Smoked oysters and chicken broth
The first thing to face is the fact that cooking an oyster is almost seen as a crime. We can blame the Monday Special – oysters kilpatrick that have been open a day too long and are hiding out with a bacon accomplice.
But when done with consideration, cooking can be a great way to show the oyster’s flavour. In winter, especially, oysters tend to have more of a muscle, and rock oysters can be treated almost like clams to show this off.
The seasons of oysters work counterintuitively. Everyone imagines oysters are at their best in the height of summer, eaten on a beach with a glass of champagne. In my view, oysters are at their best when the water is at its coldest. Some people like the creaminess of a spawning oyster – which you get when the water warms up – but I like the purity of flavour from coldwater oysters.
This recipe uses smoked oysters in a Chinese-style chicken broth that riffs on the meatiness of the oyster. Next to this is one of my favourite things of all time – buttered cabbage and turnip – which gives it a bass note.
The broth is made using a double boiler. First the chicken wings are roasted, then I cut them to almost a mince, put them in a bowl, fill it with water, then set it over another pot to cook.
I like to leave the oysters as untouched as possible. I shuck them, release the flesh without flipping over the oyster, then tip out the water. If you leave the water in, the oyster won’t absorb the flavour of the smoke.
Smoked oysters and chicken broth
– 1.5kg chicken wings
– 6 shallots
– 2 cloves garlic
– 10g young ginger
– 150ml Shaoxing wine
– 40ml light soy sauce
– 2 litres water
– 2 small purple-top Milan turnips
– 1 small savoy cabbage
– 150g butter
– salt and pepper
– 15ml lemon juice
– 12 oysters (preferably rock variety, or angasi if more adventurous)
For the broth:
Place the chicken wings and the whole shallots and garlic cloves on the same tray and roast at 180ºC for 35 minutes, agitating regularly. Once roasted, chop the bones and vegetables into small pieces using a meat cleaver, then place everything into a steel bowl and top with the water, Shaoxing wine and soy sauce.
Place a sheet of greaseproof paper on top of the mixture, then cover the bowl with two layers of aluminium foil. Put the bowl over a pot of water, to form a double boiler, and cook over medium heat for two-and-a-half hours. Let the mixture cool for 30 minutes, then strain and reserve the liquid.
For the buttered cabbage:
Peel the turnips and cut into about eight wedges. Cut the cabbage into wedges of a similar size using just the outer 10 leaves or so. Bring them both to the boil in salted water for about five minutes, or until just cooked, then strain off the liquid. Return the vegetables to the pot and add 150 millilitres of the chicken broth together with the butter and lemon juice. Simmer with vigour until the butter emulsifies with the stock. Finish with salt and pepper and reserve.
For the oysters:
Shuck the oysters and release the muscle from the shell. Tip the excess water off and place them shell-side down over a grill with wet smoking chips and two or three hot coals, then cover with a tray that sits proud of the top of the oysters. Continue to feed the smoking chips until the oysters become just set in their shells.
Separate the turnips and the cabbage over four bowls, then spoon a little of the cooking butter over the top. Remove the oysters from their shell and top the cabbage with them. Finish with about 120 millilitres of the golden chicken broth.
2016 Domäne Wachau riesling federspiel, Ried Bruck, Austria ($35) – Mike Bennie, wine and drinks journalist.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 23, 2018 as "Oyster force". Subscribe here.