Attention, seafood lovers: Oysters are a hot opportunity.
And it’s not just oysters’ popularity that’s heating up. Today’s leading-edge trend calls for heating up the oysters themselves.
More casual and upscale-casual restaurants are adding hot-oyster dishes to their menu and giving them a wide variety of new eating and flavor treatments.
Many factors are getting consumers and operators to warm up to the possibilities:
- Typically seen as a luxury item or treat, oysters aren’t easy to prepare at home.
- Oysters are ideally suited for sharing-plates and appetizers.
- Oysters are versatile and perfect for cross-utilization in many applications.
- While not economical, oysters can still be menued at an attractive price point.
Expanded fresh and frozen options make it easy to procure, store, and handle oysters safely.
For fresh oysters, the old saying about eating oysters only in months with an ‘r’ in them isn’t true anymore. Because of cultivation and pasteurization, oysters are always available to operators, and now operators can purchase oysters that have been shucked live and immediately blast frozen in the half shell. They’re plump and sit nicely in the shell.
Adding hot oysters as a permanent item or limited-time offer (LTO) is not difficult. It’s more of a simple layering of flavorful ingredients. Cook oysters until they’re just warm. You don’t want to dry them out.
The Hottest Hot-Oyster Preparation Methods
As a staple of coastal and low-country regions, oysters have swum in chowders, stews, and pan roasts. Whether battered and fried, loaded into pies, stuffings, and dips, or topping off bruschetta, hot oysters in one form or another have long been a hot commodity.
In our external research, we see all sorts of examples for expanding the flavor possibilities via a combination of more aggressive cooking methods and creative sauces and toppings. Four preparation methods using oysters on the half shell are standouts for adding flavor and differentiation to the menu:
- Wood-grilling. Top raw oysters with melted flavored butter or oil—or liqueur—and char-grill just enough for the heat to permeate the shell.
- Oven-roasting. Briefly bake oysters at a very high temperature in a convection oven, wood-fired pizza oven, or regular oven. Top with a bread-crumb crust to keep oysters plump and juicy.
- Pan-smoking. Add sawdust, wood chips, hay, or straw to the bottom of a small cast-iron pan, top with oysters, and smoke briefly.
- Pan-frying. Remove oysters from the half shell; reserving the shell. Roll oysters in flour, bread crumbs, or cornmeal, pan-fry, then return to the shell for saucing, topping, or garnishing.
Sauces and Toppings
Flavor options are practically limitless. Try using:
- Aïoli or other mayonnaise-based sauces
- Compound or flavored butters
- Hollandaise-based sauces
- Salsas and tomato sauces, such as marinara
- Alfredo-based or other cream-based sauces
- Rich Creole sauces
Toppings such as:
- Roasted or braised vegetables or vegetable relishes – e.g., tomato or onion jam, ratatouille, piperade
- Baba ghanoush or smooth hummus with a drizzle of olive oil or aïoli
Liqueur-based flavorings, like:
- Anise-based liqueurs, pastis (e.g., Ricard), ouzo, or absinthe
- Orange- or lemon-flavored liqueurs, e.g., Curaçao or Limoncello
- Slightly sweeter almond-or hazelnut-flavored liqueurs – e.g., amaretto or Frangelico
- Fortified wines – e.g., sherry and Madeira
Sprinkle these crusts and crumbles on oysters before roasting:
- Panko bread crumbs
- Dried, toasted cornbread crumbs
- Crushed or crumbled pretzels
- Toasted quinoa
- Shredded or grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- Crispy fried onions or fried shallots
- Crumbled meat proteins – e.g., small bits of crunchy bacon, or dry salami, sopressata, ground chorizo, or sage pork breakfast sausage