Recipes: Crack open secrets for a mini oyster fest

You can enjoy oysters in a variety of ways (clockwise from left): Shellfish Escabeche (on bread), Shellfish Escabeche served in blue crab, Roasted Oysters, Grilled Oysters and Oyster Stew. Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley/Chris Hunt for The AJC
You can enjoy oysters in a variety of ways (clockwise from left): Shellfish Escabeche (on bread), Shellfish Escabeche served in blue crab, Roasted Oysters, Grilled Oysters and Oyster Stew. Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley/Chris Hunt for The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Create dishes from grilled oysters on the half shell to shellfish escabeche to stew with recipes from Kimball House

When I was growing up, my parents always ate oyster stew together on New Year’s Eve. To me, that wasn’t romantic, it was yucky.

Later, as a student at Florida State, though, bushels of wild oysters from Apalachicola Bay and a keg of beer was a ready-made party I learned to love.

In July, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to shut down the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery for five years, with the hope that the beds can come back after being devastated by years of drought and runoff.

The good news is that what’s been called “oyster mania” has accelerated into a much wider appreciation for sustainable, high-quality farmed oysters. You can witness that at restaurants like Kimball House in Decatur, where oyster happy hour became both a celebratory and educational occasion.

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Bryan Rackley, Kimball House’s resident oyster expert and purveyor,  demonstrates a technique for opening an oyster, using a dish towel top and bottom to hold the oyster in place while prying it open. Chris Hunt for The AJC
Bryan Rackley, Kimball House’s resident oyster expert and purveyor, demonstrates a technique for opening an oyster, using a dish towel top and bottom to hold the oyster in place while prying it open. Chris Hunt for The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Kimball House’s resident oyster expert and purveyor, Bryan Rackley, has been a big part of that — bringing in oysters from farmers in multiple regions, and working with Oyster South, the nonprofit that works to expand the environmental and economic benefits of oyster farming in the South.

Recently, we asked Rackley and Kimball House executive chef Brian Wolfe to come up with some recipes for cooking with oysters. They obliged by creating a mini oyster fest that Wolfe called “a composed meal.”

It progressed from grilled and wood oven-roasted oysters topped with herb butter, to a rich shellfish escabeche with oysters, clams, mussels and blue crab, and finally, a hearty but bright oyster stew with parsnips, celery root, and leeks.

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Kimball House executive chef Brian Wolfe (left) and Bryan Rackley, the restaurant's resident oyster expert and purveyor, toast each other's talents and efforts during a very difficult time for restaurants. On the table in front of them at Rackley's home are (from left) Shellfish Escabeche (on bread), Oyster Stew, Shellfish Escabeche served in blue crab (center top), Roasted Oysters (upper right in pan) and Grilled Oysters (lower right in tray). (Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley/Chris Hunt fFor The AJC)
Kimball House executive chef Brian Wolfe (left) and Bryan Rackley, the restaurant's resident oyster expert and purveyor, toast each other's talents and efforts during a very difficult time for restaurants. On the table in front of them at Rackley's home are (from left) Shellfish Escabeche (on bread), Oyster Stew, Shellfish Escabeche served in blue crab (center top), Roasted Oysters (upper right in pan) and Grilled Oysters (lower right in tray). (Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley/Chris Hunt fFor The AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Not surprisingly, like most restaurants, Kimball House has suffered during the pandemic. Dining at the bar is no longer an option. But business in the dining room and on the patio has been picking up. And the takeout menu offers at least a dozen different raw oyster appellations to take home and shuck yourself, along with herb butter for grilled oysters, and even oyster knives.

“Bryan working directly with oyster farmers has meant me not having to order a single oyster at Kimball House, because he’s got it covered,” Wolfe said. "He goes to the airport three times a week to pick up shipments from farmers, and that makes a huge difference with the freshness and flavor. That’s what’s harder for home cooks. But if you can find a farmers market or fish market where the product is coming in fresh, that’s the best thing.”

Freshly opened oysters await grilling or roasting. Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley/Chris Hunt For The AJC
Freshly opened oysters await grilling or roasting. Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley/Chris Hunt For The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

“I’m currently working with 12-16 farmers on a weekly basis,” Rackley said. "We’re selling oysters from Louisiana up to Maine, and then from Northern California up to Washington state. There’s a farm in Alaska we’ve been working with for years. And there’s a co-op in Rhode Island.

