Thursday, January 27, 2011

Grilled oysters and clams

I love oysters. I've enjoyed them Rockefeller'd in New York, slurpled them raw with a spash of local hot sauce in Houma, La., and devoured them fried to melting perfection at the Carolina coast. I've even lightly breaded and fried them at home with reasonable success.

I have not, however, ever cooked them from scratch -- that is to say, still tucked inside their rock-hard shells. Technically, I still haven't, since Tim wisely consulted James Peterson's Fish & Shellfish and grilled the ones we had for dinner.

We knew we'd be dining well tonight because oysters and clams were the promised fresh catch from Walking Fish CSA, which makes weekly deliveries from Beaufort to Durham to its appreciative members. While it seems obvious now, we had not anticipated that the oysters would arrive unshucked.

Grilling oysters is a bit trickier than grilling clams, which yield luxuriously and reveal a shiny puddle of briny juice in a matter of minutes; lift them gingerly to a serving bowl avoid sloshing these salty droplets, which add welcome brio to pasta or rice. According to Peterson, oysters will be done after about three minutes, when their lids loosen enough to easily pull off.

Unlike clams, it is not obvious when oysters give in to the grill, so you have to trust that they have in fact steamed in their own juice. Some needed to be tweaked open with the tip of a sharp knife -- one actually required a few robust whacks with a table knife -- but most did indeed open as predicted. While a dip in creamy basil mustard was tasty, these plump bites really needed no adornment short of a light squirt of lemon.

We served the oysters and clams atop an absorbant bed of bulgur pilaf with sauteed shallot and asparagus.

2 cups water or chicken stock (or mix)
1 cup dry bulgur pilaf, or medium bulgur
1 shallot, minced
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 lime
drizzle of Persian lime oil (or olive oil with lime zest)
salt, pepper

Bring water or stock to boil with a generous pinch of salt; add bulgur and stir to combine. Reduce heat and cook covered 10-15 minutes until liquid is absorbed and pilaf is fluffy. Remove from heat and keep covered.

Meanwhile, saute shallot in olive oil over medium heat 2 minutes, then add tomato paste and stir well. Add asparagus, salt and pepper, and cook over low flame about 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

Turn pilaf into large bowl; add asparagus mix and toss to combine. Adust seasonings (it needed a fair amount of salt) then transfer to serving dish and drizzle with lime oil.

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