Consider the Oyster

February 12, 2013

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image by Todd Coleman.

We have a little fishmonger whose ramshackle shop, just down the street from our house, is situated in one of the Intracoastal Waterway inlets that creep through our village. It’s called Grant’s Oyster House, and although I hear Grant hasn’t been around for a few generations, it’s as authentic a coastal establishment as you’ll ever find.

The distinctly fishy smell greets you the minute you turn into the drive, which is always full of fishermen and their trucks. Grant’s is the place to find local celebrities, crabs, clams, profound amounts of shrimp, a small population of cats on the prowl, and a sign that warns you not to feed the alligators. But mostly, Grant’s has oysters.

We go to Grant’s all the time. It’s here we learned what a bushel and a peck actually mean (we were still just singing ‘and a hug around the neck’) and that transporting a decent amount of oysters for more than a minute leaves your car smelling like you, too, might be in the fish business. And in our own way, we are. The oyster business, at least.

We’ll eat oysters all day long. We love our oysters raw. We love them broiled just enough to pop the shell. We love them served with lemon, cocktail sauce, and a saltine cracker. Or Rockefeller, casino, fried (like the one above), Mobile style, rolled into a loaf, baked into stuffing, served in a po’ boy, tossed into a salad… we’ve yet to meet an oyster we didn’t like.

Some people save their oyster consumption for the warmer months, but for those of you digging your way out of another snowmegeddon or just trying to warm up from a lighter February chill, there’s nothing better than oyster stew. A rich, creamy broth to compliment the silky brine of the oyster is a match made in culinary heaven, and it’s the perfect Valentine’s meal. It hits the spot for a winter meal and warms you up, and your other half can spend the meal dreamily wondering about the rumored aphrodisiac side-effects. (Personally, I think there’s no better love-potion food than one made by your partner for you as a special treat. In that context, even macaroni is an aphrodisiac.)

I swear by this recipe, which combines the perfect oyster, heavy cream, brie cheese, and just enough sherry to spirit you away to the blissful land of the well-fed, sated, and happy. It’s terrific with some crusty bread and a chilled white — or even chilled water — and while it’s not particularly fancy, it’s a perfect expression of love.

Because it warms my belly and my heart, I’ll be eating oyster stew on Valentine’s! What are you planning for Valentine’s dinner? Are you making anything special or just something simple?

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Consider the Oyster
February 12, 2013 at 11:45 am

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Martha February 12, 2013 at 7:50 am

Mmmm…I’m just getting off a night shift and oysters sound so good – I haven’t had them fried but that looks delicious. Oddly enough the TV news also just announced the White House is serving oyster and artichoke soup today. I think the universe is telling me something!

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2 Raleigh-Elizabeth February 12, 2013 at 9:22 am

oooh, oyster and artichoke soup! clearly i’m eating at the wrong place!

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3 Sandi February 12, 2013 at 8:05 am

When I saw that you had mentioned the Intracoastal Waterway I looked up Grant’s Oyster House…although I live in Maine now, I spent the better part of my life in NC. Wrightsville Beach is my absolute favorite beach of all time (even above the beaches of Hawaii!) and I’ve spent many pleasant summer weekends there…but I am a little horrified to learn that during all those pleasant summer weekends I was in such close proximity to alligators. :0

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4 Raleigh-Elizabeth February 12, 2013 at 9:23 am

Sandi, I feel the same way. Between the sharks and the alligators, I try not to go into cardiac arrest every minute of every day all summer long. But even fears can’t get the best of a beautiful day on the coast of Carolina! W’ville Beach is one of our favorites, too. The waters are just so perfect.

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5 Sandi February 12, 2013 at 8:08 am

PS – I forgot to mention that I can personally attest to the highly potent aphrodisiacal qualities of steamed oysters. :D

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6 Jen February 12, 2013 at 8:11 am

Island Creek Oysters are some of the best anywhere — and they ship! http://shop.islandcreekoysters.com/

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7 Raleigh-Elizabeth February 12, 2013 at 9:24 am

Jen, what makes them the best for you? I LOVE the wide variety of oysters we have here in America from our coasts… but I admit to being completely partial to what’s local!

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8 And-a-barrel-and-a-heap February 12, 2013 at 9:27 am

Drooling. Am positively drooling. What an absolutely splendid idea for Valentine’s treat!

Now, what shall I pair with this oyster delight besides a crusty bread and white wine? Ideas, anybody?

