Sunday, January 10, 2010

Test #1: Scalloped Oysters

Warning: If you hate oysters, you will hate this recipe. If you love oysters, you may hate this recipe. Canned oysters might as well not come from the ocean. They have lost all of the subtle briny qualities that oyster lovers love in raw oysters on the half shell. They are basically globs of oyster meat, heavy and rich. Perfect for this dish. And if the oysters don't put you in a coma, the stick of butter will.

Let me digress for a moment of introduction. Scalloped Oysters is a favorite recipe of the Howard family, my mother's family. They would eat this dish at Thanksgiving and Christmas and rare other special occasions in between. I can't remember a time that we ate this other than a winter occasion. It just ain't right for a spring soiree. Anyway, let me introduce my mother: born Vera Howard to Lula Dillon Howard and Augustus Paul Howard ("Gus" to his friends, "Pa" to his grandkids), Mother grew up with her older brother, Paul, in Sparta, Tennessee. It's only claim to fame is that it is spittin' distance from the Oak Ridge nuclear facility, a la the Meryl Streep movie "Silkwood." Other towns in its vicinity: Cookville, Macminnville, Shelbysville...and for those who don't know "ville" is pronounced "vul." My memories of Sparta are vague but priceless, almost Southern an egg on the sidewalk with my Aunt Ro, catching fireflies in glass jars, sitting on the porch in a hot thunder and lightning storm guessing the color of the next car to go by. In Granny and Pa's house, lunch (or supper) was the best meal of the day: huge, with bowls of dishes all across the huge table. I remember one day sitting at the table and some man walked in the back door and set a huge basket of enormous home-grown tomatoes on the table and then walked away without a word. Of course, in my fuzzy memory, he looked just like a character from "To Kill A Mockingbird." Anyway, all of this is just to say, Mother came from Sparta, a small southern town straight out of a Flannery O'Connor short story and brimming with amazing southern food. But more on that later....

Scalloped Oysters
The size of your casserole dish will determine the amounts below. I used a small oval pyrex baking dish.

3 small cans of oysters
about 3/4 of a sleeve of saltine crackers
2-3 cups of whole milk 
one stick of butter

In the casserole dish, layer the above ingredients, starting with oysters on the bottom, then crumbled crackers along with small pats of butter, salt and pepper. Continue layering until desired amount (I did three layers), ending with crackers. Pour milk to barely cover all the ingredients. Bake 350 until most of milk is absorbed, but not dry, and lightly brown on top, approximately 45 minutes.

Although this effort came out almost as I remember it (should have left it in the oven a bit longer; it was a little soupy), I did try an experiment in a 4" ramekin, substituting the crackers with plain bread crumbs. The consistency was much better and the texture reminded me of a gratin. Plus, unless you have a large group, the ramekin is perfect for a single serving. Did I mention this is a rich dish?

I served the oysters along with a slab of maple glazed ham and Brussels sprouts with browned butter (one of my dad's favorites). And, although we never had this in our house growing up, a few dashes of Trappy's Louisiana Hot Sauce was the perfect addition to the oysters.

1 comment:

  1. I think I would like this! MFK Fisher talks about an oyster dish that sounds similar, and it always intrigued me. I don't like raw oysters, but I do like them cooked!


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