“With the pandemic, we went into selling oysters to go, not with the idea that we’d make any money. We did it to keep those relationships with those farmers. We needed to do that because I think people expected us to. And now we keep doing it because it helps us move product and keep it fresh.”

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Kimball House's oyster expert Bryan Rackley opens an oyster using a dishcloth on top and bottom to stabilize it while prying it open. Chris Hunt For The AJC
Kimball House's oyster expert Bryan Rackley opens an oyster using a dishcloth on top and bottom to stabilize it while prying it open. Chris Hunt For The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

ExploreOysters: The raw, the cooked, the debate

Ultimately, Rackley said he wants everyone to eat more oysters, whether they’re raw or cooked.

“There’s a very gray area sometimes between my Oyster South work and my Kimball House work,” he said. “I want people to eat oysters for dinner. Whether they’re at a raw bar is irrelevant to me. People consuming oysters means there’s someone who has to grow more oysters. And because oysters have such a positive impact on marine ecologies, it’s a commonsense food for anybody who wants that world to continue to exist."

RECIPES

These oyster recipes from Kimball House can be served on their own or all together to make “a composed meal.”

Oysters with herb butter roast in a wood-fired oven, but that's not your only option. (Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley / Chris Hunt for The AJC)
Oysters with herb butter roast in a wood-fired oven, but that's not your only option. (Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley / Chris Hunt for The AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Grilled Oysters on the Half Shell

The only difficulty with this easy and delicious recipe is that you must shuck the oysters and sever their adductor muscles in order to open the shells and loosen the oyster. You can find tutorials online, but practice, and a good oyster knife, makes perfect.

Note: Oysters are delicious roasted in an oven or on a gas grill. But if you have access to a wood-burning grill, it will produce a flavor that cannot be surpassed.

Grilled Oysters on the Half Shell
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 3 fresh jalapenos (substitute sweet peppers if preferred), chopped
  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 1 cup fresh herbs (chives, parsley, basil), chopped fine
  • Zest of 2 lemons, juice reserved
  • Zest of 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (substitute lemon juice if preferred)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 24 oysters, shucked and adductor muscle severed, reserving the bottom shell with the oyster
  • Finishing salt, such as Maldon, to taste
  • In a large saute pan over medium heat, add olive oil and sweat onion, garlic and jalapenos until translucent and aromatic. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • Cut butter in half and cut into chunks. Warm one half but don’t melt all the way down.
  • In a blender or food processor, process the cooked onion, garlic, jalapeno, olive oil; herbs and lemon and lime zest until smooth.
  • Add semi-melted butter and softened, room temperature butter and puree until smooth. Add hot sauce and fish sauce and pulse until everything has been incorporated. Your butter should be green now.
  • Taste and season with finishing salt as needed. Refrigerate and allow to harden. It’s easier to work with that way.
  • Use about 1 teaspoon of butter per oyster and grill over hot embers until cooked, between 3-5 minutes. Edges of the shells will start to brown slightly. These are also delicious roasted in an oven or on a gas grill. Season cooked oysters with the reserved lemon juice and enjoy with a cold beer. You can serve on a bed of rock salt or herbs to prevent oysters from falling over and liquid spilling out. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 240 calories (percent of calories from fat, 50), 19 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 13 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 120 milligrams cholesterol, 319 milligrams sodium.
Shellfish Escabeche, a mixture of cooked shellfish in a rich sauce, is served here on bread. (Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley / Chris Hunt for The AJC)
Shellfish Escabeche, a mixture of cooked shellfish in a rich sauce, is served here on bread. (Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley / Chris Hunt for The AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Shellfish Escabeche

Shellfish Escabeche is a mixture of cooked shellfish in a rich sauce made with olive oil, vegetables and herbs. It can be served either hot or cold. And it’s great for home cooks because you can use any kind of fresh shellfish you can find, including oysters, crabs, clams, scallops or shrimp. Serve the escabeche on grilled bread with a crisp white wine.

For the pickled mustard seeds:

Note: Make the pickled mustard seeds 1 day in advance.

1 cup water

1 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 cup mustard seeds

In a medium saucepan, bring water, vinegar and sugar to a boil. Once boiling and the sugar is melted, add the cup of mustard seeds. Boil for 2 minutes, let cool and put in the fridge.

