Grilled Oysters, Champagne and/or White Wine
Oysters. How do I love thee? On the half shell, Rockefeller, Po boy, grilled, baked… But no Rocky Mountain oysters. If you don’t know what those are, I recommend Googling it before you dig in.
The recipe below is a simple, easy way to get those delicious bivalves into your belly!
Now onto the fun part: what to drink with these babies. Champagne and oysters are a classic combination. The high acidity, chalkiness, and bread doughi-ness make it a match made in gastronomic heaven. Basically, you can’t go wrong with this combo. (Note: For a fool-proof pairing, be sure it’s Champagne and not any old sparkling wine. Other kinds of sparkling wine are great with oysters, but some are not so great.)
But what if you don’t want Champagne with your oysters? In particular, these delectable grilled oysters smothered in butter and cheese? Here are a couple options to try.
Chablis. I’m not talking about the stuff in a box that everyone drank at my grandma’s retirement party. I’m talking about the elixir that comes from Chablis, France. Chablis is part of the Burgundy region, which is famous for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is the farthest north Burgundian appellation and is in close proximity to the Champagne region, sharing many of its qualities: acidic, refreshing, and minerally, with citrus notes, but does not have the baked Brioche characteristic of Champagne. The thing I love about Chablis is its ability to bring out the salinity and minerality of the oysters, while also cutting through any creaminess and enhancing all the flavor components. In this particular dish, the high acidity slashes through the richness of the ooey, gooey, melted mozzarella and Parmesan, leaving your palate both cleansed and utterly delighted.
Chablis is Chardonnay. What? You hate Chardonnay? (Me, too, more often than not.) I strongly encourage you to give Chablis a try. It is aged in stainless steel, so no oaky qualities, and there is no “butter” to be found because winemakers forgo a process called malolactic conversion or malolactic fermentation, which is what gives Chardonnay that buttery, milky feeling. (Bacteria convert the malic acid into lactic acid – yup, the same acid that’s in milk.)
Now, if you want to explore a Burgundian Chardonnay that got a little more sunshine in the more southerly part of the region, you will come across wine that may have seen oak and perhaps some malolactic conversion. Honestly, I’d just stick with a Chablis, although I’m not going to tell you what to do.
You could also try a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. Talk about refreshing! This is a wine that I could guzzle like a White Claw. It, too, has a great amount of acidity, minerality, lots of citrus fruit notes, and is usually a little lower in alcohol.
Other white wine suggestions: Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc.
Want a red with your oysters? Don’t do it. Kidding. Although I’ve never tried it, I would probably select a Beaujolais Nouveau, which is made from the Gamay grape, and is lighter and fruitier. Or a light Pinot Noir. Basically, you want something low in tannin, high in acidity, and nothing that is too strongly flavored, so the wine doesn’t completely overtake the flavors of the oysters.
But honestly, it’s what I’ve always said: experiment and play around with your pairings. Your individual palate and tastes are yours, and yours alone, so don’t let anyone shame you for chasing your oyster with a swig of Syrah.
OK – on to the recipe. This comes from my long-time friend at Balanced Body and fellow foodie, Dan Wilson. Grilled oysters are generally credited with being created at Drago’s in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Dan used a recipe for that as a base and has been tinkering with his own version for several years.
This recipe is so tasty (and easy) even people who hate oysters will love it.
Note: While shucking oysters can be a bit of a pain, once you get the hang of it, it’s off to the races. I recommend getting a good shucking knife and using either a glove or a thick kitchen towel you don’t mind getting dirty and smelly. If you can find one there are also markets who will do same-day shucking for you, and that makes this recipe a TON easier.
As for the shells, you can crush them and use as fertilizer in your garden or at-home compost bin. Or get creative and DIY some art projects. Be sure to boil them first for any use at home. There are even some recycling programs in certain areas. Some places allow them in green waste for industrial composting.
- A cup and a half (1 1/2 stick) softened unsalted butter (reserve about ½ cup for later)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pinch dried oregano
- ¼ tsp paprika
- 18 large oysters, freshly shucked on the half shell, but still connected to bottom of shell
- 1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 ounce grated Mozzarella cheese
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley or basil
- Fresh lemon juice (optional)
- Loaf of Italian bread for dipping (optional)
Heat a gas or charcoal grill to high heat (around 475-500 degrees).
In a small saucepan, gently melt the butter. Mix the melted butter with the garlic, pepper, oregano and paprika. Take 2 ounces.
Place the oysters on the half shell right over the hottest part of the grill.
Spoon butter over the oysters. Some are definitely going to spill into the grill and cause a flame-up, but that’s ok – you kind of want that and the oysters are safe in their shells. The oysters are ready when they get curly on the sides and the butter is bubbling, about 5 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix together the grated Mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Top the oysters with the cheese mix and herbs and let them get a little melty (this won’t take long). Serve on the shells.
A small squirt of lemon juice adds a little zing to each oyster (it kind of makes it a lemon garlic butter sauce) if you’re so inclined.
The reserved butter makes a great dipping sauce with slices of soft Italian bread.