"There is no pleasanter frolic for an autumn evening, in the regions where oysters are plentiful, than an impromptu 'roast' in the kitchen," M. F. K. Fisher quotes fellow oyster lover Marion Harland in her love letter to the seasonal shellfish, Consider the Oyster.
Yes, indeed. So instead of slurping the briny mollusks raw as the weather turns colder, in this final month that ends in the all-important "R" (if you follow that sort of thing), toss those beautiful bivalves into the oven à la Boston chef Jeremy Sewall.
Sewall, the chef behind Island Creek Oyster Bar, Lineage and Row 34, recently came to Tasting Table's Test Kitchen to show us how to make baked Oysters Gregory (see the recipe), a not-so-distant cousin of oysters Rockefeller.
"Oysters have all summer to get plump, fat and strong, and by fall, the water is still warm enough for them to grow," Sewall explains as he shucks one of the Island Creek oysters he brought in a little cooler. "Now, they're really salty and briny, and when you add sweet, salt and crunch, it really brings out the oyster."
Sewall goes through about 3,000 oysters a day at his restaurants. Oysters Gregory, his salt-baked oysters topped with bacon- and leek-studded bread crumbs, first appeared five years ago as a birthday present to Island Creek Oyster Bar co-owner Shore Gregory when the restaurant first opened. These days, as the seasons come and go, so does the dish, but it's back, at least in recipe form, in Sewall's new cookbook, The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes (Rizzoli, $40).
"I'm just trying to tell the story of a really iconic part of America," Sewall explains as he toasts the bread crumbs in bacon fat, tossing in charred leeks and slivers of tarragon. "There's no other region identified by its seasons as much as New England."
He mounds slopes of kosher salt on a baking tray and nestles the fully dressed oysters on each peak. Then, into the oven they go for a short bit, filling the entire room with the scent of nutty, toasty bacon fat.
"I love cooking with oysters in the cooler months," Sewall says. "They're big and meaty and still have that great soft texture and salty flavor."
The timer goes off, and out come the oysters, still smelling delightful and crowned with crunchy golden brown crumbs. An impromptu roast has never looked so pretty.