before i knew anything, i knew nothing about oysters till i’d lived a while in manhattan. i am from stuttgart after all, way inland, and the only ocean i knew before, was the suabian sea and believe me there’s no oysters in lake constance. but one day ventured to new york’s famed oysterbar in grand central for lunch. i sat at the bar overlooking the works, where tall men in white wore toques and made oyster stew and pan-roasts, chowders and she-crab soup. the waitress came, ‘wha-caniget-ya’ and she rolled her eyes and tossed me the oyster bar paper and heading the menu was a list of seventeen kinds of oysters. mine eyes wide (shut) she suggested a sampler. my english was slow, but i ordered, no idea what i’d get. i looked around. off to the side, on the other side of the bar, a little up from my stool were five guys madly shoving a small knife into a flat rock, twisting the blade, flipped halve the rock toward a pail and placed the other on a tray full of crushed ice. it looked like there was slithery grey stuff inside the rock. i know now that these guys shucked oysters.
my platter came. with the recommended shallot sauce. did i know what a shallot was then? but i did what the guy next to me did. i slurped and almost died.
it's been a some time way back when. i have learned to shuck oysters long since. on a boat in the bay with a wide screw driver and now, using a time honored, wood-handled oysterknife kept in my car’s glove box. i’ve gulped my share of cotuits, marennes, belons, kent islands, wellfleets, appalachicolas and bristols. later out on the coast, i’ve had pacifics, kumamotos, olympias and most of those from the washington coast, cultivated in and named named after the many bays, inlets and islands where they’re raised. truly wild oysters, being what they are, won’t be much to come by out there, i’ve never had one, at any rate.
mostly i eat them straight. no sauce for me. the oyster liquor is plenty of juice and the briny gentle fragrance would suffer from, well, even a shallot. they’re also delicious, and open easily off the grill, served warm off the half shell. now that it’s cold and rainy and i’m up here in portland, i like to make my version of oyster stew. i do a dozen shucked oysters per person, tossing them straight from the shell with their liquor into a smiling pot of cream, butter, white wine and some few minced shallots. a little cayenne and white pepper on top, put forth in a bowl and supped up of a beautiful silver spoon.