The ancient semicircular oyster bar is everything at the Union Oyster House. It only seats a handful of lucky diners but generations of New Englanders have rested their elbows on the worn wooden counter since the place opened in 1826. Daniel Webster, a regular, would eat many dozen raw oysters washed down with a sea of brandy. He knew how to live as well as speak.
If much of the food today is unremarkable, the raw bar retains an irresistible appeal and the cooked oyster preparations can be good. This easy one enhances the flavor of oysters without overwhelming it. Four rather demure starters.
-a dozen shucked oysters
-about ¼ cup breadcrumbs seasoned with a little salt, pepper and cayenne
-1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
-1 ½ teaspoons minced shallot
-3 Tablespoons white wine
-½ cup heavy cream
-½ teaspoon English (like Colman’s prepared) or Dijon mustard
-scant ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- Tuck an equal amount of breadcrumbs beneath each oyster on its deep shell.
- Melt the butter over high heat, stir in the garlic and stir the mixture constantly for about a minute: Do not let the garlic darken.
- Stir the wine into the garlic butter, reduce it by half and then add the cream, mustard and thyme.
- Let the mixture boil, then reduce the sauce to a simmer and reduce it by half.
- Spoon the sauce over each oyster and then broil them until they bubble up and turn golden, usually in about 3 minutes. Do not overcook them.
- Our recipe is derived from one for scalloped oysters from The Union Oyster House Cookbook by Jean Kerr & Spencer Smith (Kittery Point ME 2008). The original uses a Tablespoon less wine and twice as much cream; richer if you like it that way. It also uses a single teaspoon of garlic instead of our shallot, which we find a little too assertive.
- For an added English touch, slip a pinch of mace into the seasoning for the breadcrumbs and then into the sauce at Step 3.