For the Love of Oysters: Oyster Roast How-Tos
In the Lowcountry, the colder months usher in one of the region’s tastiest of traditions: the oyster roast. Perhaps even rivaling the palmetto tree, the oyster is emblematic of the South Carolina Lowcountry. (Though it probably wouldn’t look as nice on the state flag, but it sure does taste better.) At Kiawah River, oyster beds line the sparkling saltwater riverside, serving as the perfect inspiration for this seasonal celebration.
“R” You Ready for Oyster Season? Check the Calendar
It’s true that you can buy oysters year-round, but most people from the Lowcountry strictly abide by the “months with R” rule when it comes to eating raw oysters, and since you want to only minimally steam those tasty bivalves, oyster roasters should respect the same seasonal constraints. And keep in mind, though oyster season runs from fall through early spring, there is a good reason why oyster roasts start popping up more in the colder months of November through February…those blazing fire pits get hot!
The Marsh-to-Table Oyster Prep Guide
First things first, you will need oysters. Whether you’re harvesting your own or buying from a local seafood purveyor, such as Crosby’s Fish & Shrimp Co. located just a short drive from Kiawah River at nearby Folly Beach, a good rule of thumb for oyster-to-guest ratio is about a bushel (45-60 lbs) for every five people. Once back home with your bounty of bivalves, follow these four steps:
Spray ‘em down. Pluff Mud Porter from local Charleston Brewery Holy City? Yes, please. Actual pluff mud as part of your oyster-eating experience? No, thank you! Remember, oysters were extracted from their marshy beds before arriving to your home, so make sure you give them a thorough hose down before roasting time.
Steam ‘em…lightly. This is where the bulk of the heavy lifting happens. You will need: 1) a large piece of sheet metal, 2) cinderblocks, 3) burlap sack, 4) clean shovel, 5) and plenty of chopped wood at the ready. To construct your oyster roasting station, build a fire pit (or you can use a store-bought version) with the stacked cinder blocks enclosing the fire and tall enough so they reach just above the flames. Then place the sheet metal atop the cinder blocks leaving an open area where you can continue to add wood to the fire.
Once your cooking surface is hot, it’s time to get those oysters steaming! Spread them in a thin layer so they cook evenly and cover with a water-soaked burlap sack. Cook time will take about 5-8 minutes. Most oyster lovers are of the mindset that there is no such thing as an undercooked oyster, so it’s best to err on the side of less cooked. The finished oyster should be warm and juicy rather than hot and rubbery. You’ll know the oysters are done when they just begin to open — you should still need to pry them open at the back hinge with an oyster knife. Use that shovel to remove the steamed oysters, then on to the next batch.
Shuck ‘em, then eat ‘em! Be prepared with enough oyster knives, gloves, and towels to go around. Also, not all shuck equally, so it is helpful to have a few extra shuckers on hand to help those novices with their portion. As for oyster accouterments, keep it simple: hot sauce, cocktail sauce, lemon wedges, and saltines. If you want to spice it up with some signature sauce, go right ahead, but the classics never disappoint. In between batches, make sure to keep your guests’ hands busy with cold beer (bring your own koozie!) or maybe hot toddies made with spirits from High Wire Distilling Co., located just fifteen miles away from Kiawah River in downtown. Charleston.
Header photo by Sarah Rawls // Gallery photos by Candice Broyles