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Roasted Rappahannock River Oysters
Recipe adapted from Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY
Yield: 24 oysters
Cook Time: 25 minutes, plus overnight chilling
¾ cup granulated sugar
1⅓ cups water, divided
1 tablespoon agar-agar flakes
1 cup cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons bourbon
½ teaspoon fresh lime juice
24 oysters (preferably from the mid-Atlantic such as Rappahannock River oysters)
Rock salt (optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped aged country ham
Zest of 1 lemon
1. Make the cilantro pudding: In a covered container, shake the sugar and 1 cup of the water together until the sugar dissolves. Pour the sugar mixture into a small saucepan and set over high heat. Add the remaining ⅓ cup of the water and the agar-agar and bring to a boil, whisking often to dissolve the agar-agar. Turn off the heat and pour the agar mixture into a shallow heat-safe container or baking dish to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. Once the mixture is set, unmold and cut it into small pieces. Place the pieces in a blender jar, add the cilantro and blend until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is time to serve.
2. Make the brown butter: In a small saucepan set over medium heat, add the butter and cook until it melts and begins to foam, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and continue to cook until the butter begins to turn brown and smells nutty, about 5 minutes more. Turn off the heat and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to work the browned bits into the butter. Slowly add the bourbon to the butter, stir in the lime juice and set aside.
3. Make the oysters: Place a large cast-iron skillet in the oven and preheat the oven to 450°. Once the pan is hot, carefully remove it from the oven and place the oysters in the pan, rounded side of the shell down. Return the pan to the oven and bake until a small amount of oyster juice begins to bubble out of the shells, 4 to 6 minutes.
4. Rewarm the brown butter over low heat if necessary. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully shuck the warm oysters. To serve, place them on the half shell on a bed of rock salt (if using). Top each oyster with a dollop of cilantro pudding, a bit of country ham and lemon zest. Finish with warm brown butter and garnish with cilantro. Serve warm.