Oysters — A Mardi Gras Tradition

Do you celebrate Mardi Gras? If you’re transplanted Louisianan, there’s a good chance that Fat Tuesday is party time for you and your friends.

One of the traditional foods of Mardi Gras is oysters. No matter if they’re on the half shell, in cooked dishes such as oysters Rockefeller, oysters Bienville and the well-know po’ boy, the tiny crustacean is a favorite of people in the Crescent City also known as New Orleans.

I’ve never celebrated Mardi Gras, much less Fat Tuesday, but a couple of recipes that crossed my desk recently have me thinking twice about it. One recipe is for a dip that calls for smoked oysters. I’ve always loved that delicacy ever since the first time my dad shared a can of them with me. The other is for a gratin that also features artichoke hearts.

If you’re interested, my advice is go for it. After all, Wednesday is the beginning of Lent.

Oyster and Artichoke Gratins
1 cup unseasoned fine dry breadcrumbs
1 cup finely chopped fresh, blanched artichoke hearts
¼ cup plus 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon each: Creole seasoning, pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup olive oil
12 shucked oysters
Combine the breadcrumbs, artichokes, ¼ cup of the Parmesan, garlic, parsley, Creole seasoning, pepper, salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a mixing bowl. Thoroughly mix by hand until the mixture resembles graham cracker crumbs, breaking up the artichoke pieces into smaller bits as you mix. Set aside.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a 12-inch skillet over high heat 1 minute; quickly drain the liquor from the oysters (they should still be very wet); add the oysters in a single layer to the skillet. Cook just until the edges curl, about 1 minute. Do not overcook. Divide the oysters among six baking dishes. If there is more than 1 teaspoon or so of oyster liquor in the dishes, drain off the liquid.
Divide the artichoke mixture among the dishes, patting the mixture firmly so all of it will fit. Place dishes on rimmed baking sheets. Bake until the tops are browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven; evenly sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Parmesan on top of each dish. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the top of each, making sure the edges get a few more drops than the rest of the surface. Return the baking sheets to the oven; bake until gratins bubble around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Cool 5 minutes.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 309 calories, 63 percent of calories from fat, 22 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 27 milligrams cholesterol, 16 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 629 milligrams sodium, 1 gram fiber.

Smoked Oyster Dip
4 slices bacon, cooked, crumbled,
2 tablespoons fat reserved
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, diced
1 can smoked oysters, finely chopped, with juice
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ cup each: diced red onions, diced celery, diced yellow bell pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, granulated garlic, hot sauce
Stir bacon, eggs, oysters, mayonnaise, onions, celery, pepper and lemon juice together in a bowl. Add salt, pepper, granulated garlic and hot sauce to taste. Transfer dip to a serving dish, spread so the top is even. Cover, refrigerate 24 hours. Serve chilled with crackers or garlic croutons.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving: 25 calories, 85 percent of calories from fat, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 11 milligrams cholesterol, no carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 33 milligrams sodium, no fiber.

Holiday Oysters

We’re continuing a Christmas tradition today at our house. I fixing baked oysters, a recipe that’s been passed down from my Grandma Menard to my mom to me. Grandma always made the dish at the holidays, usually for dinner on Christmas Day. My mom continued the tradition when Grandma became too old to host the family get-together, which was attended by 20 to 25 relatives each year.

I was thinking about those get-togethers last night when we ran into my Uncle Fritz Menard and two of his boys, Kim and Joe, at the Christmas Eve Mass at the Cathedral in Crookston.

Kim and I compared notes about holiday cooking. He had made a French pot pie earlier in the day and asked what I was cooking. I told him we were having baby back ribs, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes at Mom’s when we got home, and that on Christmas Day, we were having turkey with all the fixings, including baked oysters.

His wife, Annie, said she and Kim could eat an entire 9-by-9-inch pan of the oysters all by themselves. Kim said he was going to make some today when his family gets together in their home in Detroit Lakes, Minn.

Kim isn’t my only cousin who fixes the oyster dish at Christmas. Our cousin, Paul Hendrickson of Anchorage, Alaska, also does. I don’t know about my cousins, but every time we have the oysters, fond memories of my grandma pop into my head.

Holidays are about tradition, but one that hasn’t taken hold in our family is having oyster stew on Christmas Eve. Mom tells me when she was a child, they always had that on Christmas Eve. My great-grandpa, Rudy Burkhardt, who lived with my mom’s family in his later years, really liked were oysters. Mom says he even used to eat them raw on Christmas Eve. I’ll admit to trying oysters that way but much prefer them baked or in a stew.

Here’s a recipe for oyster stew that I may have try. Maybe it can become a family tradition. Also find the baked oyster recipe.

Oyster Stew
6 small to medium oysters, shucked
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pat of butter
Pinch of Old Bay seasoning
2 cups half-and -half or milk
Combine the oysters and their liquor, Worcestershire, seasoning and butter. Simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes. Heat the cream separately. Pour the warmed oysters in a tureen and top with hot cream.
Yield: Serves 1 as meal, 2 as appetizer.

