Smoky Oysters

Gone are the days when Virginia oysters (Crassostrea virginica) as big as goose eggs were plentiful from Chesapeake Bay down to Florida, and oyster houses in New Orleans, Mobile, and Biloxi overflowed with customers devouring fat Apalachicolas and Bon Secours for a dime a dozen. All Southern oysters might be scarce and expensive today compared with the bivalve’s golden age 150 years ago, but this reality doesn’t seem to have fazed coastal cooks in the least, one of whom, in Wilmington, North Carolina, has demonstrated for me at least half a dozen ways to cook local oysters in casseroles and at oyster roasts. These particular smoky devils might well be served as a main course, but once when I did just that, two close friends didn’t hesitate to ask, “What’s next?” If you don’t have sherry on hand to sprinkle over the top, use a light rum.

Ingredients

  • 6 strips lean bacon
  • pints fresh shucked oysters, liquor included
  • cups half-and-half
  • cups crumbled soda crackers
  • 12 tablespoons ( sticks) butter, melted
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Tabasco sauce to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a -quart casserole and set aside.

In a medium skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat till almost crisp, drain on paper towels, and crumble.

Drain the oysters, saving about ½ cup of the liquor. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the liquor and half-and-half, stir well, and set aside. In another medium bowl, combine the cracker crumbs and butter, season with salt and pepper and Tabasco, and set aside.

Sprinkle about a third of the cracker crumbs over the bottom of the prepared casserole, arrange half the oysters on top, sprinkle half the bacon over the oysters, and pour half the liquor mixture over the top. Add another third of the crumbs, arrange the remaining oysters on top, sprinkle on the remaining bacon, pour on the remaining liquor mixture, and top with the remaining crumbs. Bake till bubbly and lightly browned, about 35 minutes.