Baked Oysters with Mustard Greens and Bacon

Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, has been a virtual school of modern Southern cookery ever since the early 1990s, and not a week passes that owner/chef Frank Stitt doesn’t create yet another innovative dish displaying Southern and Mediterranean techniques applied to the ingredients of his native Alabama. There’s a baby flounder stuffed with shrimp and crabmeat, and a grilled pompano with roasted pumpkin and orange hollandaise sauce, but his Apalachicola oysters baked with a topping of peppery mustard greens and bacon is a wonder of contrasting flavors. Fresh, young, winter mustard greens are not that easy to find, even in parts of the South. If they are available, buy only those with crisp young leaves with a deep green color. A good substitute for the greens in this recipe is a combination of fresh spinach and watercress. And don’t balk at all the bacon grease; that’s what gives the dish much of its true Southern flavor.

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Ingredients

  • ¼ pound bacon, finely diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 small hot red chile pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 4 cups washed, drained, finely chopped, loosely packed mustard greens
  • 1 lemon, lightly zested, seeded, and juiced
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 dozen fresh oysters on the half shell
  • 1 cup coarse white bread crumbs

Method

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

In a large skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat till almost crisp, drain on paper towels, and finely crumble. Add the onion to the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and stir till very soft but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and chile pepper and stir 2 minutes longer. Add the mustard greens, lemon zest and juice, bacon, and butter, toss well about 1 minute, and season with salt and pepper.

Place a small mound of greens on each oyster and sprinkle bread crumbs on top of each. Arrange the oysters on a heavy baking sheet and bake till the crumbs are golden and the oysters heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

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