...is my oyster, someone said. Really, for me it's been more like this these days: "my whole world is oysters." We bought four dozen nice, big, fresh oysters from the man selling them out of his truck on the market square in Saint-Aignan on Monday. We ate the last of them yesterday — there were 20 left after we ate some on New Year's Eve and left a few with our friends when we drove back home on Wednesday.
It turned that out one of our friends had never eaten oysters before, and the other said he hadn't eaten an oyster in many many years. Because of that, I decided to "cook" them. Well, they really don't cook the way I do them, but they do warm through and the shells are much easier to get open as a result. They don't turn rubbery. They can be a little more appetizing to people who haven't ever eaten oysters than really raw ones are. I know, oyster purists will be scandalized.
An oven-roasted oyster
As I said, I bought large oysters. Normally, Walt and I like them smaller if they are going to be consumed raw. But when you put the oysters in a hot oven for a few minutes to open the shells, the oyster inside does shrink up a little. So starting with bigger oysters makes sense. My method of cooking the oyster comes from coastal North Carolina, where outdoor oyster roasts are an old autumn tradition.
Oysters washed and ready to be eaten... or roasted
In N.C. and the whole U.S. Southeast, I think, the way people roast oysters is this: you build a fire and you stand four concrete blocks upright at its four corners. You lay a big, heavy slab of steel or iron down on the concrete blocks to form a kind of table or plancha over the fire. You dump onto the plancha a basketful of oysters that you have washed well with the garden hose. You wet a few empty burlap bags or old towels and lay them over the top of the oysters. The resulting heat and steam "roasts" the oysters.
Some oysters open faster and wider than others when you roast them in the oven.
In the oven, it turns out, the best way to steam the oysters is to heat up a pan of water in a hot oven until it starts to steam. Arrange the oysters on a wire oven rack, arranging them carefully so that the deeper shell is on the bottom and the flatter shell is on the top. Set the rack over the pan of steaming water in the oven. The oven needs to be hot: 225ºC / 425ºF, or even hotter. The oysters stay in the oven just long enough for the shells to start to open — between 5 and 10 minutes, say. Take them out and let them cool for a couple of minutes.
I made a batch of corn muffins for us to have with the oysters.
Even the oysters that don't appear to be open will be easy to deal with. Hold them in one hand in a couple of thicknesses of paper toweling to protect yourself. All you need to do is get the point of a sharp knife into the edge of the oyster and twist it. The top shell will pop up. Run the knife along the inside surface of the top shell to cut the muscle that hold the oyster in place. Remove the top shell and then cut the muscle on the lower shell. Sprinkle on a few drops of lemon juice, vinegar, or hot pepper sauce. If all the liquid hasn't run out of the shell, drink it along with the oyster. With them, saltine crackers, English water crackers, or cornbread are good — not to mention a cold beer or a glass of cold, dry white wine.
P.S. I know that some people open oysters by putting them in the microwave oven for a couple of minutes. I haven't tried that yet.