“A brave soul was he who ate the first oyster.” Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that one before. Now I’ve got a new one for you: “A foolish soul was he who put oysters on a pizza.” Foolish maybe, but when combined with Brie, spinach, and an apple and fennel salad, this pizza turned out beautifully.
Oysters have been an important food since the Neolithic period. The Greeks loved them and the Roman Emperors paid the same weight in gold for them. Maybe they knew that oysters are an excellent source of vitamins A, B1(thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), C (ascorbic acid) and D (calciferol). Four or five medium size oysters supply the recommended daily allowance of iron, manganese, copper, calcium, iodine, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. Now that’s some serious nutrition.
You might notice 34 shells, but only 12 oysters in the bowl. Hmmm…what does that Tabasco, lemon and my smile indicate?
Oysters have graced the table in numerous in stews, fried, au gratin, Rockefeller, stir fried, in chowder, with drawn butter or mignonette, but my favorites is a funky recipe from Savarin in one of my very old French cookbooks. Titled “Bordeaux Oysters,” the directions are simple: “Take a dozen ‘flat’ oysters very, very cold, a small sausage very strongly garlic flavoured, very heavily pimentoed, very hot to the tongue. You then take a bite of scorching-hot sausage, followed by a cooling mouthful of oyster. This is the only preparation with which one could, in a pinch, drink red wine (Bordeaux).”
Although not as spicy, garlicky or simple as Savarin’s recipe, this pie has all the elements an oyster lover would want as a last meal. I’ve combined the oysters with creamy French Brie, kicked up with a little Parmigiano Reggiano. I added a Granny Smith apple and fennel salad, balanced with some lemony acidity, for crunch. On top of it, a dark green nest of baby spinach nestles briny oysters cooked in spicy horseradish, basil, jalepeno and lemon.
After opening the Oak Room in Boston, I was lucky enough to be able to install a first class oyster bar in this beautful room. This included being taught how to shuck oysters and clams by guys who lived in Wellfleet on Cape Cod and had been shucking since birth. The first time I added cocktail sauce led to so much denigration from those chefs that I now forgo everything except hot sauce and or lemon. The true taste of the sea is a miracle.
Some oyster places pride themselves on shucking fast, but I like to shuck slowly. That way you don’t crack your teeth on shell bits. Here is my way of shooting straight through the hinge or “beak,” then cutting through the adductor muscle.
Using the Easy Pizza Dough recipe, make the two 7-ounce dough balls. Freeze one to use later but only after you know you won’t screw the first one up.
2 slices applewood smoked bacon
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil + 1 teaspoon for the crust
5 cups fresh baby spinach (pushed down tightly in a measuring cup)
2 red jalepenos, one smaller
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
3 large basil leaves
Juice from 1/2 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
12 medium fresh oysters in the shell, shucked using the above video, reserved with juices in a bow1/2 fennel bulb
1 Granny Smith apple
1 teaspoon grated Parmesano Reggiano
5 to 8 ounces good French Brie (don’t get the cheap stuff as it will turn to an oil slick on your pizza), sliced
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place an upturned heavy cookie sheet on the middle deck.
Cut the bacon strips lenthwise down the center, cut in half and stack on top of each other. Cut in small cubes.
Sautee in a medium pan on high heat for 2 minutes. Add one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. (Good bacon does not exude much fat, so adding the olive oil will distribute the taste into the spinach.) Heat for another 2 minutes until the bacon is golden brown.
Remove the bacon to a medium bowl, leaving the fat in the pan. Heat the fat on high.
Place the spinach in the pan. Using tongs, toss the spinach for only 20 to 30 seconds. The heat will wilt the spinach very fast. Take it out of the pan immediately and reserve on a cool plate.
Cut the top off one of the red jalepenos. Cut down the length of the pepper, then cut out the seeds and any white ribbing. Julienne one half of the pepper finely, and add to the bacon.
Roll the 3 basil leaves into a tight ball. Cut fine strips from the ball, then cut across, creating small pieces.
Add the horseradish, basil, hot sauce and juice from 1/4 lemon (about 1 tablespoon) to the bowl. Stir well, then add the oysters in their juice. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
Peel the apple and cut in half lengthwise. Run the edge of half an apple along a mandoline (Japanese Benriner is best), or slice the half as thinly as possible, into matchsticks. Place in a medium bowl.
Cut the fennel lengthwise. Cut the core out using a “V” cut and trim any discolored parts. Slide along the mandoline or cut paper thin. Add to the bowl with the apple. Squeeze 1/4 lemon (about 1 tablespoon) and 1 teaspoon water (this will distribute lemon better) and toss. Leave on the counter to soften and meld flavors.
Topping the pizza:
Roll out the pizza round according to the Easy Pizza Dough instructions. Place dough disc on parchment paper. Grate Parmesan cheese on top, then place the Brie slices over top.
Using the bottom of another upturned cookie sheet or a pizza peel, carefully slide the pizza onto the preheated cookie sheet in the oven. Cook for 11 to 14 minutes or until the bottom is dark-gold and the crust is golden brown.
Cut the second, smaller red jalepeno with a very sharp knife to create rounds. Discard seeds. Pour only the oyster marinate from the bowl onto the cooked spinach and toss into the greens.
Top the pizza with the fennel and apple salad, then make small nests with the spinach and place the oysters in the nests. (You will notice that the oysters have a pale opaqueness to them because they have been cooking in the acidity of the marinade, like ceviche). Scatter the remaining bacon, basil, and jalepeno on top, then top with the jalepeno rings.
Spritz with lemon and Serve immediatly. When complimented on this oyster pie, just say “Aw, shucks!”