Thursday, November 22, 2012

the James Beard Project :: Oysters

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When Chef Alex and I were initially reading the Essential JAMES BEARD Cookbook, it was hard for us to choose only one recipe to bring to you, so we agreed to do episodes of recipes.  Last time, Alex prepared Coq au Vin, which by its design was very complex.



This time around we knew that we wanted to work with oysters, but where to start and where to end?  It is easy when dealing with some ingredients to let your mind wander, and suddenly one dish, as simple as a plate of freshly shucked oysters, turns into five or even six dishes.   

For many people, oysters are viewed as untouchable in the home kitchen, but James Beard and Chef Alex Young would disagree.  Often you can find oysters on restaurant menus, but after this instruction you should be encouraged to experiment at home.  Branch out: get a sack of oysters from your seafood market and start playing.



Oysters in their raw state are a succulent luxurious treat.   Raw oysters glistening with the briny sea make quite a sensual impression. M.K.Fisher referred to them as "a lusty bit of nourishment", and I'd have to agree with this perfect description.  You can enjoy them raw and experience the sea that they lived in.  Because the oyster is an animal that lives to pump and filter sea water through its body, you can really get a taste of the water that the animal lived in, which can be good or bad. If you want to eat raw oysters, you should buy them in the shell and shuck them yourself.  It is not advised to eat raw pre-shucked oysters sold in bulk.




FRIED OYSTERS:
We wanted to take these beauties and transform them to a different, higher state.  Fried oysters caught Chef Alex's eye.  But simply serving a plate full of fried oysters was not enough.  He wanted to show us several different applications.  

The Essential James Beard cookbook calls for breading oysters in crumbled oyster crackers, following an egg wash. We also fried a batch in cornmeal.  


For the best possible flavor we fried in Arbequina olive oil from California Olive Ranch.  As Chef Alex explains in the video at the end of the post, he chose California Olive Ranch this year to source the needs for Zingerman's Roadhouse, totaling 1980 gallons.  It is a full flavored oil, delicately balanced, and strong enough to hold up to the rigors of being fried in, but also lovely in its raw state.







Chef Alex cleaned out the shells for a natural presentation of fried oysters swimming in tartar sauce. 







As a side note, Chef Alex’s tartar sauce is a unique blend based on what you would expect to be in a standard tartar, but amped up. He hand chops cornichons instead of using a prepared relish and also adds diced fresh tomato.


To make Roadhouse Tartar Sauce, combine the following ingredients:
2 cups mayonnaise
⅛ cup dijon mustard
⅛ cup cornichons
¼ red onion, small diced
⅛ lemon juice
2 tbsp cider vinegar
½ cup plum tomatoes, small diced
⅛ cup sugar
¼ cup parsely, chopped
1 tsp salt
1tsp ground black pepper


N'ORLEANS STYLE PO' BOY:
A standard po' boy sandwich represents the spirit of New Orleans. It can contain any number of fillings, but most traditionally is known to be filled with fried seafood.  Chef Alex created this po' boy by slicing a Zingerman's bakehouse baguette, spread with his tartar sauce, fried oysters, topped with shredded romaine and sliced tomato.  You can also add cheddar and bacon for more dimensions.




James Beard calls this an “Oyster Loaf". 


If you're a huge po' boy fan, consider attending the New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival.  You just missed it last weekend, but it's an annual festival, so you can put it on your calendar for next year. 

PEACEMAKER:
New Orleans legend says that men who had spent the evening in the French Quarter and were late to come home would bring this sandwich to their impatient wives in order to make peace. Another variation of the po’ boy, the peacemaker is made with a softer loaf, hollowed out from the inside, while the exterior remains intact.  Plump fried oysters are stuffed into the cavity, which makes the sandwich more portable.







CANAPE: ANGELS ON HORSEBACK
This dish is English in origin and traditionally is an oyster wrapped in bacon and grilled.  Chef Alex’s version turns it into a tasty two bite appetizer.  It begins with crostini made from Zingerman’s bakehouse baguette, a piece of fried Nueske's bacon, topped with an oyster fried in cornmeal.









CANAPE: PEACEMAKER
To turn the Peacemaker into an appetizer similar to Chef Alex's Angels on Horseback, vertically slice the peacemaker sandwich into one inch pieces and top with jullienned bacon.  












HANGTOWN FRY:
Chef Alex describes this dish as the ultimate indulgence.  It is the epitome of Californian cuisine and the historic gold rush era. 




The legend of Hangtown Fry
A successful miner struck gold during the goldrush in Placerville CA, known casually as Hangtown because of the way that criminals were dealt with.  The miner entered a downtown restaurant and requested a meal that combined the most expensive ingredients in the house: eggs, bacon, and oysters. The cook combined the ingredients for this one guest, not knowing that he created what some call the state dish of California.

A favorite at Zingermans’ Roadhouse, Alex knows how to whip it up.   After watching him do this, I saw that it would be no problem to successfully prepare this at home.

Chef Alex not only used the three most indulgent ingredients called for by the miner, but he also began the process with the golden elixir, extra virgin olive oil from California Olive Ranch.

Chef Alex dipped the oysters in an egg wash, then crumbled oyster crackers, then fried them in a saute pan.  When the oysters were almost completely cooked, he added chopped pre-cooked bacon to the pan and 4 beaten eggs, then stirred gently while the eggs cooked.  

Serve this with toast in a pie pan, remiscient of the pan that the gold miner might have used to collect his fortune.






Once again we were lucky to team up with Peter Leix Productions for photos and video.


WATCH CHEF ALEX'S OYSTER FEST:

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