I never had a grilled oyster until I moved to the Pacific Northwest. It seemed almost heretical to take such a delicate, luxurious food and unceremoniously slap it on the barbecue. But, owing to the northwest’s expansive coastline and cold, clean waters, oysters are abundant and they’re served every which way: on the half-shell, in chowders, baked, smoked, fried and, new to me, grilled.
When an oyster is grilled, it retains its delicacy, and yet, is also fortified by fire and smoke which gives the oyster an ethereal richness that tends toward meatiness. Grilled oysters partner with tarragon particularly well, as tarragon’s fresh, green licorice-like flavor is delicate enough to balance oysters without overpowering them.
Why I Serve Oysters and Other Seafood Throughout the Week (and you should too)
I try to serve seafoods throughout the week, maybe five or six times and sometimes more often. They’re particularly nutrient-dense, and even my toddler enjoys a filet of baked salmon, clams steamed with fresh herbs and chorizo, spot shrimp risotto and these grilled oysters. There’s a great oyster chowder recipe in my first cookbook.
Oysters and seafood are particularly nutrient-dense. Just one medium oyster contains all the zinc your body needs in a day, and then some. Zinc is particularly valuable in supporting the immune system as well as supporting fertility, endocrine health and optimal reproductive health.
How to Grill Oysters
The most popular way to grill oysters is to set them, cup-side down, on a grill and allow them to cook until they open up just slightly before you pry away the top shell and add a pat of butter. This method allows the oysters to steam a bit in their own juices.
Ever the contrarians, my husband and I prefer a different approach. First, we shuck the oysters, and then set them on a grill, cup-side down, dropping a spoonful of seasoned butter onto each oyster. Their juices will warm and begin to bubble, the butter will melt and baste the oysters as they cook and the smoke perfumes the delicate shellfish just enough to give them a wonderfully rich, meaty flavor.
Grilled Oysters with Tarragon Butter
- 8 ounces softened butter
- 1 medium shallot diced
- 1/4 cup loosely packed tarragon leaves
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
- 12 large oysters order them here
- Toss the butter, shallot, tarragon, vinegar and sea salt into food processor, and process on high speed until uniformly combined.
- Preheat the grill to medium.
- Shuck the oysters, reserving as much juice as you can. Top each oyster with about 2 teaspoons prepared tarragon butter.
- Place the oysters cup-side down on the grill. Cover the grill and allow the oysters to cook until the butter melts, and their juices begin to bubble – about 10 minutes. Remove from the grill and serve warm.
Where to Find Sustainably-Farmed Oysters
Oysters are particularly nutrient-dense, rich in vitamins B12 and D as well as the minerals zinc and selenium while also being very low in mercury.
They are also sustainably farmed, taking relatively little space to produce large volumes of oysters, providing safety and shelter for other sea creatures, and they require no supplementary feed, only clean water. Seafood Watch, a program of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium that ranks seafood choices based upon overall sustainability including ecological, bycatch and species impact, consistently ranks oysters as a “best choice.”
If you live along the coasts, you might be able to find oysters locally; however, if you do not, you can order them online here and have them delivered from the farm, fresh to your door.
Cooking with Oysters and Nutrient-Dense Seafood
Seafoods are particularly nutrient-dense foods, and they also feature prominently among the diets of long-lived peoples (source) as well as the traditional diets of some of the healthiest peoples studied by nutrition pioneer and researcher, Weston Price (source). They tend to be high in protein, rich in B vitamins, vitamin D and minerals like iodine, zinc, iron and selenium as well as omega-3 fatty acids, depending on the variety.
And while there’s inevitably concern about oceanic pollution and its effects on the nutritive quality of seafoods, it’s important to remember that you are still better off eating seafood than avoiding it (source), particularly when you make choices that are low in mercury, high in nutrients and wild-caught or sustainably produced, like oysters.
Here are some of our favorite ways to cook and serve nutrient-dense seafoods.
Salmon with Honey Chipotle Bourbon Butter is marvelously easy to prepare. Salmon is one of the few fish rich enough to stand up to the heat and intensity of chipotle chiles, and it’s worth it.
Salmon Baked in Cream and Herbs is another favorite of Nourished Kitchen readers. Salmon bakes in herb-infused cream which yields a thick, savory sauce.
Clam Chowder with Basil Drizzle is also lovely, and unlike heavy chowders thickened with a floury roux, this chowder is lighter, thinner and, owing to the basil drizzle, brighter, too.
Korean-Style Seafood Stew is positively brimming with fresh fish, prawns and nutrient-dense seafoods, partnered with the vibrant flavor of chiles, ginger, garlic, scallions and fresh vegetables.</h2)