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"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
Oysters are for the chosen few. Not exactly in the mainstream, they do provoke passion. About as
many love them as flee from their sight. My first oyster encounter was in my
baby days and the first beverage I liked with oysters was beer. Traveling
early on to New Orleans where oysters ruled-raw, baked, in stews or soups-
was a great leap forward to wines as part of the oyster ritual.
Biologists swear that
Oysters are able to change gender. During the early months of life, they
are, I’m told, bisexual. With this first change in season most become male.
After a year, they are predominately female. This parallels wine
progression: fermentation, time in the barrel, bottling, cellaring and
pouring. Pairing wine with oysters is yin with equal parts yang.
New Orleans gourmet Tim
McNally, a stalwart of the New Orleans Food and Wine Festival, hosts a
popular radio broadcast, The Wine Show, a Big Easy staple:
Wine with oysters?
“Of course,” responds McNally,
usual Champagne or high-end American sparkling wine are fantastic. I
have not had such good luck with Cavas paired with raw oysters. A very
crisp white wine like a Muscadet or a Sancerre, works well with really
cold oysters. Even a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But with all of these
wines, the minute you add another flavor or ingredient to the oyster,
then these wines don’t fit.”
For Oysters Rockefeller, McNally advises to
think wine with bubbles. “Oyster Bienville,” he says, “fits
with some red wines. We enjoy char-grilled oysters involving cheese and
garlic sauce, along with that charcoal flavor, one of the new, strong
Oregon Pinot Noirs would work well.”
Louisiana oysters are
larger than most, saltier at times, and fuller flavored than some of the
Northwest or Nova Scotia oysters, which tend to have a higher iodine content
and are smaller. Gulf oysters from Apalachicola, Florida have plenty to
recommend them, and Kumomtos from the Northwest are known by many as the
darling of oysters.
Irish born Master
Sommelier Eoin Connors, an adjunct professor of wine appreciation with the
University of New Haven observes that
Northeast oysters tend to be salty with a steely finish. “Try bone
dry white wines from the Loire in France such as a Muscadet. It has striking
minerality and a flinty taste.” Oysters from the Northwest
are fleshier, creamier and fruitier, he says and pairs with “a dry more
aromatic wine such as a Soave or a dry Riesling from Washington State.”
Jonathan Swift proclaimed
that “He was a bold man that first eat on
oyster.” They don’t call
America the home of the brave for nothing.
Oysters Fonseca Recipe
This recipe has been adapted from The P & J Oyster Cookbook, by Kit Wohl and the Sunseri Family (Pelican Publishing Company, Inc. 2010). This full-flavored
dish from Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House in the French Quarter of New Orleans delivers a nice splash of color and a lot of zesty flavor. Heavy
cream and grated cheese add their richness to a spectacular creation.
Yields: 2 dozen baked oysters
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 20 min
fresh (live) oysters with bottom shells reserved
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 red sweet peppers, cored and minced
chile pepper, seeded and minced
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped tasso ham*
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely diced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons dry white
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup oyster juices (the liquor)
2 tablespoons heavy
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly-ground
black pepper, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
2 cups French
* Tasso ham is a heavily-smoked ham with a spicy,
peppery rind. It's often used in Cajun dishes. If you can't find this ham, substitute smoked ham or Canadian bacon.
** Check out
Making Homemade Bread Crumbs.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Remove the fresh-shucked oysters from their shells and set aside. Learn how to
How To Shuck Oysters.
Strain the oyster juices (the “liquor”) into a measuring cup to remove grit. Reserve 1/4 cup of the liquor
and refrigerate or freeze the remainder for future use. Scrub the oyster bottom shells clean under running water; set aside. Place the
cleaned oyster shells on oven-proof baking pans or rimmed baking sheets; set aside.
In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat the butter, being careful not to let it brown. Add the
sweet red pepper, red onion, and jalapeno chile pepper; sauté until the vegetables until are softened.
Add the tasso ham and sauté to heat thoroughly.
Add the tomatoes and cook until they start to break down a bit, then stir in the
thyme. Add the white wine, and stir to deglaze the pan.
Add the flour and mix well to incorporate, then reduce the heat to medium and cook
and stir for about 5 minutes.
Add the 1/4 cup of oyster liquor and the cream; mix everything together again until smooth. Fold in the cheese. Season the
mixture with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste. Remove the filling from the heat and allow to cool.
Place one (1) fresh oyster on each bottom shell on the half-shell tray. Using a spoon or piping bag, top each oyster with some of the vegetable/ham mixture and sprinkle each with some of
the bread crumbs.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the bread crumbs begin to brown and the oysters are bubbly. Remove from the oven and serve
immediately, taking care not to burn yourself when transferring the hot
shells to the serving plates.
Presentation Suggestion: At Bourbon House,
they serve the Oysters Fonseca on a bed of rock salt mixed with dried chili
peppers and black peppercorns in French roasting pans.
YIELD: 4 servings
Doc's Pairing Tip: A crisp, light, sparkling Italian Prosecco, or reach for
a bolder taste in a big Italian red.
Doc Lawrence is a veteran food and
wine journalist based in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. Doc Lawrence
writes and lectures regularly about subjects in which he is a recognized
and acknowledged expert - wine and food, theater, travel and cultural
tourism, visual art and music. His works have
earned praise from many editors and publishers. Check out
Living Better in Today's South
by Doc Lawrence.
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