To poach the shellfish:

2 cups white wine

In a lidded saucepan, bring 2 cups of the white wine to a boil. Add 1 pound cleaned shellfish (oysters, crabs, clams, shrimp, mussels, scallops) and poach for 1 minute. Strain and cool. Cut into smaller pieces, if desired.

Escabeche
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 3 large shallots, peeled and minced
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and minced
  • 1 rib celery, minced
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/4 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 cups stock (fish, vegetable or chicken)
  • 1 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup pickled mustard seeds (see directions above)
  • 1 pound cooked shellfish, such as oysters, crabs, clams, shrimp, mussels, scallops (see directions above)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Sliced and grilled sourdough bread for serving
  • 1 bunch parsley, roughly chopped with stems
  • In a large saute pan over medium heat, add olive oil and slowly caramelize shallots, carrot, celery and garlic. Add garlic last so it does not burn.
  • When aromatics are almost done, add bay leaves, paprika, cayenne and black pepper.
  • As you start to really smell the spices, deglaze the pan with white wine, stock and sherry vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce slowly by half.
  • When the liquid is reduced, taste and season and let cool.
  • When mixture is cool, add to cooked shellfish with pickled mustard seeds and store in a container deep enough so that shellfish is submerged and marinating in the Escabeche. Allow it to rest for half an hour before serving.
  • To serve: Spoon over grilled sourdough bread and top with chopped parsley. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 781 calories (percent of calories from fat, 89), 13 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 77 grams total fat (10 grams saturated), 59 milligrams cholesterol, 402 milligrams sodium.
Oyster Stew requires some prep but is worth the time. (Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley / Chris Hunt for The AJC)
Oyster Stew requires some prep but is worth the time. (Food styling by Brian Wolfe and Bryan Rackley / Chris Hunt for The AJC)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Oyster Stew

This bright oyster recipe has a lot of steps, but it’s really easy to execute once all the prep is done. Poach the oysters and roast the veggies first. Plump farmed Gulf oysters are a good option for stew because they tend to be more mild.

Oyster Stew
  • 24 oysters
  • 1 3/4 cups white wine, divided
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 fennel bulb, cut lengthwise and then into thick strips
  • 1 bunch parsnips or turnips, cut into halves if small or quarters if large
  • Olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 pound celery root, peeled and diced to the best of your ability
  • 1 large leek (white part only), cut lengthwise and then thinly sliced into halves; rinse if sandy
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups fish stock plus 10 ounces of reserved poaching liquid
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche
  • Hot sauce, if desired
  • Stemmed and chopped fresh herbs such as fennel fronds, mint, tarragon and chervil
  • Shuck oysters and strain off liquor into a bowl. In a large pot, add 1 cup white wine, 1 cup water, and oyster liquor and bring to a boil. Poach oysters for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and save poaching liquid. After oysters have cooled, cut them into quarters.
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat fennel bulb and parsnips or turnips in olive oil, salt, pepper and a drizzle of sherry vinegar. On a sheet pan, roast for 10-15 minutes or until they start to brown.
  • In a Dutch oven, coat bottom with olive oil and warm over medium-low heat. Add celery root, leek, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Sweat veggies until they start to become translucent. Then add fish stock, poaching liquid, the remaining 3/4 cup wine, and lemon juice.
  • Let simmer for 15 minutes. Add heavy cream and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • When your stew base has simmered for about 30 minutes, stir in creme fraiche, lemon zest and oysters. Let simmer for another 15 minutes. Reduce stew until it has thickened a bit. Then add roasted veggies, salt and pepper to taste, and hot sauce if you like.
  • To serve: Garnish with fresh chopped herbs, and use grilled sourdough slices for dipping. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 423 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 24 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 22 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 130 milligrams cholesterol, 786 milligrams sodium.

Where to buy fresh oysters

Locally, Kimball House has the best selection of sustainable farmed oysters, but you can shop for oysters and seafood at markets like Whole Foods, Your DeKalb Farmers Market or Buford Highway Farmers Market.

Online, Hama Hama Seafood Co. in Lilliwaup, Washington, offers a variety of oysters in the shell, hamahamaoysters.com, and Island Creek Oysters, which has its own farm in Duxbury Bay, Massachusetts, offers oysters by the bag and in seafood packages, islandcreekoysters.com.

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