisk them into an egg yolk, then proceed as though making regular mayonnaise. You grill the oysters – remember, they open themselves – you save the juices. A tablespoon of their juices finds itself whisked into the mayo. Throw some crusty bread on the grill as an accompaniment, and you’re done.
Wait–a single dissident hand is waving from the back of the room: Aren’t we supposed to avoid eating oysters in months without an R?
Short answer: No. Longer short answer: Not any more. Wild oysters spawn in the summer months when the water is warm. This can leave their flesh flabbier than usual, their taste not as sharp or sweet. Oysters in warm-water environments spawn all year round, which perhaps explains why some people prefer cold-water shellfish. Today many oysters are farmed, and they’re quite edible during warm months. Some of them are even bred to be sterile, which eliminates the flabbiness issue. Of course, refrigeration is also a greater concern during warm weather and before the advent of modern refrigeration not eating oysters during the summer was driven as much by the fear of encountering a spoiled piece of shellfish as it was by perceived differences in flavor. With refrigerated trucks and cold-water holding tanks this isn’t the risk it once was. By the way, an oyster that might be flabby when raw, firms right up when grilled.
This recipe is sized to give four people a half dozen oysters each. Add more if you wish–there’s more than enough mayo. Use leftover wasabi mayo as you would any other homemade mayonnaise (hint: crab or tuna salad, chilled poached asparagus spears). In the unlikely event you have leftover oysters, refrigerate them (unless they’ve been sitting in the sun for an hour). The next morning, sauté them in butter, then set the pan aside. Start a two-egg omelette. When the eggs are still runny, add the oysters. Flip the omelette closed. Serve with a dollop of wasabi mayo on top. Hello, breakfast!
One last tip, we don’t cook with charcoal briquettes. They’re usually permeated with a petroleum byproduct. Instead, we rely on lump charcoal, also called charwood, which can contribute a hint of genuine wood smoke to whatever you’re cooking. Gas is also fine. Charwod is a bit more expensive than the blue and white bags, but it burns hotter and faster. In our opinion it’s definitely superior to the other stuff. Enjoy. Ken
P.S. Over two days at OysterFest I ate six dozen oysters, a feat I’ve not repeated since, to the relief of our teenage daughter.
Grilled Oysters with Wasabi Mayo
Ingredients for wasabi mayo:
- 2 tablespoons wasabi powder
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- ¾ cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon finely grated garlic
- 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
Directions for mayo:
- Mix the wasabi powder and vinegar together in a small bowl until smooth. Separate the yolk and white of the egg. Reserve the white for another use. Add the yolk to a bowl with a teaspoon of water and whisk until until foamy. Add the wasabi and whisk until it’s completely incorporated.
- Start adding the canola oil a drop at a time, whisking as you go. Make sure the previous drop is completely incorporated before adding the next. When you’ve whisked about ¼ cup of canola oil into the yolk you can speed things up by dribbling the oil into the emulsion in a very thin stream. Resist the urge to go fast. When you’ve finished with the canola oil, the emulsion should be very thick–you’re going to thin it later with oyster juice. Add the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding vinegar and salt if necessary. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Ingredients for oysters:
- 2 dozen oysters, scrubbed
- 1 cup very thick wasabi mayonnaise (recipe above)
- 2 tablespoons chopped herbs–basil, cilantro and mint
- 1 loaf crusty rustic bread
Directions for oysters:
- Preheat a grill.
- Set the oysters on the grill, bowl side down, flat side up. When the top shell just pops, remove the oyster from the grill, careful not to spill the juices. Hold the oyster with an oven mitt, potholder or folded towel. Tilt the oyster over a bowl to catch the juice, then run the blade of a knife between the oyster and the curved part of the shell. This will still leave the oyster attached to the flat part of the shell. Discard the empty shell. Slip a knife between the oyster and the flat shell to cut the muscle attaching the oyster to the shell, but leave the oyster sitting on the shell. Arrange on a platter.
- Pour a tablespoon of accumulated juices through a strainer into the thick mayonnaise and stir to combine.
- Just before serving, split the loaf of bread and put it on the grill just long enough to toast the surfaces. Don’t walk away. Walking away from bread on a grill all but guarantees the bread will burn. Remove the grilled bread. Brush with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Or not. Put a spoonful of mayonnaise on each oyster, sprinkle with chopped herbs and serve with grilled bread.
Not much to report except, yum. That’s what this is. When you stack the oysters on the grilled bread it’s like eating an open faced po’boy, but lighter. I know I would love it with some pikliz.
Check out the groovy whisk Ken got. It was really fun to use and reminded me of the little gift piles of multicolored wires we’d find in front of our house when I was a girl after the telephone guys had been working on the telephone pole. An obsolete image these days.
Click on something to see it with a little more detail. Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.
All photos ©Ken Rivard. We’re fine with people using a photo or two referencing a post, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ken Rivard and Jody Adams, and the material links back to the original post. However, there’s a special circle in hell for people who copy my photos and represent them as their own, especially at the head of their own recipes.