Baked Oysters
1 to 2 pints raw oysters, depending on your taste, reserving juice
1 cup Holland rust crackers
1 cup of butter, softened
2 cups of cracker crumbs
¼ to ½ cup half-and-half
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush crackers and Holland rust. Add butter and mix thoroughly.
Spray a 9-by-9-inch cake pan with Pam or other vegetable oil. Layer the bottom of the pan with half the cracker mixture and then top with oysters. Add remaining cracker mixture.
Pour oyster juice and half and half over ingredients.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 to 60 minutes.

Baked Oysters — A Thanksgiving Tradition

One of the dishes we’ve always had at Thanksgiving since I was a kid is baked oysters. My grandma always served it at the family gathering we had. And then my mom started to make the dish. I’ve continued the tradition, as have several of my cousins.

Some say oysters are an acquired taste. That may be so, but I didn’t hesitate after my first bite of Grandma’s baked oysters. And neither has my family when I’ve made them.

They’re relatively easy to fix, so if you have a hankering today for something new, give the following recipe a try. Also find another recipe for baked oysters, this one from Sara Baer-Sinnott’s book, "The Oldways Table: Essays and Recipes from the Culinary Think Tank."

Baked Oysters
1 quart raw oysters
1 cup Holland rust
1 cup of butter, softened
2 cups of cracker crumbs
¼ to ½ cup cream
Crush crackers and Holland rust and mix with bread crumbs and butter.
Put a layer of mixture on bottom of a 9-by-9-inch cake pan and cover with oysters. Add remaining mixture of crackers and bread crumbs on top of oysters. Pour oyster juice and ¼ to ½ cup of cream over ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes.

Gifford’s Baked Oysters
12 oysters on the half shell
Rock salt
3 slices Canadian bacon
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
½ cup chopped shallots or onions
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the oysters on rock salt in a sheet pan.
Cook the bacon in a small skillet over high heat until the slices are cooked halfway through. Cool and cut each slice into four equal pieces. Set aside.
Mix the butter, shallots and lemon juice together. Spoon the butter mixture on top of each oyster and cover with a piece of bacon. Bake until the bacon turns brown, and the oysters are warm.
Yield: 1 dozen.

Clams on the Half Shell

I’m going out today to eat some fresh clams on the half shell.

April Fool’s.

Actually, I have eaten some clams on the half shell recently, abeit frozen, not fresh. I picked them up at the Hugo’s store in East Grand Forks, after Denny Wynne, the manager of the meat department, pointed them out to me. The clams come from Stavis Seafoods Inc. in Boston.

To prepare the tasty clams, all you need to do is put them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven for 30 minutes at 450 degrees, or microwave them on high for 2 minutes. I preferred the oven method.

Not only does the store have the clams, it also has shrimp, raw oysters in the shell, mussels, scallops, crab cakes and, believe it or not, frog legs.

Denny says he decided to try something different, and the response has been tremendous.

I’m going to pick up a few more of the clams. They cost only about 70 cents apiece, a real bargain. And while I’m at it, some of the other goodies might find their way into my shopping cart for the seafood soup recipe below that looks quite appealing. 

Smokey Tomato and Seafood Soup
8 to 10 ripe plum tomatoes or 1 can (15 ounces) diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large shallots or 1 white onion, finely chopped
1 small leek, trimmed, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, chopped, or 1 bottled roasted red bell pepper, diced
6 large cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 quart vegetable broth
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice or water
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
¾ teaspoon smoked sweet Spanish paprika (pimenton)
1 pound small fresh clams, scrubbed clean, or 1 16-ounce box frozen steamer clams in garlic butter sauce, left frozen
½ pound large (26-30 count) raw shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 pound boneless, skinless fish fillets, such as tilapia, pollock or snapper, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
½ pound bay scallops
Garlic mayo (optional, see recipe below)
Chopped fresh parsley and chives
If using fresh tomatoes, heat the broiler to high; put tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 6 inches from the heat source, turning occasionally, until the skin is lightly charred on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool, peel and chop coarsely, collecting all the juices.
Heat the oil in a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven or deep saucepan. Cook the shallots and leek until soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in the red pepper and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, broth, clam juice, wine, tomato paste, salt and smoked paprika. Simmer 15 minutes. (This base can be refrigerated, covered, up to 3 days. Shortly before serving, heat the tomato mixture to a simmer.)
Add the clams; cook 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and fish; cook 2 minutes. Add the scallops; cook 1 minute more or until all fish is opaque but still tender. Ladle the soup into wide serving bowls. Place a dollop of the garlic mayo into the center. Sprinkle with parsley and chives.
Garlic mayo: Mix 1/3 cup mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice in a small bowl. Use a garlic press to crush in 1 large clove of garlic; mix well. Add a pinch of salt if needed. This can be made up to 1 day in advance; cover and refrigerate.
Yield: Serves 6 (main course).
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 392 calories, 27 percent of calories from fat, 12 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 211 milligrams cholesterol, 20 grams carbohydrates, 51 grams protein, 1,420 milligrams sodium, 3 grams fiber.