As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans. ~ Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
You may be wondering why things have been a little quiet here lately. If you don’t know where we are or you don’t see our posts on Facebook chronicling our gastronomic odyssey, Mr. B and I have been on an extended trip to Charleston, South Carolina for work. This is always one of our favorite places to visit and while it has been quite busy since arriving (the reason for no recent posts), I can’t wait to pull together a recap and share some of our food and travel adventures with you very soon.
While we are still in Charleston, I would like to share with you a Lowcountry tradition, the oyster roast. Last spring, when we visited Kiawah Island Golf Resort, the former executive chef of The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, Robert Wysong, prepared a very special breakfast for us by the beach.
Our meeting with Chef Wysong was scheduled for mid-morning and was prior to having anything else on my stomach beyond a cup or two of joe. Not a huge fan of oysters since a bad experience in my college years, I was suddenly panicked, reliving memories of the slippery, slimy, little buggars chased down with ice cold beer at my summer job waiting tables at a restaurant in Ocean City, Maryland. I had not slurped down any of these sea creatures since then and I was now faced with eating them…for breakfast. While I could not think of anything worse than a few raw oysters doing cartwheels in my empty belly without another bit of food to cushion the blow, I certainly wasn’t going to insult the chef.
Chef Wysong told us that when he first moved to South Carolina, he noticed almost everyone had fire pits in their yards. Not knowing what they were, he quickly discovered that oyster roasts were a long standing tradition along the South Carolina coast. Throughout the year, there are many oyster festivals and roasts in and around Charleston and this region. Kiawah Island also hosts an oyster roast every Monday evening, in season, at Mingo Point. With all of this history and tradition surrounding the oysters, how could I not partake in a local specialty and just slurp down a few of these bad boys?! Breakfast or not.
Chef Wysong demonstrated how to roast the oysters, which is quite simple to do. He first washed the oysters and then placed them on an iron plate over a hot fire pit and covered them with a damp burlap sack (from a grain, feed, or coffee bag so that it is not chemically treated burlap fabric). Chef doused the oysters liberally with a local beer, Palmetto Amber, to create the steam and to impart a bit of the beer flavor. He then placed ice cubes on top of the burlap to hold in the moisture and create more steam. You can add more beer, as desired, although the beer seems to evaporate more than it adds flavor, so maybe you should drink the beer instead and use more ice. I’m just sayin’.
This whole process takes about eight to ten minutes. You may notice that the oyster shells begin to open slightly and that is when they are done. Cool them down until you can handle the shells to shuck the oysters. There you have it. Warm, briny, and ever so succulent barely cooked oysters. Be sure not to lose the oyster liquor as you open them because it is filled with the flavors of the sea.
Freshly prepared cocktail sauce mixed with a bit of Siracha and Tabasco added just the right amount of heat. With a splash of fresh lemon juice and their own liquor, these oysters slid right down into my empty belly like buttah. Over and over again. And at that moment, my new found love affair with oysters began and continues to this day.
We prepared our own oyster roast at home on our Weber grill using a heavy stainless steel plate (any piece of sturdy metal or steel will work). We used an old coffee burlap sack to cover the oysters and hold in the moisture from the ice. We also added Abita Amber (which is similar to Palmetto Amber) to add a little flavor and then drank the rest.
So, you can probably guess what I have been ordering and enjoying our entire two and half weeks in Charleston. Oysters. Any way I can find them. Kind of like Bubba Gump Shrimp. I have consumed: raw and shucked oysters at Gourmet & Grapes on Kiawah Island; Sashimi Tuna and Oysters with Ginger-Garlic Glaze and Pineapple Wasabi (Chef Craig Deihl at Cypress); Crispy Oysters with Beef Tartare (Chef Mike Lata at The Ordinary); Fire Roasted Caper’s Blade Oysters with Meyer Lemon Butter and Herbed Lusk Lardo (Chef Sean Brock at Husk); Oysters Bull’s Bay with Spinach, Asiago cheese, Garlic, and Brandy (Chef Nate Thurston at Stars); and Fried with Buckley’s Sausage and Grits (Chefs Robert Carter and Christian Watson at Carter’s Kitchen).
You might also remember that I created a recipe for Southern Fellas (my riff on Oysters Rockefeller) with Rappahanock River Oysters for the Charleston Wine & Food Festival’s Lambs & Clams Recipe Contest. These were excellent prepared with cooked collard greens, a bit of cream, Benton’s bacon, cornbread crumbs, and Parmesan cheese.
Oysters. Shuck them, enjoy them with a crisp white wine or a cold beer, and make plans to come to the South Carolina coast. It is a very special place that will remain in your heart forever.