wooden spoon

wooden spoon

Today, according to my food calendar, is National Oyster Day.

And while I was late to become a member of the bivalve aficionados’ group, I’ve made up for lost time.

I’ve always loved shellfish but oysters were not on my “dance card." My grandmother loved them fried, stewed, grilled, raw, etc. Although I usually went along with whatever she thought, I couldn’t bring myself to eat one. In the course of my youthful dining out, I saw many of those slightly grey, wiggly blobs slurped down with relish … not I, no, never.

But, once I managed to take the plunge, I was hooked and haven’t passed up one since.

My first, second, third and fourth raw oyster were consumed with gusto one night at Brophy Brother’s in Santa Barbara.

And, as it is oft said, you never forget your first. I’ll have to admit, theirs set the bar for my taste buds, and I enjoyed several just last month.

While I haven’t gone so far as to attempt home shucking, I do make a cooked concoction — a longtime friend’s version of the fabled New Orleans dish, Oysters Rockefeller — that is an easy recipe, and one I have shared in the Spoon and fixed a number of times.

I think I’ll soon try my hand at raw ones, but in the meantime, I want to share a couple of very good, dependable sauces that are traditionally served with them.

My favorite, I’ll have to admit, is a horse radish-y cocktail sauce. In fact, it’s close to being my favorite sauce for shrimp as well. Another popular go-with is mignonette, a delightful red wine vinegar sauce that pairs well.

Simple but good, is an array of garnishes such as lemon wedges, chopped fresh parsley, freshly grated horseradish if attainable, Tabasco or other hot sauce. There’s ponzu, a Japanese dipping sauce made with soy sauce, citrus juice, mirin, kombu (seaweed) and bonito flakes for an Asian taste.

Fresh horseradish is almost a must, but it’s not always easy to come by. Do NOT use cream style or sauce; look for one that’s grated or ground.

Former Valley resident and Dunn School headmaster Bill Webb left us in the '70s to raise oysters in the beautiful waters of the San Juan Islands.

His description of eating them raw went this way, “The taste is briny, full of ocean flavors with a slight metallic aftertaste. When followed by a dry white wine,” he added with a wink, “the aftertaste disappears.”

Good advice, indeed! However, I must add that a full-bodied beer goes just as well.

If you want to try your hand, here are the basics and two sauces.

To shuck fresh oysters, place in a sink of cold water and scrub shells well. Use a thick tea towel to hold an oyster firmly (against work space) by one hand with the flat side facing up. Insert oyster knife at hinge and work back and forth until the shell begins to open. Run blade around shell and separate. Clean knife, slide it under the oyster to release muscle, remove and discard top shell. Return oyster to bottom shell and arrange on a large platter filled with crushed ice. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley, and serve immediately with sauces on the side.

COCKTAIL SAUCE

1/2 cup ketchup*

1 teaspoon horseradish

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon Tabasco

1 teaspoon Worcestershire

Combine all ingredients together and chill before serving.

*whether it’s ketchup or catsup in your house, use a good one. I like Heinz or Del Monte.

NOTE: To turn this into a great shrimp cocktail sauce, add finely chopped green onions, celery and parsley.

For a lighter taste, here’s an easy mignonette.

MIGNONETTE SAUCE

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

1 teaspoon white pepper

Mix red wine vinegar, shallots and white pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Sauce can be made one day in advance.

Longtime Valley resident Elaine Revelle can be reached at thewoodenspoon@juno.com.

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