Impromptu Oyster Feast

December 28, 2013

Oysters Rockefeller.

Oysters Rockefeller.

One morning last week, James called to ask if we had plans for evening. He said that he and Zandra had received a hefty parcel on their doorstep: a box of fresh Gulf oysters, courtesy of Dorothy and Bob, a reminder of our recent trip to New Orleans together. They had no idea how they were going to eat them all. So that evening, they knocked at the door carrying a huge Styrofoam cooler and a couple of bottles of wine.

An inquiry to our benefactors revealed that the oysters were from Joe Patti’s Seafood Company in Pensacola, Fla. Dorothy had ordered two bags, each containing two dozen. The open cooler revealed a mass of oysters, three dozen (the other dozen J&Z saved for another meal), certainly more than we could eat in one sitting. But, reminding ourselves that this was not our first oyster rodeo, we poured some wine, snacked on a bit of cheese, and got down to shucking.

Shucked and ready.

Shucked and ready.

First order of business: baking a dozen Rockefeller-style with a topping that Zandra had prepared. While those bubbled in the oven with butter, spinach and Parmesan, the other two dozen were pried open and arranged on a platter. (The proper method, we learned from the man with the oyster knife at Bourbon House in New Orleans: “Stick it in and wiggle it.” Good advice for the uninitiated in any number of circumstances. The Hokey-Pokey, for example.)

And the feast began. The Rockefellers were consumed in moments, bright and savory with fresh spinach, a bit of cheese and a hint of anise. Then, on to the raw: a squeeze of lemon, a splash of homemade mignonette, a dab of horseradish cocktail sauce. Top, slurp, repeat. These oysters were so fresh and clean-tasting, we might as well have been seaside.

Before we knew it, the mountain of oysters was a pile of shells.


A perfect boule.

One of the most-used gifts we received this year was a birthday present from James and Zandra to J back in June: a copy of Ken Forkish’s Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. I never thought I’d stray from the ridiculously easy Sullivan Street Bakery No-Knead Bread recipe or Mark Bittman’s basic pizza dough, but once I started experimenting with Forkish’s methods, I became a devoted follower. And, indeed, Forkish is a masterful teacher, explaining the whys and hows of his bread-making methods in clear, descriptive language. The opening chapters of the book tell the story about quitting his corporate job to follow a dream of becoming a bread maker, followed by a chapter on the important details for delicious bread and an outline of the equipment he recommends. Chapter 4 is an overview of the basic bread method with step-by-step photos. Contrary to many other cookbooks, the first several chapters, save for perhaps Forkish’s interesting back story, are required reading before diving into the recipes. Every recipe I’ve made has required referencing Chapter 4; though now that I’m more familiar with the terms and techniques, flipping back and forth is becoming less frequent.

Requiring only four basic ingredients in varied proportions, the recipes’ other essential elements are patience and especially timing. The recipes are not difficult to execute once you have the basic method down, and the result is  heavenly. Puffy bubbles that emerge during the rise transform into gorgeous air pockets in the finished loaf, and the flavor lent by fermentation and baking to a dark brown is unparalleled in supermarket loaves.

We spent the summer and fall, and indeed last night, up to our elbows in flour, surrounded by bulging masses of fermenting dough. And we went through at least three bags of flour this past summer making pizza dough, focaccia and beautiful artisan boules. It has the potential to become an addiction, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.