One of Valentine’s Day’s enduring customs is to launch the annual Feast of Love with a dozen raw oysters on the half shell washed down with a chilled bottle of bubbly. The briny bivalves have long enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Most of us indulge our love of oysters at a restaurant, if only because we’re daunted by the prospect of buying, shucking and serving the little devils at home. But it’s not nearly as complicated as rumored. And it’s certainly much more affordable to undertake this operation at home.
Oysters are more popular than ever these days. There are abundant varieties available from coast to coast, almost all of them sustainably farmed. Ideally, you’ll buy your oysters at a seafood market with a high turnover. But if you’re land-locked, don’t worry. There are plenty of good sources online and the little fellers don’t suffer when they’re shipped.
What do you look for when buying oysters? Heft. A heavy oyster is one that is fresh, plump and juicy, and it hasn’t been sitting around for too long. The shells must be tightly closed; an open oyster is a dead oyster. Buy your oysters right before you head for home, and if that’s not possible, ask for a bag of ice to keep them cool during the journey. The oyster needs to breathe, so be sure that the fishmonger has punched a few holes in the bag holding the oysters.
Once you get them home, take the oysters out of the bag and store them in the coolest part of the refrigerator with the curved shells face down in a bowl covered with a wet towel. When the moment has come to shuck the oysters, which should be shortly before you’re ready to serve them, pull out your tools: an oyster knife and a thick kitchen towel or two. Also, pull out a platter and line it with crushed ice. (I simply pulse some ice cubes in the food processor, but fresh snow works well, too.)
Briefly rinse and scrub the oysters, then shuck them. Make sure to keep your non shucking hand covered in the kitchen towel at all times; it’s easy to slip and cut yourself.
If your supermarket does not sell fresh horseradish, you can substitute bottled horseradish. Just omit the vinegar called for in the recipe. Combine the bottled horseradish with the remaining ingredients and stir well.
3 tablespoons finely grated fresh horseradish
3 tablespoons white vinegar
Pinch kosher salt
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup Heinz Chili Sauce (or similar brand)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce, to taste (optional)
In a small bowl, let the grated horseradish stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and the salt, then add the ketchup, chili sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce, to taste. Stir well. Makes about 1 cup.
Per tablespoon: 20 calories; 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 0 percent calories from fat); 4 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 170 mg sodium; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber.
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper
1/2 cup red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, Champagne vinegar or cider vinegar
Hefty pinch kosher salt
Hefty pinch sugar
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and stir well. Cover and chill for 30 minutes before using. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Per tablespoon: 5 calories; 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 0 percent calories from fat); 1 g carbohydrates; 0 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 30 mg sodium; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber.
Ginger Wasabi Sauce
If you have prepared wasabi in a tube, you can substitute that for the powdered mixed with water.
2 teaspoons wasabi powder
2 teaspoons warm water
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
In a small bowl, combine the wasabi and water. Mix well, then let stand for 5 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of the vinegar and whisk until the wasabi paste is thinned and smooth. Add the remaining vinegar, the shallots, ginger and a hefty pinch of salt. Serve right away. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Per tablespoon: 25 calories; 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 0 percent calories from fat); 5 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 260 mg sodium; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber.
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