Somehow, I managed to live my life for 43 years without eating smoked oysters. When I finally did try them, they blew my mind.
For many years, I’ve pondered the existence of canned oysters while passing through the canned seafood aisle at the supermarket. I rarely buy canned seafood, but nonetheless I am always intrigued by these supermarket oddities. Canned chub mackerel? Really? Sounds gross. Canned clam sauce? Nope. Gefilte fish? What the heck is that? There’s no such thing as a gefilte fish! And canned tuna…don’t get me started. The smell alone gives me the heebie-jeebies.
But, luckily, I live near the sea so I don’t depend on the supermarket when I’m in the mood for seafood. The town I live in has a very well-run shellfish propagation program, and quahogs and oysters are abundant. When oyster season open is October, they become a staple in my diet. I’ve experimented with a bunch of recipes and preparations, and perhaps my favorite, is smoking them.
Sweet, salty, smoky, and chewy, smoked oysters are a unique food packed with a distinctive, intense and delectable flavor. Making your own is indeed harder than buying one of those dusty cans at the supermarket, but it’s well worth the effort.
Traditional Smoked Oysters
The first step is to brine your shucked oysters. Some recipes call for brining overnight, while others require only an hour. I brine my oysters for two to three hours, which imparted plenty of flavor. I use the same brine recipe that I use for smoked fish.
- 1 quart water
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 8 oz. can pineapple juice
Mix well in a large bowl until the salt and sugar is dissolved. Add shucked oysters and refrigerate. Meanwhile, fire up your smoker. I prefer apple wood chips for smoking seafood, but any other hardwood fruit tree will work fine, even hickory, but avoid mesquite because it will overpower the oysters.
Drain the oysters and arrange them on a perforated pizza pan, or devise some other way to keep them from falling through the crates. Just make sure they can drain and get good circulation. Smoke on low heat (225 degrees) and check on them after about a half hour. If necessary, rotate the pan around to ensure they cook evenly. Check for doneness every 10 minutes, continuing to rotate them. Total cooking time can vary depending on conditions. 45 minute to an hour should do the trick.
Allow the oysters to cool and then place them in a jar and cover with olive oil. They will be delicious right away, but over time, their flavor will seep into the oil and intensify its flavor. (You can store them in your refrigerator for several weeks.) Many folks like to eat them right out of the jar on top of crackers. I can attest that they are mighty fine eaten with good-quality toasted bread, which you should dip into the oil. There are dozens of recipes you can use them in, such as adding them to a chowder or tossing them in some pasta. If you really want to get crazy, make a smoked oyster pizza.
I’m a long-time fan of combining oysters and tarragon because they go together like peanut butter and jelly. But, when you add an essence of smoke, the result is a culinary masterpiece.
Smoked Oyster Pizza with Mushrooms & Tarragon
- 1 pizza crust (your choice)
- 1 part gruyere cheese
- 1 part mozzarella cheese
- 1 part cheddar cheese
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- Portabella mushrooms, sliced
- 1 bunch fresh tarragon, chopped
- 1 shallot, diced
- Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grate the cheese (except the Parmesan) and mix together. Top your pizza crust with a layer of cheese, layer on the shallot and mushrooms, then another layer of cheese. Bake on the top rack for about 10 minutes, then remove it and add the smoked oysters and a liberal douse of tarragon. Sprinkle with Parmesan and return to the oven for another 3 or 4 minutes, until the top just starts to brown. Remove and give the pie a light sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. So good!
I developed the following recipe several years ago. If I ever compete on one of those cooking shows where you need to dazzle celebrity chefs, this will be my dish. It has become, hands down, my favorite oyster recipe.
As proud as I am of this recipe, I’m equally as proud to have invented the word “Crostéido” to describe these fabulous and delectable little morsels from heaven.
Smoked Oysters & Brie Cheese Crostéidos
- 12 smoked oysters
- 12 thin (3/8-inch) slices of baguette
- 3 tablespoons diced fresh tarragon
- 12 pieces of brie cheese
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet, brush them with oil, and then flip. Top each with a slice of brie, and toast in a 350-degree oven for about 6 minutes. Remove from oven and top them off with a smoked oyster. Toast for another 3 minutes until they just begin to brown and the cheese is melted. Remove to a platter and sprinkle on the tarragon. Finish them off with a drizzle of olive oil and the finest balsamic vinegar you have on hand. Trust me on this one… to die for!