By: Jamie Deonas
Ever wondered why certain oyster roasts are better than others or why the taste of oysters vary from that of a restaurant to a homemade pit in a neighbors backyard? Well it‚Äôs simple, oysters are meant to be cooked over an open flame and shared with friends and family during the colder months of the year and here on Amelia Island we put a little spin on our roast that gives the whole experience something extra.
Start with the oysters themselves, only select singles preferably from Apalachicola will do. These oysters are larger and typically saltier than those found in smaller clusters and are far easier to open than clusters. If Apalachicola oysters are unavailable and you still have a roast planned continue to opt for selects regardless of where they are from. Also, purchase your oysters get them in a burlap sack; you‚Äôll need the sack later.
Prepping the oysters is almost as important as purchasing the right ones. Empty the burlap sack on a clean concrete surface spreading the oysters out evenly. This will give you room to work and the opportunity to inspect the oysters making sure none are open or beginning to open. An open oyster prior to being roasted is a sign of those that are spoiled and should not be eaten. Begin with rinsing the burlap sack until it‚Äôs clean. You will want to wash each individual oyster under fresh water removing all the caked on mud. Remember, before the oyster made it to you they were living in the marsh mud. This is a very important step as the mud you don‚Äôt clean off now is the same mud you or your guest will have to contend with when removing the oyster from the shell to eat and believe me marsh mud will kill the taste of any good oyster. When all the oysters are clean, place them in a cooler and ice them down, this will keep them fresh for days if need be.
Now you‚Äôre ready to prepare the fire to roast the oysters. Start with a bag of charcoal briquettes. The briquettes will ignite quickly and produce a large amount of heat. Once the briquettes are good and hot add oak logs on top. Ultimately you want to be cooking with 100% oak and a large bed of hot coals. Once the fire is ready you will now need to place cinder blocks around the perimeter of your fire to support the cooking surface.
The cooking surface can be either a grate or a solid piece of tin cut for the size fire you are using. The cooking surface should be 18-24‚Äù above the fire at all times. If it‚Äôs higher to much heat is lost resulting in a longer cook time and lower will cause the oysters to burn. Once the cooking surface is in place you will be ready to put some oysters to roasting.
Place 1-2 dozen oysters at a time on the cooking surface each time. Depending on the size of the bed of coals and the amount of heat being generated your cook time will vary between 8-12 minutes. Remember the burlap sack? Wet the sack thoroughly and place it over the oysters that are roasting. This will help steam the oysters as they are over the open flame. You will notice the oysters begin to crack and open releasing juices as they become fully cooked and ready to eat. Remove those and add more fresh oysters to be roasted.
Condiments that are a must are as follows; cocktail sauce, melted butter, hot sauce, saltine crackers and malt vinegar. It‚Äôs best to have these available in several smaller containers so they are readily available to every guest to sample finding their personal perfected combination. You will also want plenty of old dishtowels and oyster knives, a tool made for opening the oyster shells.
Oysters can be purchased year round but are best if consumed during the months that have an ‚ÄúR‚Äù in them. You still have plenty of time left before spring so start making plans for an oyster roast of your own.