Italian curried oysters
"It was a brave man that first et an oyster," the 18th Century author Jonathan Swift allegedly said, and it's true: Upon casual examination, neither the stony, hard-to-open shell nor the slimy, gooey-looking creature inside looks much like something that the uninitiated would want to chomp down upon.
When you're shopping for seafood, be a skeptical consumer. Buy oysters (and seafood and fish in general) only from vendors you consider absolutely trustworthy, and if possible, smell before you buy. This goes double for those of us who don't live near saltwater, where getting truly fresh seafood can be a challenge ... unless you have a good, quality fishmonger with an honest spirit.
Luckily, we're blessed with some excellent fish shops in this seafood-loving inland town, and we enjoy oysters year-round, or at least in months with "R" in them. I served a batch of plump, sweet beauties from the Pacific Northwest on Christmas Eve, truncating the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes to the Feast Of A Single Shellfish. I found this modern Italian concept - oysters on a bed of spinach blanketed with a rich sabayon egg-and-cream sauce laced with a whiff of curry - in the recently reviewed Silver Spoon cookbook, and converted it from a starter into a light meal by serving it on a bed of steaming orzo pasta.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
1 bunch spinach
1. Start with the spinach, the one step that can be done in advance and kept warm. Rinse it very well, then put the leaves in a pot with only the water clinging to them, add a little salt, and cook over high heat for just a few moments, only until the spinach wilts. Drain and chop fine, then stir in 1 tablespoon of the cream and blend into a smooth puree with stand or stick blender. Set aside and keep warm.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and put in the pasta, stirring once or twice.
3. While the pasta is cooking, put the oysters and their liquor into another pot; bring to a very gentle simmer and heat just until the oysters are cooked through, no more than 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, make a simple sabayon with the remaining ingredients: Melt the butter in a small skillet, stir in the curry powder and set aside. Put a metal bowl into a pot containing a small amount of water to make a double boiler, and put in the remaining 4 ounces of heavy cream and the egg yolk. Heat this assembly gently over a medium flame, whisking constantly until the egg and cream emulsify into a thick sauce ("sabayon"). You're not looking for whipped cream, just a rich sauce. Stir in the curry butter and whisk until it's smooth. This won't hold for long without "breaking" into a curdled mess, so try to make it at the last minute before serving. However, if it does curdle, whisking in a little more butter should put it right.
5. Assemble the dish by putting the cooked orzo into warm pasta bowls. Put half of the warm spinach puree over each, then lift out and drain the oysters and position them atop the spinach. Ladle the thick sabayon over all and serve at once.
WINE MATCH: Normally oysters call for a crisp, acidic white, and Sancerre or other Loire white is usually my go-to choice, with a bold New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as another contender. The richness of this dish, though, and the subtle but exotic hint of curry suggest a white that's more robust. For our Christmas Eve dinner, the Chateau Musar 1996 Bekaa Valley white made a super match. I'd also consider one of the more full-bodied Southern Italian whites along the lines of a Fiano or Greco di Tufo.
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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2005
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