There is something about Smoked Oysters that’s outright sensuous. The distinct creamy, delicate, smoky blend is captivating. Don’t even try and compare freshly made smoked oysters to what you get in a can. To my mind, it’s like comparing Kobe to Spam.
You can eat smoked oysters as an appetizer all on their own, or combine them with some shallots, garlic, and vinegar for a snappy flavor. Of course, they also go well with pasta or rice. There are all different types of oysters from which to choose, but the most common are Pacific oysters, which have a sweet flavor profile that I really enjoy. Just remember the fresher, the better.
Oyster Smoking Preparation
If you love oysters but hate the price tag at restaurants, you can smoke them yourself!
- After purchasing always check your oysters: If they are slightly open, give them a tap. When the oyster closes immediately, you know it is still alive. Do not use dead ones for your meal.
- Should you intend to prepare the smoked oysters several hours or a day after purchasing, take care in preserving Wrapping them with ice packs works well. Just be sure the largest part of the oyster is on the bottom. Alternatively, keep them in the refrigerator covered with a damp towel.
- Washing your oysters is essential. Use a bristle brush to get all the dirt off the exterior. If you do this under cold, running water it helps. Take care as the shells can be sharp.
- Some people brine their oysters before smoking. It is not a necessary step but offers you an opportunity to infuse flavor. A typical brine has:
- Hot sauce,
- Brown sugar,
- Garlic powder,
- Onion powder
5. Next, steam the oysters in a pot filled with 1 cup of white wine with 1 cup of water and a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil. Once covered, it takes only 3 minutes for them to open. Strain off the liquid afterward through cheesecloth (so you don’t get sand). Set it aside for later. Note: you may have to steam the oysters in batches.
6. Remove the oysters carefully from the shell with a small, sharp knife. Drop the oysters back into the broth for 20 minutes.
Let’s get Smokin’
While the oysters rest in the broth, your smoker started. Oysters are small so you don’t need high heat, but you do need a grate, so they don’t simply fall into the smoker (sad face). Chef Jack suggests using something like a dehydrator mat.
You want the smoker at a steady temperature of 200 degrees F. Gentle woods like cherry are perfectly matched to oysters.
Place a dollop of frozen compound butter on top of each oyster before they go into the smoker. A blend of butter, garlic, parsley, and bacon works well.
Check the oysters in the smoker after about 30 minutes. Tend the temperature well, adding water as needed, otherwise, you’ll end up with rubber. Leave them in for additional 15-minute intervals until the butter has melted completely and the edges are slightly curled.
Presentation Tip: Serve them in a circle of pink salt and lemon wedges.
In my experience, your smoked oysters will likely go quickly. Should you have leftovers you can put them in a glass container (like a chef bowl) in the refrigerator for a week before they go bad. Or store them in the freezer for up to a year.
Pit Master’s Memo
It’s difficult for me to imagine the first person who looked at an oyster in the shell and thought it might be good eating. Nonetheless, early humans did consume them, likely cooking them over heated stones or a fire. Stone Age coastal groups left archaeologists fossilized oyster shells (that’s 2.5 million years ago, folks!).
Oysters grow in shallow water, making them far easier pickings than hunted meat. During the Greco-Roman period, oysters were reserved as a delicacy for the wealthy. Fishermen found the business so prosperous that they began cultivating oysters. And, leaving nothing to waste, used oyster shells were used to cast ballots!
The popularity of oysters never seemed to fall out of fashion. From the 18th-19th century, they enjoyed a “golden age” where oysters became affordable for working people, not just the wealthy. New York City, Baltimore, and New Orleans were huge oyster markets. Today there are oyster festivals where thousands attend to celebrate this humble shellfish.
From the Bar:
For a hint of elegance, pair your smoked oysters with champagne, decorated with a slice of lemon.
Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc are good choices in wines, giving the oysters a brighter flavor.
For cocktails consider a gimlet made with a good quality vodka.
Or just enjoy a cold beer. IPAs are fantastic with oysters.