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Oysters

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Growing up in Maryland back in the day, we were treated to the superb photography of A. Aubrey Bodine, who had a genius for depicting life on and around the Chesapeake Bay. Some of my favorite pictures of his depicted watermen hauling in their catches of fresh local oysters. Bodine always seemed to go out in the dead of winter, and as Chef Jerry Pellegrino says, we all owe a big debt of thanks to those intrepid watermen who manage to get the job done despite conditions that would terrify the rest of us.

All of the oysters harvested on the East Coast come from the same species:

Crassotrea Virginia. Although various oysters from various places look different from one another, they are in fact all the same, genetically. What does make a difference is the water in which they grow. Thus Choptanks will be different than

Blue Points. Chincoteague will be different than Wellfleet.

In Maryland, seemingly every little creek has its own breed, and connoisseurs

take pleasure in pointing out the subtle differences. In general our Bay oysters are smallish with a mild, sweet flavor. What differs is the saltiness as we move closer or further from the Atlantic Ocean.

Shucking oysters is both a tradition and a pain in the butt. It probably takes several years of effort before one works out a personal plan of attack that works every time. In my experience, going in through the hinge is a fairly reliable approach.

To avoid the tedium of shucking, wash you oysters clean, and put them on a simple baking sheet. Pop them in a hot oven for just a minute or two and they in turn will pop open, and actually plump up. Easy-peasy.

If you want to get a little more ambitious, you can try to make the legendary Oysters Rockefeller, that ambiguously constructed delicacy from New Orleans Jerry found a convincing version of the recipe he would like to share.

Oysters Rockefeller

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup butter, cubed

1 package (9 ounces) fresh spinach, torn

1 cup grated Romano cheese

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 pounds kosher salt

3 dozen fresh oysters in the shell, washed

In a large skillet, sauté onion in butter until tender. Add spinach; cook and stir until wilted. Remove from the heat; stir in cheese, lemon juice and pepper.

Spread kosher salt into 2 ungreased 15x10x1-in. baking pans. Shuck oysters, reserving oyster and its liquid in bottom shell. Lightly press oyster shells down into the salt, using salt to keep oysters level. Top each with 2-1/2 tsp. spinach mixture.

Bake, uncovered, at 450° until oysters are plump, 6-8 minutes. Serve immediately.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.