Well, good Marylanders, this miserable year is slipping behind us, and a newer, more hopeful one is on the horizon. With just a couple days left before New Year's Eve, we have just enough time to whip up a few of our most traditional recipes to cheer up our small little get-togethers this year. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino would agree that for many of us, nothing can pick up our spirits during these pandemic times than the prospect of eating oysters plucked fresh from the Bay.
If you're going to have oysters for dinner, and there will only be a few of you, then a half bushel will be more than enough. If you're planning to eat them raw, you only have to worry about cleaning them up with a hose and then whipping up a sauce or two. Catsup and horseradish make a great cocktail sauce, while red wine vinegar and finely minced shallots make a lovely mignonette sauce.
Some folks may shy away from raw oysters, so try steaming them. It's easy as pie: place the cleaned oysters on a baking sheet with a rim, pour in a little hot water and then cover it all with a damp tea towel. Steam in a 400° oven until the shells just start to open, about 5 minutes or so. Fetch out the oysters with hand tongs, allow to cool, then enjoy.
Taking it all a step further you can roast oysters, although you need to shuck them first. You will be mixing up a sauce to pour over the raw oysters. More often than not you will be melting some butter, and toss in some parsley, shallots, lemon zest, roasted garlic along with some salt and pepper. Purée the mixture until it's a thick smooth sauce. You can place the shucked oysters on thin slices of baguette to catch the overflowing sauce, and set it all down on a baking sheet. 10 minutes in a 375° oven will have everything nicely browned.
One of my all-time favorite recipes, called simply "Maryland Oysters" comes to us from the Maryland Way cookbook. Variations are endless, but here's how I do it. Trim up a slice of lightly toasted white bread, and cut into triangle quarters. Lay a thin slice of Smithfield ham on the toast, and then a lightly poached oyster on top of the ham. Add a dollop of cream sauce (I recommend a simple béchamel sauce with a drop of Madeira added) arrange the toast point on a baking sheet, and place on a low rack under the broiler. Give it no more than 2 minutes to brown the sauce and take it out. Garnish with chopped parsley are serve it up. It's totally decadent.
And finally, should there be any left over oysters, you can shuck them and keep them in a glass jar for several days. Use the oysters and their liquor in an oyster chowder, which is easy to make. The broth is a matter of milk or cream thickened with a little flour. The additions are cubes of potato and onion, kernels of corn, and of course the oysters and their liquors. A long slow simmer will get the job done, and you have the option of finishing it off with a tad bit of that Madeira. Serve with that fabled crusty bread and perhaps a dark ale, and you'll be in heaven.