May 28, 2023

A BOLT of Oyster Genius in a Cocktail

By Katherine Alford Aug 30, 2023

The Joy of Oysters hit me like a BOLT — a Bacon, Oyster, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich — Nils Bernstein’s genius pairing of pan-fried oysters and a BLT. Here were two of my favorite foods sandwiched together in one salty, crunchy, juicy bite.

As a ’Fleetian household with two recreational shellfishing licenses, we are always looking for new ways to prepare our bivalve bounty. But I rarely look to recipes from the other coast. I wanted to know more about this writer. When I called Bernstein, he was in Baja California. He’s a journalist who divides his time between Mexico and New York City.

Bernstein spent his childhood summers foraging for oysters along Puget Sound. “What is better for a city kid,” he asks, “than to play out in nature and forage and eat free food?” At eight, when his stepdad told him, “You won’t like oysters,” he took the challenge and has been hooked ever since.

So, yes, he’s loyal to the West Coast oysters of his youth (which are cucumbery and delicate). But he admitted that after spending a pandemic year eating his way through bags of bivalves for the book, his preference “shifted to the brininess and size of East Coast oysters.” Score one for Wellfleets.

Bernstein makes the point that oysters weren’t always a high-end delicacy. The reefs were many and massive in the 1800s, and oysters were a cheap staple. “My goal was to inspire and capture oysters’ historical abundance with accessible recipes,” says Bernstein, “not just some diamond on a plate.”

The Joy of Oysters (Artisan Books, 2023) is more than a cookbook. It has enough lore, science, history, art, and architecture to keep the oyster-curious happily curled on the couch on a rainy afternoon. But the book has a trove of recipes. It includes classics like mignonette, pan roast, oysters Rockefeller, and angels on horseback (oysters wrapped in bacon). He offers great tips on storing, shucking, broiling, and live-fire grilling oysters (wear glasses — the shells can pop). There are plenty of modern and global inspirations, too, like oysters with watermelon salsa, Korean oyster pancakes, and a Brazilian oyster stew. The 20 no-cook toppings (he takes readers well beyond lemon and Tabasco) for oysters on the half shell are super. I loved the suggestion of peppery nasturtium and chubby purslane leaves, since both are overflowing in my garden right now. Broiled Oysters With a (Hard) Cider Cream is marked for my Thanksgiving menu.

And how did I not think of oyster mayonnaise? During recipe testing, Bernstein experimented with using oysters instead of eggs to emulsify oil for an umami-rich sauce. When he discovered it worked, he says, “I almost cried.” Hello, fried oysters with oyster-mayo sauce! If you don’t have a surfeit of oysters to make a mayonnaise, his suggestion of adding a splash of oyster liquor to store-bought Hellman’s makes a heavenly dip for pan-fried oysters or to smear on a BOLT.

Now, back to that oyster BLT. I adapted Bernstein’s BOLT into cocktail-size noshes. I found his technique for pan-fried oysters with panko to be a keeper. What to do, though, when inspired but not up for frying? I can imagine MacGyvering this and sending someone to bring home an order from one of our fried oyster shacks while I spike a little mayo with an oyster or two from our bucket, slice the tomatoes, and chop the herbs. Then it’s just a matter of tucking the crispy critters between slices of bread.

Pan-Fried OystersMakes 12 oysters

12 large oysters1 cup panko breadcrumbs½ cup all-purpose flour½ tsp. sea salt½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper2 large eggs, beatenVegetable or peanut oil, as needed

BOLT BitesMakes 12 appetizer-size sandwiches

1 to 2 Tbsp. oyster liquor1/3 cup mayonnaiseSea salt and freshly ground pepper¼ lemonSliced tomatoes, about 3 medium or 12 small6 slices sandwich bread6 slices cooked baconLettuce, arugula, basil, nasturtium leaves, or a mixtureFreshly pan-fried oysters (see above)

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Tagged With: BOLT Bites, Nils Bernstein, Pan-Fried Oysters, The Joy of Oysters Filed Under: Food & Drink, Recipe Box, Visual Stories

Pan-Fried OystersBOLT Bites