The cold chill of winter is here. Our days on the water have slowed to a crawl. Your patio and deck has been quiet for weeks and those great weekends outside are a memory. No more smell of burgers on the grill or fresh fish being seared just right. Got the winter blues and cabin fever? Here’s the solution. Grab an old sweatshirt, ice down some adult beverages and pull out that propane cooker that you haven’t used since Thanksgiving. Call your fishing buddies and tell them to come on over and bring the wife and the oyster knife. It’s time for an oyster roast. It’s a Coastal Carolina social event and it’s easier than you think.
To start, you of course need oysters and lots of them. For planning, figure a bushel (about 50 pounds) for every 5 people. You can buy them at the local seafood market if you don’t want to spend a cool day on the water getting muddy and sticking up in the mud. Just make sure you call ahead and reserve them a few days in advance. If you do decide to harvest your own be sure you go in oyster season harvesting in an approved area. Check with your state fish and game enforcement agency for regulations. Once at a harvesting area just stand on the bow of the boat and start whistling for them. Pretty soon, they’ll be swimming to the boat making a chirping sound. Then just throw them in the bucket and take them home. Just kidding!!!! If you’ve never been before I strongly suggest that the first time you go, go with someone who has been before.
Once you get the oysters, take them out back to the water hose and hit them with a hefty spray of water to get off the excess mud. In the winter, this is sometimes a cold task so thick rubber gloves and boots are recommended. Some folks even take them to the car wash for cleaning. However, you might want to make sure the setting is on rinse rather than the soap or tire cleaner before you start washing the oysters.
First thing I do after getting my oysters is get my other stuff ready. Things like bringing out my big oyster eating table. This ain’t no sitting, but a stand up oyster eating table that everybody stands around. The reason for standing up is because that way you’re able to eat a lot more oysters. Then you get the biggest trash can you’ve got and have it right by the table so you can pitch you shells once you let that tasty oyster slide in your mouth. While I’m doing that, my wife is making the hot cocktail sauce, and melting a small pot of butter. She’s got a cast iron skillet in the oven filled with her world (if you consider your family your world) famous corn bread. She also makes a huge pot of hot Brunswick stew to feed the squeamish oyster eaters. We set out hot sauces like Texas Pete since it’s made in North Carolina, Tabasco is good too and it’s still made in the South. We bring out plenty of paper plates, (a couple rolls of paper towels of course) and oyster knives. When I get that done, I put my homemade sausage links on my grill and fix me a cold drink. You know, one of those drinks that the children ought not be sipping and my brother-in-law ought not be nipping if his wife’s around.
Now there are several ways to steam oysters, I use a propane turkey cooker with a basket. I put about a half gallon of water in the pot and add about a tablespoon spoon of salt. Don’t ask me why the salt. I get my water to a good boil. Then I fill the basket about 2/3rd of the way up with oysters and make sure the lid is on the pot and put them on the burner. Some people like to use a metal table with a fire built under it with the oysters cover in wet burlap sacks. Other ways include homemade steamers where you just put the oysters in a metal basket and let them steam.
You’ll know when they’re ready when they start to open up. When that happens, remove the basket and dump that sweet juicy feast of the low lands on the table. Let the shucking begin. Scrap them out, put them on a saltine cracker with some of that spicy cocktail sauce and your 2 steps from heaven. Don’t forget the cornbread, smoked sausages and Brunswick stew and you’re living the Coastal Carolina dream. Make sure to take care with the oyster knife. When shucking, it’s best to hold the oyster in a work glove or towel and insert the knife into the opening from the steaming. Then twist to open and scrap to eat.
We always finish the night with some of my wife’s homemade chocolate cookies and Irish coffee. I like mine with a good cigar by the fire pit with all the men folk. An oyster roast is dirty, messy and many times cold, but the memories are even better than the food. It’s a great way to bond with your friends and neighbors and teach your kids a Southern Tradition. It beats any debutante ball I ever been to.