The folks from the Food Network came to the OysterFest this year, shooting for a new Cooking Channel Show called United Tastes of America. They asked Mac’s to be part of it and I was honored. Until they told me I’d have to meet their camera crew under the food tent at 6:30 in the morning on day two of the ‘Fest.
It was our grilled oysters they were after. These are so easy you can do them in your sleep. Which is a good thing, considering no one in the fall lineup at Mac’s gets any shut-eye during the week of the ‘Fest.
It was still dark out when I swung by the Shack. Jenn, our catering director, had prepped an array of ingredients for me and a stack of little bowls to set them out in, the way they do on television. The idea was to show how friendly our homeboy oysters are to flavors from faraway places. We were ready with everything from pork belly to caviar.
Next stop: the festival’s food tent, where a few of us cleared off the boxes and crates stacked in our booth and hung some Mac’s Seafood signs to distract the camera from a full frontal view of the port-a-potties. We didn’t want this to be too much of a reality show.
Then we fired up the grill. At the ‘Fest, we were cooking with gas, setting it to medium-high. In case you haven’t already heard an earful about this from my grill-fanatic brother Alex, here it is: if you’ve got a charcoal grill and real charcoal your grilled oysters are going to taste even better than these.
Some people set oysters and clams right on the grill and allow the heat to open their shells. I prefer to set them on already shucked. That way you don’t overcook the delicate meat or vaporize their liquor. You want the oysters to be warm and pick up a hint of smoke, but still be juicy.
The TV people told us that as far as the shucking went, we didn’t need to show them anything. They were going to feature Wellfleet’s World Champion shucker, Chopper Young for that. I hope they got some footage of our very own Camden Holland, too. Even though he’s a washashore from Harvard, Mass., he won this year’s Shuck-Off (he shucked 24 oysters in 1 minute and 55 seconds; and his final tally, adjusted for penalties like a few bits of shell, came to 24 in 2:28, which just goes to show what a person can learn spending an entire summer at the Shack’s raw bar).
If you’re planning grilled oysters for a party, but you’re not the kind of shucker who likes to work in front of a crowd, it’s fine to open them in advance (you might want to refer to our step-by-step how-to in an earlier post). I went ahead and shucked a few dozen, balancing each finished half-shell on a thick bed of crushed ice to keep that precious liquor in place.
There was no time to get nervous. Cameras rolled and Jeffrey Saad, the “United Tastes” host, set right into sucking down his oyster breakfast as fast as I could get them off the grill. I had to smile because he really did seem to love them.
After the shoot, he and the crew kept eating. “This would be so much fun to do for a party,” Jeffrey said. “But how do we get oysters this good on the West Coast?”
“That’s easy,” I told him. “We ship Wellfleets all over the country.”
I don’t know if he’ll really do it, but I wasn’t kidding. If you’re far away, just let us know and we’ll be happy to send some your way, even if you don’t have your own TV show. (Though you will need to have a credit card.)
We’ll let you know when we hear when the Wellfleet edition of “United Tastes” is going to air. They say it’ll be early winter. Meanwhile, if you’re in the area now, and want to brush up so you can impress your Thanksgiving guests (or hosts) with grilled oysters, come by our market in Eastham this Sunday, October 23. We’re celebrating the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local Cape Harvest Tour” with an oyster roast. Alex will be there from noon to 3pm; roasting and selling Wellfleets by the each, and doling out shucking and grilling advice for free. Mac’s in Easham is on Route 6 right near Brackett Road.
Grilled Oysters with International Flavors
Shuck as many oysters as you plan to serve, and set them on ice, making sure not to spill their liquor. While your fire heats to medium high, assemble the toppings and place them on each raw oyster in its half shell. Set the oysters directly on the grill. Cover them with a domed lid (so you don’t smash your toppings). In the picture above, you can see that an upside-down skillet will do nicely.
Depending on how hot your fire is, the oysters will be done in just one or two minutes. Check them: the oysters should be just firming up, their edges beginning to curl, and the liquor and toppings sizzling. You’ll need tongs to take the oyster off the fire–the shells get hot.
One neat serving trick that caterers use is to cover the serving plate with a half inch-deep layer of coarse sea salt. If you nestle the hot half shells down in the salt, their juicy fillings won’t spill out as you pass the plate around.
Here are the toppings we made for “United Tastes.” I’m not giving amounts here because it’s easier to think of it this way: each oyster can take on only a teaspoon or two of topping ingredients. And as for variations, while it’s good to keep it simple, so the flavor of the oyster comes through, the possibilities are endless. Clearly, the show does not stop here:
French: a pat of lightly salted butter, a half teaspoon of minced shallots, and a sprinkling of finely minced parsley.
Russian: a dollop of sour cream and a half teaspoon of caviar or black tobiko, finely minced chives.
Vietnamese: a cube of golden-browned pancetta, a sprinkling of nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce), and finely minced cilantro.
Greek: a half teaspoon of crumbled feta cheese, a quarter teaspoon each of minced red onion and minced black olives, minced fresh oregano or marjoram.