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Recipe categories: Appetizers, Fish and shellfish | All categories

Deviled oysters

Deviled oysters
Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

A pristine oyster on the half shell, unadorned, fresh, cold and briny, is a near-perfect thing. A properly shucked littleneck clam, alone, or with a drop or two of lemon and Tabasco, will make you say mmmm, every time.

But just because these shellfish are so good raw doesn't mean we shouldn't cook them too. Properly cooked shellfish is a wonderful thing. The cooking intensifies and transforms the flavor. Oysters especially change completely when cooked, seeming rich and fatty in the best way, while in the raw state they are anything but.

You've got to be careful when cooking either type of shellfish, though. When overcooked, neither is good, so mind the time and temperature.

The initial preparation is the same for raw and cooked. You need to find a good source to buy from and most likely pre-order to get exactly what you want. Clams and oysters will come from the vendor with tags, stating when and where they were harvested. Look for shellfish that has been harvested within the last four or five days.

Once you get them home, keep them refrigerated or on ice in a cooler that has a drain. Keep them covered with wet paper towels, a damp newspaper or seaweed when storing them in the fridge.

Oysters and clams need to be washed well before any type of preparation. I like to place them in a sink with crushed or cubed ice and enough water to nearly cover them. Use a wooden spoon to stir the ice water vigorously for several minutes. The ice will serve as an abrasive, removing most of the sand and debris from the surface of the shells. Any that remains can be removed with a bristle brush.

This process will also deeply chill the shellfish and make them a bit easier to open. You will need a clam knife for the clams and an oyster knife for the oysters. Remember, opening clams and oysters is not a test of strength and actually requires very little physical effort. The best shuckers make it look easy, and it often is, but you will need to do it often to become proficient.

Baked shellfish dishes rely heavily on the freshness of the clams and oysters, so you will need to find the best that you can. Open the clams and oysters just before you are ready to prepare the dish.

Oysters Rockefeller is a recipe that we all know by name. A Rockefeller is basically an oyster topped with spinach that has been cooked down with fennel, Pernod and a bit of cream and butter.

The deviled oysters are even more simple to prepare and equally delicious. Once shucked, the oysters are glazed with sauce, some white bread crumbs and a little butter before being baked. They are finished under the broiler to create a crispy crust. The oysters are garnished with some red jalapeƱo and sliced scallion. Both recipes should be served hot from the oven with shellfish forks. Once you've eaten the oyster from the shell, you'll want to slurp the juice and scrape the crusty bits from the shells.

The baked clam dish relies on the flavor of a compound butter to which you will add bread crumbs and a bit of panko crumbs. You will need to roll out the butter thinly and evenly before placing it in the freezer overnight. Once chilled, the butter is cut into a shape that is similar to the size of the clam. Simply pop the butter on top of the shucked clams, bake for three minutes and then broil them until they are well browned and bubbly.

Eat them immediately and drink the broth from their shells, repeating often. You'll find that a half-dozen or so will do for most people, or you might want to serve them at a cocktail party as passed hors d'oeuvres. Mind your fingers and try to keep the guests out of the kitchen. Go ahead, try.

Total time: 30 minutes, plus cooling time | Makes 24 oysters
  • 2 tablespoons (generous 1 ounce) butter, divided, plus melted butter for drizzling over the oysters before baking
  • Scant 1/4 cup (scant 1 ounce) thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry English mustard powder
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (2 1/2 ounces) white wine
  • Scant 2 1/2 teaspoons (1/3 ounce) fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (1 ounce) Dijon mustard
  • About 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 24 medium oysters, preferably East Coast oysters with a deep cup, such as Naked Cowboys, Malpeque, Beau Soliel or Wellfleet
  • 1/4 cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • 24 slices green onion, green parts only (cut on a bias as thin as you can, hold them in ice water)
  • 24 slices red jalapeno (cut paper thin, hold them in ice water)

Step 1Melt 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter in a small, stainless pan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook them until translucent but without browning, about 3 minutes. Add the mustard powder and cook for an additional minute, then add the white wine and lemon juice, scraping any flavoring from the base of the pan. Reduce the liquid by half. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing the shallots with the back of a spoon or spatula to squeeze out any additional liquid.

Step 2Place the reduction back over medium heat and add the cream. Reduce by almost half, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat. Whisk the Dijon mustard into the reduction, and add the remaining 2 teaspoons butter and salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Strain the sauce once again and cool the sauce in an ice bath if you are not using it immediately. The sauce can be made up to 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated.

Step 3Before finishing the dish, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Shuck the oysters and place them on a bed of rock salt in an oven-proof dish. Be sure the oysters lay flat in the dish so you don't lose any of their liquor. Warm the sauce gently on the stove. (To lighten the consistency of the warm sauce, pulse the sauce with an immersion blender a few times or whisk vigorously before spooning over the oysters.)

Step 4Spoon enough sauce over each oyster to fill the shell completely. Sprinkle each oyster with fresh bread crumbs and then drizzle each oyster with a little melted butter. Bake the oysters for 3 minutes, then finish them under the broiler to brown them. The bread crumbs should be golden brown and the sauce should be bubbling. Top each oyster with a very thin slice of scallion green and a thin slice of red jalapeno. Serve immediately.

Each oyster:
Calories 41; Protein 1 gram; Carbohydrates 2 grams; Fiber 0; Fat 3 grams; Saturated fat 2 grams; Cholesterol 13 mg; Sugar 0; Sodium 63 mg.
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