The Gulf of Mexico is home to the largest remaining wild oyster reefs in the world, yet our brawny bivalve often finds itself fishing for the compliments routinely lavished on its prestigious East and West Coast brethren, those of winsome, wispy names like Beausoleil and Kusshi. Gulf oysters too were once classified by their respective estuaries, up until the mid-1800’s, when a confluence of sheer quantity, increasing national demand, and the arrival of the railroad made it more profitable to do away with those niceties and ship them out in a monolithic mass, “commodity” oysters stripped of their provenance and, subsequently, their singularity.
That’s never stopped Texans from appreciating the meaty mollusks: raw and fried, in gumbos, and, of course, on the grill, where their flame-kissed shells serve as vessels in which they poach themselves in their own liquor (and maybe a little chile butter). And as we come up on prime oyster season—they just get bigger and sweeter from here on out—we can rest easy knowing that Texas is at the forefront of a movement to restore the proper appellations to our manifold Gulf oyster. Perhaps someday menus will be as likely to tout the “merroir” of a Possum Pass from Galveston Bay as a Pickle Point from Prince Edward Island.
Grilled Gulf Oysters With Jalapeño Butter
Buy as many Gulf oysters as you and your lucky friends want to eat. Get a hot fire going on the grill (charcoal is best if you want that smoky flavor). Meanwhile, give your oysters a good scrubbing, discarding any with broken or open shells. Then shuck your oysters, removing the top shell and placing the oyster along with its liquor in the deeper shell. Get all your shucks in a row on a large baking sheet, add a little nubbin of your compound butter to each, and head for the grill. Gently place the oysters on the grill (in batches, if you have a bunch) and close the lid for about 3 minutes. Then take a peek; you’ll want to see the edges of the oysters starting to curl up a little and the butter getting brown and bubbly. Don’t overcook; they shouldn’t take more than 4 or 5 minutes. Carefully remove from the grill—don’t spill the juice!—arrange on a bed of rock salt (if you want to be fancy), and serve with hot sauce, saltines, and beer.
Compound butter is merely a stick (or more) of softened butter to which you can add anything that appeals to you; ours included: 2 cloves of garlic, minced; 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced; 1 tablespoon or so chopped cilantro; the juice of one lime; and salt and pepper to taste.