Something I would have liked for lunch, first excerpt from Oysters: Recipes that Bring Home a Taste of the Sea (Sasquatch Books. 2016) by Cynthia Nims.
Oysters en Escabeche
Every escabeche I’d encountered before seemed to have a lot going on: slivered vegetables, chiles, various seasonings in addition to the vinegar-heavy base. But while in Galicia in northwest Spain, I tasted the local mussels en escabeche and the dish was blessedly simple and outrageously delicious: olive oil, a touch of vinegar, paprika. It inspired this approach with oysters, which makes a wonderful appetizer or cocktail snack.
This is a recipe for which the spice’s freshness is paramount, particularly a spice like paprika that is relatively mellow to begin with. This may be the perfect time to invest in some fresh paprika; I buy bulk spices in smaller portions that I’m likely to go through pretty quickly. In place of regular sweet paprika (which means “not spicy” in this case, as for “sweet” bell peppers), you can also use Spanish smoked paprika.
For marinating the oysters, choose a small, squat dish in which the oysters will be fully covered by the marinade, ideally one with a tight-fitting lid so you can just shake gently now and then to ensure even marinating.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
For the marinade:
1 cup olive oil, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon sweet paprika (regular or smoked)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh, torn into 3 or 4 pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
24 small oysters in their shells, shells well rinsed, or jarred yearling to extra-small oysters, with their liquor
Crackers or sliced baguette, for serving
- In a small saucepan over low heat, stir together the oil and paprika and warm for about 15 minutes to draw the paprika flavor into the oil. Take the pan from the heat and let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then stir in the vinegar, bay leaf, and salt. Set the marinade aside.
- If using in-shell oysters, steam them open, 5 to 10 minutes. While still warm, but not too hot to handle, remove the oysters from the shells (some shells may not have fully opened, so you will need a shucking knife to help here) and add them to the marinade. Stir to be sure the marinade is evenly coating the oysters and set aside just until cooled to room temperature.
- If using jarred oysters, put the oysters and their liquor in a small saucepan and warm, stirring gently now and then, until the oysters plump up and their edges curl, 4 to 5 minutes. Set the pan aside for a few minutes to cool a bit, then lift the oysters from the pan with a slotted spoon and add them to the marinade. Stir to be sure the marinade is evenly coating the oysters and set aside just until cooled to room temperature.
- Transfer the cooled oysters and marinade to a medium nonreactive container; the oysters should be fully submerged in the marinade; add a bit more oil if needed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or longer if the oysters are on the bigger side. The oysters can marinate for up to 3 days before serving. Stir now and then to reblend the seasonings and ensure even marinating.
- To serve, allow the oysters to come to room temperature. Discard the bay leaf. Transfer the oysters to a serving dish, drizzle some of the marinade over, and serve with crackers or baguette alongside.
Bay is rarely among the fresh herbs tucked into our window boxes or backyard gardens. But when I needed some fresh bay to test a recipe about twenty years ago, I bought a little four-inch pot of the herb, used what I needed for the recipe, and transplanted it to my patio garden. I still have that same bay—now a small tree—and can’t tell you the last time I used a dried bay leaf. Dried bay has its place in stocks and stews, but fresh bay has a whole different character, with more vivid flavor that is almost reminiscent of nutmeg. Use it as you would dry bay, though it is versatile enough to even use in desserts.
(* Reproduced with permission from Oysters: Recipes that Bring Home a Taste of the Sea -Sasquatch Books. 2016- by Cynthia Nims, Photography by Jim Henkens)