By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you’re thinking Valentine’s Day aphrodisiacs are all about stouts and chocolate, you may be only half right. February is all about stouts, but might oysters be the sexier pairing? They are certainly local, delicious and traditional.
Strong, dark stouts were born in the late 17th century in the seaside working-class pubs of England and Ireland. When pub patrons got hungry, they drank their stouts with a pail of oysters scraped from the bottom of the bays nearby. Chocolate -- the stuff of kings until Dutch innovations in the 1800s brought it to the general public -- would not have been found in the pubs where stouts were served.
Fast-forward a couple of centuries.
I’m hanging out with Xin Liu at Yaquina Bay’s Oregon Oyster Farms near Newport. As he talks to me about oysters, I suddenly realize that although I’ve eaten them since birth, I know very little about them. Oregon’s oceans, Liu tells me, favor three commercial kinds of oysters -- the tiny and rare native Ostrea lurida, called the Yaquina or Olympia, the oyster the pioneers found when they arrived; the Crassostrea gigas or Pacific oyster, one of the most common oysters grown commercially in Oregon; and the Crassostrea sikamea or Kumamoto oysters, a newer Japanese oyster that grows well in Pacific waters. All of these oysters take on the characteristics and the names of the waters in which they are grown. Estuary oysters are creamier and less briny than their marine-grown sisters and brothers.
But enough of this science stuff. Are oysters really aphrodisiacs? Despite legends that Casanova ate the stuff before his legendary trysts, and the vague likeness of the oyster meat to female genitalia, the claim remains unfounded. (More study, please!) However, the brain is the main sex organ. If you believe oysters are going to make you sexy and virile, and you chase those oysters back with enough stouts, then belief becomes reality.
Stouts are great paired with oysters. John Harris, of Ecliptic Brewing, and his chef, Michael Molitor, like the traditional stout-oyster pairing, especially with raw oysters. “The roasty-ness, the coffee and cocoa flavors pair well with the salty and briny flavors of the oysters. And both have creamy qualities,” Harris said. Pair oysters with Ecliptic’s Mintaka Stout, on tap at the brewery. Stouts pair well with pan-fried and barbecued oysters, although pale ales may also work well with these, Molitor said. Belgian-style beers also pair well with some of the delicate natives grown in the estuary. I suggest pairing raw Olympia oysters with Mazama’s Saison d’Etre, for example, with its subtle spices accentuating the tender earthiness of these tiny animals.
Oysters in the Shell
Paired With Oregon Stouts
By Oregon Oyster Farms, Inc.
Oysters in the shell can be prepared in several ways: shucked (opened) and eaten fresh, baked in the oven, barbecued, steamed, and partially steamed for stewing or frying.
Shucking: Wear gloves. A regular oyster knife is required. Using a pair of pliers, break off a half-inch or more of the front shell. This will create a small gap between the top and bottom shell, just enough to slip in the knife. Now that the tip of the knife is in the oyster at the front, wiggle and slide it toward the center of the oyster. There is a muscle attached at the middle to both the top and bottom shells. When you cut the muscle, the shells will easily spread. Then finish prying them apart and cut the oyster completely off the shells. In order to not cut up the meat, slide the knife inward close against the surface of the bottom shell. Next, wash off the meat and eat, or refrigerate or freeze.
Baked Oysters: Wash off the shells, place on a cookie sheet to catch the liquid and bake at 500 degrees for 15 to 35 minutes, depending on the size. Some shells will not be opened, so some prying will be necessary. You may eat them plain or dip them in a favorite butter sauce. Hint: Oysters cooked "cup up" will hold the liquid, making a juicier meat. "Cup down" results in the juice draining out, causing a drier oyster.
Barbecued Oysters: Wash the shells and place "cup up" on the barbecue for 15 to 45 minutes, depending on oyster size. Watch for oysters starting to open to indicate they’re ready. Again, some shells will not be opened, so some prying will be necessary.
Steamed Oysters: Wash the shells and place in a steamer for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size. You will notice some oysters opening and that should indicate they’re done.
Partially-Steamed Then Fried or Stewed Oysters: Wash and scrub the shells if you plan to save the nectar. Place oysters in a pan and steam using the usual steaming methods. After most of the oysters are open 1/2 inch, remove the meat. Either prepare and cook in the usual methods or freeze until later.
Pan-Fried Pacific Oysters
Paired With Oregon Stouts
By Oregon Oyster Farms, Inc.
12-ounce container fresh Pacific oysters
1 cup cornmeal
2 eggs, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or cooking fat
*Pre-cook oysters and drain.
*Dip prepared oysters in egg, then in cornmeal, coating thoroughly. Set aside to dry.
*Heat oil or fat in frying pan to 370 degrees (or until quite hot).
*Fry oysters until golden brown on one side, then turn carefully to brown the other side. (About 4 minutes each side).
*Serve immediately. (Serves 3 to 4).
Pacific Oyster Cocktail Sauce
1/2 cup sweet chili sauce
1/3 cup tomato ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper
Few drops of Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons grated horseradish
*Combine ingredients and mix well.
*Cover and chill thoroughly before using.
Monthly recipes and pairings from your favorite brewpubs around Oregon.