The folks over at Hog Island Oyster on Tomales Bay just north of San Francisco know what they're doing when it comes to grilling oysters. A quick shuck, a little dab of chili-butter, and a brief spell in the sauna of the grill. Smoky, tender, and a little spicy: they're perfect every time. Let's take a lesson from the pros on this one and let them show us how it's done.
When my husband and I visited Hog Island Oyster earlier this season, we thought one plate of these barbecued oysters would be more than sufficient. We were wrong. Lucky for us, getting another platter was as simple as walking back up to the open-air counter and holding up a finger for one more round.
After the third or fourth plate, the grill maestro caught our curious looks and gestured for us to take a closer look. He showed us how he quickly shucks each oyster and arranges them in rows over the hottest part of the grill. Then he drops a little compound butter over each oyster and then closes the grill. Break time.
A few minutes later, he takes a peek. The oysters are ready when they are just starting to shrink and the butter has started to caramelize around the edges of the shell. Quick as a wink, he has them on plates and on the counter for pick-up. Then it's time for the next round.
I asked about grilling oysters in the shell without shucking, as I saw many others doing at the table-side grills around the picnic area. He shrugged and said that while the oysters will pop open when they're done (thus circumventing the need to shuck), it's also practically guaranteed that you'll overcook the oysters this way. A chewy nub of an oyster is no one's idea of a good time. Plus, he said with an evil grin, you don't get the melted butter.
A big thank you! to Hog Island Oyster for showing us how to grill oysters like the pros. Your oysters are delicious and I can't wait for another round:
• Hog Island Oyster: 20215 Shoreline Highway, Marshall, CA 94940.
How to Grill Oysters at Home
Makes as many as you can eat
What You Need
Fresh unshucked oysters, preferably harvested that day
Compound butter, like herb butter or any mix of herbs or spices worked into soft butter
Crusty bread, for serving
Gas or charcoal grill
Heat the Grill: Heat your grill until it's nice and hot. This is a quick-cooking dish, so the hotter the better.
Shuck the Oysters: Shuck as many oysters as you feel you can keep track of. Remember, you want to avoid overcooking, so it's better to work in several smaller batches that you can manage rather than one large batch that might overcook.
If you're new to shucking, take it slow, protect your hand with a glove, and brace the oyster against a work surface. Take a look at this step-by-step tutorial for How to Shuck Oysters.
Arrange the Oysters on the Grill: Discard the top (flatter) shell and arrange the bottom (bowl-like) shells with the raw oysters in rows over the grill.
Add a Pat of Butter: Add about a tablespoon of butter to each oyster.
Close the Grill and Cook: Close the grill and cook the oysters for 3 to 4 minutes. Check them after this time. The oysters should be just barely starting to shrink and you should see some caramelization in the butter around the edges. Cook for another 30 seconds if needed; it's better to undercook the oysters than overcook them.
Serve Immediately: Eat the oysters as soon as they're cool enough to pop in your mouth. Have plenty of bread on hand to mop up the leftover butter.
To Grill Oysters Whole: If you'd like to grill oysters without shucking them, lay the oysters on the grill and close the lid. Check every minute. As soon as you see the top shell loosen, take the oysters off the grill and eat.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)