HOW LOCAL OYSTERS INSPIRED A COOKING VIDEO AND NEW PAINFREE SHUCKING METHOD
BY CHEF DAVID BURKE
It was the beginning of the lockdown. All my restaurants shut down because of the pandemic, so I’m at home like everybody else. I have time on my hands (something I never have), thus I start cooking in my own kitchen and dreaming about a cooking demo. But not just any cooking video I want something entertaining and casual, a video that takes the seriousness out of cooking, making it more fun for viewers stuck at home. Then one day a large package marked Barnegat Oyster Collective was delivered to my new home in Atlantic Highlands. Several varieties of delicious, highly perishable New Jersey gems from Barnegat Bay work like magic. I serve Barnegat Oyster Collective oysters in my restaurants and the owners, Scott Lennox and Matt Gregg, wanted me to try their new direct mail option. It was just the inspiration I needed. Suddenly I remembered a silly puppet with my trademark looks gray hair, chunky watch, glasses, white chef ’s coat from a former girlfriend that I rediscovered while unpacking. Instantly my casual cooking series with my sous chef puppet “Lefto” was launched.
Oysters are now the “little black dress” of any serious home cook’s repertoire; they are iconic, versatile, and timeless. Barnegat Bay oysters make a menu even more special since they are hyper local with great back stories. They are delicious served raw with a simple mignonette, or cooked. But what a pain to open! I’ve mangled my hands many times with an oyster knife. On a whim, and because I was in my kitchen and not in one of my restaurants, I thought, “What if I tossed them in the microwave?” And boom! I created a new, painless, insanely easy way to open them. I’ve never seen this done before, nor have Scott and Matt. Simply microwave them for 45 60 seconds and the hinge loosens enough that you can open them with a butter knife. The oyster inside remains raw.
We are pretty lucky Scott and Matt started their oyster business here. No one had been farming oysters in New Jersey for decades, although the conditions were perfect. The duo started from the ground up. I respect that kind of vision, hard work, perseverance, and insanity. It feels good to serve a local quality food and to know the people who are behind it.
Definitely serve these oysters on the half shell, but try shallow frying them, too. Or just visit one of my restaurants, and I’ll do the fry work for you.
Serves four as a starter
Two dozen New Jersey oysters
For the Tempura
(Burke, David, and Judith Choate, David Burke’s New American Classics, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2014)
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 cups club soda, plus
2 tablespoons if needed Generous amount of freshly cracked pepper
To make tempura batter, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, and the sugar in a medium bowl. Slowly add the club soda, whisking vigorously to smooth the batter; the batter should be smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Allow the batter to set for five minutes and test again for thickness. If it is too thick add the remaining two tablespoons of club soda.
Take a dozen oysters at a time and microwave for 45 60 seconds. Pry open with a butter knife and set aside in a dish. Repeat. Tip: Save the oyster liquor for another use, such as base for seafood chowder.
Coat the oysters in corn meal, then tempura. Shallow fry in vegetable oil about 1/2 inch deep. You can test the oil by placing a 1/2 inch cube of bread in the oil, if it browns quickly the oil is ready. Do not crowd oysters. Fry for about a minute or until lightly brown, flip and cook on the other side. Will take about 2 3 minutes.