Even oysters need friends, sometimes. Slurping down freshly shucked oysters is about as raw as it gets to food heaven. These ugly duckling bivalve mollusks represent and taste like the briny oceans from which they are harvested. They are full of salty, refreshing complexity and loaded with textural surprise. Is that a bit of grit and sand with my oyster? Why yes, and it is fabulous and just part of the ride.
Lovers of oysters already know the sauce companions that commonly accompany them: lemon, mignonette, cocktail sauce, ponzu, hot sauce, and sriracha. This post is about taking oyster toppings to the next level (and I’m not referring to Rockefeller or other similarly baked oyster recipes. Think tuna tartare, raw sea urchin (aka uni), caviar, wagyu, pork belly, and more – we’re free falling into the rabbit hole.
Tuna tartare with sesame oil & seeds, a perfect oyster topping
One evening at the East Coast Grill & Raw Bar in Cambridge, I came across a new and different oyster topping, tuna tartare. I’m typically a raw oyster purist – a squirt of lemon and maybe once in a while some Champagne-vinegar mignonette to switch it up – but I never across a combination like this before. The novelty of mixing ruby cubes of raw tuna seasoned with sesame oil and sesame seeds was one I had to try. This experience was a stunning revelation. The firm texture of the tuna cubes and the umamai sweetness from the sesame took the briny oyster to new enjoyable heights.
Sea urchin (uni) and caviar on top of oysters equal sex in your mouth
Excuse my lewdness with the head, but it is the only way to describe this combination. I must confess, I’ve yet to try this seductive amalgamation on top of an oyster. The blogger of Fat Kid at Heart (her blog is here) convened this experience to me. A bit much at times given all the strong flavors she confessed, but a tantric experience nonetheless. Jealously and envy boiled through my veins.
Caviar is the rich man’s salt. If you have the means and the palate, rather than seasoning your dishes with salt, you should use caviar. Placing a dollop of caviar on just about anything will elegantly transform it. Oysters with caviar have been a stable in high cuisine for some time and one seductive pairing. That combination alone is worthy of worship. Introducing sea urchin, one of the world’s most interesting ingredients and aphrodisiacs, to this is sheer madness and genius.
Oysters ala carpetbaggers and bo ssam
Oysters with wagyu beef? Why, of course. A thinly sliced piece of fatty delicious wagyu/kobe beef on a oyster is a profound surf and turf in a slurp. This dish is aspired from the carpetbagger. This is a steak dish I first encountered at Dylan Prime in NYC – cooking demonstation here. A carpetbagger is an Australian concoction with multiple variations. At its essence, it is a filet mignon stuffed with raw oysters and then broiled. The flavors of the briny oysters mix with the beef juices, creating one unique dish.
Koreans love to wrap things. A bo ssam is a traditional Korean dish in which slow cooked pork is wrapped in a leaf vegetable such as bibb lettuce with a host of other ingredients including cooked rice, garlic, scallions, ssamjang sauce, sweet kimchi, fermented shrimp and others. NYC food lovers have been exposed to this classic, meant to be shared dish thanks to David Chang at Momofuku Ssam Bar. We all know the rule with food, if it is good, deconstruct it. A great topping for raw oysters is place a small unctuous piece of braised/grilled pork belly with kimchi. The fattiness from the pig mixes with the oceanic liquor. Oh my. And then is tied all together with hints of sweet spicy from the kimchi, which is my lifeblood.