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9 Raleigh-Elizabeth February 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

So you love the song, too! I usually serve this with roasted brussels and caramelized onions, but a light salad might be a completely perfect counterbalance.

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10 Rosemary February 12, 2013 at 9:47 am

Oysters are delicious treats I never eat enough of. I think I’m going to try that recipe you linked to soon. Sounds amazing.

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11 Raleigh-Elizabeth February 12, 2013 at 9:48 am

We’ve tried a bunch of different oyster stew recipes, and this is the one we keep coming back to. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

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12 Lauren February 12, 2013 at 10:54 am

I think we’ll be picking up dinner from Whole Foods and taking a break from cooking, but we did talk about making eggs benedict, california style (recipe here: http://plumfieldshop.blogspot.com/2012/08/food-thoughts.html) , which is one of our favorite meals at any time of day or year : )

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13 Raleigh-Elizabeth February 12, 2013 at 11:18 am

Lauren, that looks so delicious! I make my eggs benedict not too differently – but with avocado and tomato in the place of the ham/bacon and keeping the (insanely delicious, carb-hording) english muffin.

I hope you two have a very romantic evening and enjoy your break from cooking : )

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14 Lauren February 12, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Ha- yes I miss the english muffin, but have been on a gluten free diet for awhile now. The avacado and tomato are great substitutes though!

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15 Angel February 12, 2013 at 11:28 am

I love fried oysters. I just read a scary article about vibriosis, an incredibly rare but extremely deadly food borne pathogen carried by oysters. I’m not going to eat raw oysters anymore.

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16 Sarah February 12, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I love that you’ve channeled MFK Fisher here. And oysters are my favorite seafood, hands down. I love to sit at the counter at Grand Central’s Oyster Bar and watch the countermen put together their pan-roasts. Brussels sprouts and caramelized onions? Be still my heart.

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17 Miggy February 12, 2013 at 4:05 pm

My love of oyster stew goes back to when I was about 4 or 5 years old and found my grandparents and great-grandparents sitting around the table eating this odd looking soup. I tried it and didn’t exactly like it, but didn’t exactly dis-like it. Over the years I learned to love it. BUT, my grandparents version is definitely a poor-man’s oyster stew. The ingredients are this: 1 can oysters, some butter, and milk. You separate the oyster liquid from the oysters at the beginning, but add most of it back it. And of course some saltines to eat this with…

I’m notorious for this dish–I’ve been made fun of for making and eating this since high school. No one in my family (past or present) besides my grandparents can even stand the smell. Friend, boyfriends and roommates have also shaken their heads in amazement that I eat this…but I love it. That being said, I’ve often wanted to try my hand at a ‘fancy’ version… so I may have to give this a whirl! :)

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18 Raleigh-Elizabeth February 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm

First of all, Miggy, I have to tell you that I double-take whenever you comment because Miggy is what we call my mother! Second, is it a sign of my oyster addiction that the soup you describe sounds totally good to me? Admittedly, the sherry and brie and heavy cream in the one we make definitely elevates it from poor-man’s-soup to we’re-so-impressive stew, but an oyster is an oyster and delicious is delicious. Let me know how it goes! I hope you like it as much as we do!

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19 Stefanie February 13, 2013 at 8:20 am

In France, we eat our oysters raw with a mignonette sauce of minced, raw shallots, red wine vinegar and cracked pepper and oysters. My coastal husband refuses to eat oysters othre than in the months with R in the name – so no oysters in the summer when they are “laiteuse” – meaning milky or in their reproduction period.

He tried fried oysters when we were in the panhandle last year and thought it was blasphemy! I prefer them raw too but like the warm, salty taste when you bite into a fried one.

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20 Raleigh-Elizabeth February 13, 2013 at 8:37 am

we, too, avoid them in the ‘r’ months – but i’ll admit, by the end of july, we usually start cheating and order a dozen now and then : ) i LOVE a good fried oyster (ruth reichl describes what might be the best fried oyster recipe ever in her memoir ‘comfort me with apples’) but if i have both options on the table, i’m going to opt for raw with mignonette sauce, too!

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21 Christine April 5, 2013 at 10:36 pm

How long has Grants been there? I lived on N. Topsail about five years ago, and I wish I’d known about it! Though not exactly my favorite duty station, I do miss the deserted beaches in the Spring and Fall. Are the green turtle and riverview cafe still there?

I’m planning on trying the oyster stew this weekend — I recently moved to an oyster Mecca in California and am embarrassed to admit I have not taken advantage of the local fare. Time to remedy that!

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