Oysters with white wine.
Ireland Hopping / By Margaret M. Johnson
Irish oysters are considered food “fit for the gods.” It’s hard to believe the prized mollusk was once considered “famine food” and associated with poverty and hard times. Carried in panniers by donkeys along dirt-track roads, the seaweed-wrapped shellfish were sold not by the dozen but by the barrelful and were often given away free by Dublin publicans and innkeepers. Fall is oyster season in Ireland, and the salty, briny, it’s-an-acquired-taste delicacy is a real gem of Irish food heritage. Oyster eating was originally confined to months that have an "r" in their name, leaving out the months of May through August (some of the hottest months of the year in oyster-rich regions). But thanks to modern food preservation and oyster farming, oyster eating is now a year-round affair; September, however, is still considered to be the start of the “season.” Two places in County Galway — Clarenbridge and Galway City — have honored this tradition for the last 65 years with major festivals celebrating the local delicacy. Regrettably, the village of Clarenbridge, which would have held its annual event next weekend, has cancelled the 2020 festival due to Covid-19. See the update on the Galway International Oyster Festival from Sept. 25-27 at the end of this column.
Short of being in Galway in person for the latter event, you might want to try one of these oyster recipes to celebrate from afar.
OYSTERS WITH BACON AND SPINACH
Native wild oysters are synonymous with Galway Bay where they fatten in its clear and clean water. You’ll find them throughout the country, of course, offered straight from the shell with a squeeze of lemon, topped with tangy mignonette or sashimi sauce, or grilled with delicious toppings ranging from breadcrumbs to bacon to cheese.
3 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
4 tablespoons chopped baby spinach
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
2 teaspoons finely chopped celery
4 teaspoons fresh white breadcrumbs
Pinch of cayenne
4 slices bacon
24 shucked oysters
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the parsley, spinach, chives, celery, 2 teaspoons of the breadcrumbs, cayenne, salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl and chill for about 1 hour.
2. In a large skillet or microwave oven, cook bacon until crisp. Cool and crumble; stir into spinach mixture.
3. Preheat broiler. Place oysters on a broiler pan; divide spinach mixture evenly over each oyster. Sprinkle with remaining bread crumbs. Broil 4 inches from heat source for 2 to 3 minutes, or until crumbs are lightly browned.
4. To serve, arrange 4 oysters on each of 6 plates. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley and garnish with lemon wedge.
OYSTERS WITH GARLIC, HERBS AND CHEESE
3 tablespoons Kerrygold Garlic and Herb Butter
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
24 shucked oysters
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Preheat broiler. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper.
2. Place oysters on a broiler pan; divide breadcrumbs mixture evenly over each oyster. Sprinkle with cheese. Broil 4 inches from the heat source for 2 to 3 minutes, or until breadcrumbs are lightly browned.
3. To serve, arrange 4 oysters on each of 6 plates. Sprinkle with parsley and garnish with lemon wedge.
OYSTERS WITH SASHIMI SAUCE
By definition, sashimi is a traditional Japanese delicacy of fresh raw fish or meat sliced into thin pieces and often eaten with soy sauce and wasabi. The simple topping works well with fresh raw oysters, too, as does this slightly more complex variation. NOTE: when serving raw oysters in the shell, place them on a bed of crushed ice or rock salt to keep them from wobbling on the plate.
12 shucked oysters
1/2 cup soy sauce
Grated rind and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/3 cup toasted sesame oil
1. Arrange 3 oysters on each of 4 plates. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, lime juice and rind and garlic; spoon over oysters.
2. Sprinkle ginger, chives and sesame seeds on top; drizzle with sesame oil.
MAKES 1/2 CUP
This tangy sauce is the classic accompaniment to raw oysters.
1 tablespoon black or mixed peppercorns, coarsely ground
1/2 cup white or red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl; refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve with chilled oysters.
Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page also includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, or to order a signed copy of her new cookbook “Teatime in Ireland” (Buy One Get One Free SEPTEMBER SPECIAL), visit www.irishcook.com
The festival must go on!
As of this past weekend, the words “Covid” and “pandemic” were not to be seen on any websites pertaining to cultural events in Galway this summer and fall, and so the Echo directly contacted the Galway Oyster Festival to ask if it was still scheduled.
“We are going ahead with this year’s festival — Sept 25-27 — albeit in a different format to allow for the circumstances we all find ourselves in,” a spokesperson emailed in reply. “And we have moved for this year to a different location: the festival will take place in the Galway Summer Garden in Salthill.”
She explained that the “restrictions are constantly changing,” but now the picture is clearer the festival is in the process of updating its website (galwayoysterfestival.com) and other online outlets with ticket and other relevant information.