Great Shells of Fire

How and why to grill your oysters
Photo: Tasting Table
Grilled Oysters

May is Grilling Month at Tasting Table.

For Ethan Powell, chef and owner of Portland's EaT: An Oyster Bar and The Parish, there's no better way to spend a hot summer day than slurping oysters. "Or even a cold day," he says with a laugh. The Texarkana native continues a long love affair with the briny bivalve, and when he's not tipping back fresh oysters with a squeeze of lemon, he's throwing them on his grill. Here's how (and why) to do the same.

West Coast Is Best
East Coast oysters are smaller and have a more minerally flavor. "They tend to taste like falling off your surfboard and getting a mouthful of water," Powell, who prefers to pop those fresh, says. West Coast oysters are plumper and creamier, making them more desirable for the grill. Look for bivalves with deep cups in order to preserve the prized liquor within. Powell is particularly fond of specimens harvested from Oregon's Netarts Bay or Yaquina Bay and Chelsea Gem oysters from the Eld Inlet in Washington.

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Bring the Heat
Grilling oysters is all about speed—the last thing you want is to overcook the things and have them go rubbery. After sourcing the freshest possible, run them under cold water to rinse off any sand or grit. Prep a charcoal grill and once hot, spread the coals to create an even, fiery hot bed. Place the shellfish directly onto the heat. The shells will pop open quickly, and once they do, remove them from the coals immediately in order to remove the top shell. Being careful not to spill the liquid inside, place a spoonful of your desired sauce on top. Place each one back onto the coals just until the sauce bubbles—essentially poaching the oyster as it finishes cooking—remove again and devour. The entire process is over in about five minutes.

Favorite Flavors
When it comes to sauces, Powell likes to mix melted butter with lemon juice, garlic and a little Parmesan cheese. "We call them Redneck Rivieras, because you see them all along the Florida Panhandle," he says. Oysters do well with any type of compound butter though—just take soft butter and mix in anything from citrus and shallots to beer, hot sauce or fresh herbs. "Just think compound butter and go from there," Powell says. "The sky's the limit. I've even done foie gras before." They'll also taste great without a butter bath—sometimes a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon are all you need.

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