Gothamist Eating In: Cooking Our Favorite Recipes at Home
Aquagrill had admittedly fallen off of the Gothamist radar over the past few years. While we most certainly order fresh oysters at any of the restaurants that we trust, Blue Ribbon bistro had undoubtedly become the oyster destination of choice. Not only are the choices of oysters exceedingly fresh, but there is something satisfying about chatting with the shucker as he prepares the beauties right in front of you at the bar. On a good day, Blue Ribbon will have small fresh scallops in the shell that are also off the charts.
But for whatever reason, we decided to give Aquagrill another shot to see how it was holding up. When two seats at the bar turned up, we were sitting right in front of at least twelve varieties of fresh oysters on ice. We were able to order a range of oysters from six different varieties to taste the differences and to pick our favorites from the bunch. As expected, the variety allowed us to notice how the oysters had different qualities. Some were meatier in texture, others showed off stronger tastes of mineral or cucumber or the deep freshness of the sea. Add a few cold beers to the mix and we were exceedingly happy.
Gothamist spent a couple nights shucking oysters and composing the oyster sampling at 11 Madison Park a few years ago. Its really not very difficult or time consuming after understanding the technique. It is also something that can safely be done at home and at the same quality as a great restaurant.
All you need is an inexpensive shucking knife (sold at a Citarella near you), a variety of fresh oysters (sources discussed below), a cold glass of beer or bubbly, an oyster loving friend, and some of the special garnishes weve concocted in the Gothamist Recipe.
Our goal here is to demystify oysters for you to make at home. In addition, weve developed a few special garnishes to serve with your oysters. The mignonette is the classic recipe, enhanced with crushed and whole black peppercorns to kick up the spiciness a bit. A finely diced cucumber and mint salad adds a cool crunchy flavor that will match well with the fresh tastes of the sea. Lastly, bacon is a classic combination with Oysters Rockefeller and adds a nice meaty depth to the oysters. The corn adds a sweet crunch and the jalapeno adds a spiciness that can remind you of the traditional horseradish garnish served with oysters. Were not a huge fan of tartar sauce with oysters as it can overpower them, but you need to please yourself, so pick some up if youd like. A horseradish sauce, a fresh lemon and hot sauce are also good choices for the traditionalist in you.
The following recipe works as a relatively light but luxurious appetizer for two. Youll most likely have plenty of left over garnishes to serve more people, so if you are serving a larger group, just increase the oyster quantity.
Ingredient Shopping List
12 fresh, unshucked oysters (read below)
1 bunch fresh mint
1 red onion
1 ear corn
1 jalapeno pepper
whole black peppercorns
extra virgin olive oil
1 packet of bacon
bottle of good quality red wine vinegar
1 oyster knife (at Citarella or any kitchen store)
Estimated cost of ingredients: $25 at Citarella
Sources for Fresh Oysters
Citarella has a large and fresh selection of oysters on hand all the time. The quality is very high and the selection is always varied. For east lower siders without a Citarella, Wild Edibles has a shop on Third Ave and in Grand Central.
Even Fresh Direct has a few local oyster varieties, though we havent tried them to vouch for their quality.
Preparing the Garnishes
Its best to open the oysters right before serving, so have your garnishes prepared in advance. Its important to make your mignonette the night before, as it needs time to marinate.
For the mignonette, take 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns and place on cutting board. Crush them by rolling the back of a small pan over them. Add 3 tablespoons of finely minced shallots and 2/3 cup of the red wine vinegar. Place in a glass container and cover with plastic wrap. Store at room temperature overnight. Mignonette will keep for months in the refrigerator.
For the cucumber salad, peel the cucumber with a peeler. Reserve half the cucumber for another purpose. Chop the cucumber into a small dice. Chop ¼ of the red onion into a small dice. Finely chop one tablespoon of mint. Add the cucumber, mint and onion to a small bowl and add a glug of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Finally, season with fresh pepper (do not salt as oysters will not need it) and mix contents. Set aside for up to a few hours in the fridge.
For the corn salad, place corn ear on the cutting board and slice straight down the cob with a sharp knife to release the kernels. Repeat for all sides of corn and set aside half this amount into a bowl. Rough chop the corn kernels into very fine pieces. Chop the jalapeno in half. Remove the seeds. Chop finely and add to the corn. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and set aside for up to an hour at room temperature.
Get a dry nonstick pan to medium heat and add two slices of bacon. Brown on each side for about 2 minutes. The bacon is best crunchy for this recipe. Set bacon onto a paper towels to drain/cool. When cool, chop bacon into fine dice and add to the corn and jalapeno. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and fresh pepper. Set aside for up to an hour at room temperature.
Shucking the Oysters
First, take a baking pan with high sides or a large bowl and fill with ice. Place in freezer or refrigerator.
Make sure oysters are still alive by checking that the shells are tightly closed. Scrub oysters with a stiff brush under cold running water and set aside. Hold oyster in the palm of your hand with a towel so that you don't accidentally slip when shucking and cut yourself. Its wise to make sure the kitchen towel is folded so at least two layers are covering your hand.
Work over a bowl so that you can catch the oyster's juices. When shucking, try to keep as much of the liquid in the shell as possible. If you lose a lot of it over the course of shucking them, you can nap the juices back onto the oysters when they are on the ice.
Position the oyster in your hand with the cup-side down, so that its curved shell faces down and its flatter side faces up.
Insert an oyster knife between the shells, near the hinge of the oyster. This spot is best for prying the oyster open. Twist the knife back and forth, and then lift knife up with a forceful wiggling action to pry up the top shell. Wipe your knife on your towel to remove any excess sand or dirt. Take the knife and place under the meat so that you can detach it from the shell and it moves around freely. Smell the oyster if it smells rotten or not fresh from the sea, discard it.
Place the oysters on your ice vessel in a pattern and serve with garnishes in a separate bowls. (You can also garnish each individual oyster if you choose, but serve the mignonette separately). If serving multiple varieties, keep track of each by placing them all together on different sections of the ice.