As a lover of all things oyster, I have to admit that usually my preferred mode of eating them is raw and right out of the shell, maybe with a little lemon, horseradish, or mignonette. I’ll enjoy a good fried oyster po’ boy from time to time, of course, but I never really warmed to the idea of grilled oysters until we finally had Drago’s chargrilled oysters as part of an early evening happy hour on our last New Orleans trip. The concierge immediately directed us to the Drago’s that’s in the Hilton Riverside, and while the decor there screams that you’re eating in a hotel bar, the food is far better than what you’d get at a normal hotel. The original Drago’s is in Metarie so it’s not as easy to get to if you don’t have a car, so for many visitors the Hilton location is a good compromise.
The Drago’s chargrilled oyster is simply a dozen oysters that are bathed in a sauce of butter, garlic, and various herbs and then thrown on the grill to heat them through. They came up with this dish over twenty years ago–it’s kind of crazy no one had thought of it before, but there you go–and the dozen we enjoyed with a couple of beers was tasty. Neither of us wanted to eat more than that, though, because they were SO buttery.
Fast-forward to a couple of months later and the three-day weekend that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day affords most of us. I had the Monday off while Michael didn’t so I decided I’d make a special dinner and why not start things off with some delicious oysters? Stephanie Izard had a really appealing recipe for grilled oysters, so I figured it was the perfect impetus to try grilled oysters at home–seeing that the oysters would be covered in a horseradish aioli sealed the deal.
Stephanie calls for prepared horseradish in her recipe, so I decided to try preparing some of my own. I ended up not making it very spicy because it had been a while since either Michael or I had done it, and so I had forgotten that to prepare horseradish, you first blend it with some water to call up the heat, and then add vinegar to stop the reaction and keep it from turning into culinary napalm. I didn’t add much in the way of water so it never got a lot of time to get really hot in the aioli, so I felt OK by adding a good amount of it to give the sauce some of that heat.
Grilling the oysters was another challenge; instead of putting them on our plancha I added them to our saute pan and let them warm through that way, and that worked out well.
You guys, this dish is SO good. It’s both simple and impressive, and if you’re a half-decent shucker of oysters it can come together rather quickly. I would definitely recommend making the aioli ahead of time and then you have a little time to open up those little mollusks and get them ready to grill while the aioli comes up to room temperature and the pancetta cooks down and gets nice and crispy. Oh, I didn’t mention that this has a pancetta garnish? It has a pancetta garnish.
Even better is that this sauce can be saved and served with beef later in the week, which is exactly what we ended up doing.
Grilled Oysters with Horseradish Aioli and Pancetta
slightly adapted from Stephanie Izard’s The Girl in the Kitchen
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced into cubes
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, plus more if needed
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup blended oil (half grapeseed, half olive oil)
- 1-2 dozen shucked oysters, plumpest you can find. (If you only do a dozen save the rest of the sauce for some steak.)
- 10 chives, minced
In a small pan, keep the heat on low and slowly cook the pancetta until the fat completely renders out and the bits are crispy; remove from heat and drain on paper towels.
Make the aioli: combine everything for the sauce but the oil into a tall container that can accommodate an immersion blender and start to blend together. Slowly stream in the oil to create an emulsion; to store, place plastic wrap directly on the sauce and keep in the refrigerator.
To grill the oysters: using either a grill or a large saute pan, place the oysters on medium-high heat on the grill racks or the pan, cover and let warm through for 2-3 minutes.
For serving: arrange the oysters on a platter or plate, and top with aioli, chives, and pancetta and serve immediately.