Oysters on a plate

Mollusk Matters: Grilled Oysters

Have you ever gazed longingly at the beautiful oysters in the seafood case and dreamt of a beautiful meal with fresh oysters? Well, if you’ve ever tried to shuck an oyster you know how daunting a task that can be.

Fortunately, there is an easier way to eat decadent oysters at home without worrying about shucking them.) Have you ever tried grilled oysters? Harnessing the power of your grill to open and then simmer an oyster in its shell is pure brilliance. Whereas raw oysters are best left ungarnished, a grilled oyster is cooked and hot and even more delicious simmered in its own briny liquid and bathed in toppings like garlic basil butter or chipotle pepper butter.

If you don’t know much about oysters, a little mollusk info may be in order. There are about 150 varieties of fresh oysters available in North America, but all those choices arise from only 5 types of oysters which are grown in the shallows on both east and west coasts. Briny and sweet Blue Points, Malpeque, Belon and Wellfleet are favorites for grilling but you can grill any kind of oyster, especially the larger varieties.  Ask your fish monger to fill you in on the merits of the oysters in the case. Their brininess, sweetness, texture and size can vary depending on the conditions where they were harvested, so in the big world of oysters there’s a perfect oyster for every taste.

I tend to focus on buttery, zesty toppings for grilled oysters. From a basic garlic butter to a spicy herbed Parmesan butter, all of the following toppings are easy to prepare. Plus, they keep in the fridge for a week or even longer in the freezer making it easy to grill oysters on the fly.

Did I mention that oysters cook really quickly? Two minutes on a hot grill usually opens their vise-like grip, making it easy to insert an oyster knife and pop them open. It’s a snap to top the oyster with your preferred topping, return the shell to the flame and in another two minutes, dinner is served.

Grilled oysters make a simple summer night-on-the-patio appetizer, a meal for entertaining, or a private affair of just decadently slurping them away all by your lonesome.

Oysters

How to Grill Oysters

1. Buy oysters the day you are going to serve them. Keep them on ice, covered with a towel in the refrigerator. They are alive and if you wrap them in plastic they will suffocate and die.

2. Choose a large platter and pour a bag of lentils, small beans, kosher salt or rice on it to create a “non-tip” surface for the finished oysters to be served.

3. Scrub the oysters clean with a brush under running cold water. It’s important to remove any loose shell or mud.

4. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

5. Oysters have a flat side and a more rounded (belly) side. Arrange them belly side down on a sheet pan filled with kosher salt as it will make a nice landing pad for them to rest while you open and top them.

6. Arrange the oysters directly on the hot grill grate. Close the lid and grill for 2 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the partially opened oysters to the sheet pan until cool enough to handle.

7. Wedge an oyster knife into the slightly opened shell and twist to pry it open. Try to keep as much of the oyster liquor (juice) in the shell as possible. Separate the meat from the muscle on the top shell with the knife and discard the shell. Wipe the knife clean on a towel and sever the muscle holding the meat on the bottom of the shell as well. Discard any oysters that do not open as they were dead before cooking and not fit to eat.

8. Top the oysters with a slice of the flavored butter. Using tongs, grab the oysters by the front lip and carefully return them to the grill. Close the lid and grill another 2 minutes or until the oysters are just firm and the buttery liquor is bubbling.

9. Transfer the oysters in the same manner (tongs to front lip) to the prepared platter, arranging them decoratively. Serve hot.

Herbed Butter

Basic Herbed Garlic Butter

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  • Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mash together with a fork.
  • Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface and top with the butter mixture.
  • Fold the plastic over the top and roll it to make a log, about 1-inch thick.
  • Refrigerate until firm and cut into 1/4-inch slices.
  • Top the oysters with butter. Grill as directed.

*Can be kept refrigerated for up to 1 week. Can be kept frozen for up to 2 months.

Garlic Butter with Basil and Parmesan

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Method:

  • Combine all the ingredients except the cheese in a medium bowl and mash together with a fork.
  • Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface and top with the butter mixture.
  • Fold the plastic over the top and roll it to make a log, about 1-inch thick.
  • Refrigerate until firm and cut into 1/4-inch slices.
  • Top the oysters with butter and a sprinkle of cheese. Grill as directed.

*Can be kept refrigerated for up to 1 week. Can be kept frozen for up to 2 months.

Chipotle Butter with Cilantro

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 chipotle chili, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  • Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mash together with a fork.
  • Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface and top with the butter mixture.
  • Fold the plastic over the top and roll it to make a log, about 1-inch thick.
  • Refrigerate until firm and cut into 1/4-inch slices.
  • Top the oysters with butter. Grill as directed.

*Can be kept refrigerated for up to 1 week. Can be kept frozen for up to 2 months.

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Oysters in a row

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Carla Snyder
Posted by: Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes. Look for Carla on Facebook, Twitter (carlacooks), Pinterest and at ravenouskitchen.com where she blogs about everything from cooking for two to easy weekend entertaining for a crowd.

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