It’s Not Summer Until You’ve Made Charbroiled Oysters
The New Orleans-inspired bites pair best with a cold beer
Possibly inspired by a delicious encounter with garlic knots or garlic bread about three decades ago, Tommy Cvitanovich of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in New Orleans had the bright idea of putting a mixture of garlic, butter herbs and cheese on a batch of oysters before cooking them in their shells on a hot grill. The briny concoction was a hit with both customers and critics, and the grills at Drago’s seven locations now cook up more than 900 dozen charbroiled oysters each day. New Orleans native Dominick Lee has had the charbroiled oysters at Drago’s many times, as well as at plenty of other places around town that now cook the meaty mollusks the same way that Cvitanovich did back in 1993. Suffice it to say, he’s a fan.
“If I’m being completely forthright, after my wedding we went to an oyster happy hour where they served the oysters,” Lee tells InsideHook. “They would normally sell them for $3, but at happy hour they sold them for $1.50. We just went and had this crazy party there. It was great. It’s one of those special dishes that represents drinking and having a good time. With charbroiled oysters, the texture changes, so you have something that’s hot and kind of savory. Coming off the grill, the cheese is still bubbling. Buttery oysters, a little bread and drinking kind of all go together.”
When Lee, a recipient of chef Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly Scholarship Award, became the culinary director and executive chef at NOLA-inspired Alligator Pear in Manhattan, he knew that charbroiled oysters were going on the menu alongside dishes like chicken and andouille gumbo, shrimp and okra stew, and blackened catfish.
“What I’m trying to create here as a chef is approachable new American food that’s inspired by New Orleans,” Lee says. “I want people to feel as though they can walk in and have something that makes them feel good that has nuances of New Orleans. When I thought about that for the menu overall, I knew we had to pick some bangers that were just like, ‘Okay, this is New Orleans.’ Charbroiled oysters are like, ‘Boom, we’re in New Orleans right now.’”
Another dish at Alligator Pear that definitely falls into the “boom” category is the tempura alligator bites. “You can’t name a restaurant Alligator Pear and not serve alligator,” Lee says. “It’s something that’s a bit unknown and not everyone is serving it, but we try and make it so it doesn’t come off like something exotic. In New Orleans, it’s normal. It’s a specialized item that’s farmed and raised in Louisiana that has amazing flavor and can be done in a versatile way. Eating alligator is not an abnormal thing where I’m from.”
And neither is having 12 buttery, cheesy oysters and perhaps a quarter as many Abitas. “A cold beer and a dozen oysters is the perfect way to end your day after a long day’s work,” Lee says.
We’re inclined to believe him, but we suggest finding out for yourself.
Alligator Pear’s Charbroiled Oysters
Servings: 24 oysters
- 8 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3 shallots, minced
- 1 clove garlic, grated or minced
- 2 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
- 3 tsp. fresh parsley, minced
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. freshly cracked pepper
- 1 tsp. Tabasco sauce
- 2 cups Romano cheese
- 24 oysters (preferably Gulf oysters or larger oysters with big shells)
- Lemon wedges, for serving
For the Compound Butter
Add butter, shallots, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce to a small mixing bowl, and gently stir until combined.
Lay out a small piece of plastic wrap, about six inches long.
Add your mixed butter to the middle of the plastic wrap, gently roll it into a log and twist the ends closed.
Add to the refrigerator and let rest for at least an hour to firm up. Slice into rounds before placing on the oysters.
For the Oysters
Lay out all 24 oysters and top with rounds of compound butter. Place about 1 tsp. of Romano cheese on top of each oyster.
Place directly on a grill and heat until the cheese and butter melt.
Serve with bread to sop up the butter, along with lemon wedges and ice-cold beer.
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