Sunday, February 5, 2012

Virginia Willis: Apalachicola Oysters with Sauce Mignonette

(Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.)

Most oysters are farmed, but Apalachicola oysters are harvested from some of the only wild oyster beds left in American waters, near Apalachicola, Florida. This area of the Gulf of Mexico is known as Florida’s “Forgotten Coast.” For generations, residents of the Florida panhandle have made their livelihood working the Apalachicola Bay and surrounding waters. The area’s real claim to fame may be oysters, but every Southerner should raise a chilled glass of sweet tea to Dr. John Gorrie. The kind doctor thought Apalachicola summers were too hot for his patients and was a pioneer in the invention of the artificial manufacture of ice, refrigeration, and air-conditioning (he was granted a patent in 1851 for the first ice maker).

This simple, peppery, vinegar sauce is a classic French accompaniment to freshly shucked oysters.

Makes 12 and serves 1 to 2 as a first course

1/2 cup best-quality white or red wine vinegar
1 small shallot, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt
12 fresh oysters

In a bowl, combine the vinegar, shallot, pepper, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt; set aside.

To shuck the oysters, using a towel, hold an oyster flat on the work surface, flat shell up. Insert the tip of an oyster knife into the hinge and twist to open it. Slide the knife along the inside of the upper shell to free the oyster from the shell; discard the upper shell. Slide the knife under the oyster to free it from the lower shell, but leave it in the shell.

Arrange the shucked oysters on two serving plates, preferably oyster plates with wells. If you are using regular plates, cover them with rock salt or fresh seaweed, sometimes available at the fishmonger, to create a nest for the oysters so they don’t tip over. Spoon a teaspoon of sauce over each oyster and serve immediately.

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