With such a hot summer here in British Columbia, it's not surprising that there are concerns about eating raw oysters, which can cause illness when they've got high levels of a naturally occuring bacterium that thrives in warm waters.
As a gesture of good will to BC's oyster farmers, and a celbration of the delicious bivalves they produce, here are a couple of my favourite ways to grill oysters. If you can't eat 'em raw, eat 'em like this and support your local growers!
Grilled Oysters with Orange-Walnut Vinaigrette
Makes 4 – 6 appetizer-sized portions
My friend Kosta the fishmonger suggested this flavor combination to me, and when I tried it out I was astonished at how well the light, refreshing vinaigrette complemented the robust flavor of the grilled oysters.
3 Tbsp | 45 mL French toasted walnut oil
1 Tbsp | 15 mL rice vinegar or champagne vinegar
1 tsp | 5 mL finely grated orange zest
1 tsp | 15 mL maple syrup
1 pint | 500 mL container of large, fresh, shucked oysters
(about a dozen oysters)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
neutral-flavored oil like canola or corn oil
1 orange, cut into wedges
Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the walnut oil, vinegar, orange zest and maple syrup. Set the mixture aside.
Drain the oysters and pat them dry with paper towels. Put them on a baking sheet and set them aside.
Prepare your grill for direct high heat, making sure the cooking grate is thoroughly scraped. Season the oysters with salt and pepper and drizzle them with a light coating of oil. Just before you put the oysters on the hot grill, oil it using a paper towel dipped in some oil. Carefully place the oysters on the cooking grate, making sure they don’t fall through. Grill them for a couple of minutes per side or until the’re just cooked through and the outside edges are a bit charred. Transfer the oysters to serving plates, top with a drizzle of the vinaigrette and garnish with orange wedges.
Oysters Grilled in the Shell
Beach-grown West Coast oysters usually come pre-shucked in tubs, and they’re great smoked or grilled. If you can find them live, in their shells, it’s a huge treat. I’m lucky enough to have a friend, Eric Giesbrecht, who is chef/owner/oysterman of Meta4 Foods, a distributor of premium Canadian shellfish based in Calgary. I asked him to teach me the secrets of grilling oysters in the shell and I thank him for the following guide.
- Use large West Coast beach oysters for the best results. Ask your fishmonger for Royal Miagis (Eric gets his from one of BC’s most famous oystermen, Brent Petkau, of Marina Island).
- Prepare your grill for medium direct heat. (“A sliver past medium on your BBQ gas dial,” says Eric.)
- Rinse the oysters of any extraneous material such as loose barnacles, rocks, sand, or any other hangers-on.
- Put the oysters, “cup side” up, on the cooking grate. This will help ensure that you don’t lose any of the precious liquor, in which the oysters will slowly poach as they heat up.
- Grill the oysters for 5 or 6 minutes. You can tell when they’re done when the top shell starts to lift and the nectar begins to spill out. “Be careful not to let the oysters dry out completely in the shell as they will quickly stick and burn,” says Eric. “Once you see the shells separate, take a look inside one of the pieces and see how much the oyster has shrunk by. The flesh of the oyster should be taut and shrunken in size by around half—err on the side of under-done if you are unsure.”
- Remove the oysters from the grill and shuck them. If you just try to pull the shells apart, you’ll risk getting unappetizing broken bits of shell in the oysters. Eric recommends using an oyster shucking knife or paring knife to separate the top and bottom shells, cut the muscle attaching the oyster to the shell, and lift the flesh out. Some restaurants like to serve them, cooked and in the shell with a little sauce spooned in, leaving it to their guests to do the shucking.
- Sauce them and serve. Eric shared a few of his favorite sauces, which I now share with you:
Verde - Use a fist full of fresh herbs pounded to a pulpy paste with a mortar and pestle, adding some nice olive oil, a clove of garlic, a minced shallot, the zest and juice of one lime (or lemon), some coarse sea salt, and black peppercorns. “Any delicate leafy herb will do,” says Eric, “but my favourite combo of late has been tarragon and mint. Kick this one out of the known galaxy by adding freshly grated Parmesan cheese.”
Compound butter - Mix ½ lb | 250 g of softened butter with 1-2 Tbsp | 15-30 mL of smoked paprika, a pinch of chili flakes, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 Tbsp | 15 mL of liquid honey, one clove of crushed garlic, and some chopped parsley for color.
Gratin – Eric likes to transfer the grilled oysters onto an oiled sheet pan, plane off slices of Gruyere, Comté, or Appenzeller cheese on top of the oysters and place the sheet pan back onto the grill. “Close the lid until the cheese is melted and unbearably sexy,” he says. “Top with sliced chives or scallions for contrasting garnish.”
Other sauce ideas: Garlic butter, hollandaise or béarnaise sauce, BBQ sauce and cheddar cheese, a simple squeeze of lemon and slop of olive oil, vegetable puree (such as one made from celery root, cauliflower, or turnip). “You can go many places with these—the cooked oyster is very friendly with many, many varieties of accompaniment,” says Eric. “Go for it.”