Not that I haven’t always been an odd duck, but as a child, I didn’t eat any sort of seafood except for oysters. Fish was assumed to taste the way it smelled, crabs looked like spidery ocean monsters, and shrimp had to have been the grossest looking things I’d ever seen. But oysters! How I loved them so! My favorite preparation was fried with lots of lemon and ketchup, and I would adore the nights our family and extended family would pile into the car to go to the Chesapeake Bay Seafood House for their All-You-Can-Eat extravaganza. I’ve grown to become EEO about seafood (I’m sorry for judging you guys!) and adore just about every fresh catch I can get my hands on, but oysters hold a special place in my heart.
I think I get my love for oysters fairly as my dad’s dad adores them about as much as I do. A plate of raw oysters was about as good as it got in terms of a feast for him, the colder and brinier the better. Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s house meant a traditional Southern spread, and one that I waited patiently for each year was the appearance of my grandmothers Oyster Dressing. As if the little bivalves weren’t good enough on their own, incorporating them into the Thanksgiving stuffing just elevated them into the stratosphere.
This particular version, a part of my Thanksgiving for Trust Fund Babies menu, is a riff on Oysters Rockefeller. The stuffing is enlivened by smoky bacon, sweet shallots and spinach, with a shot of sherry and a sprinkle of parmesan to seal the deal. It’s a gorgeous addition to any Thanksgiving meal, but because of the cost of the oysters, one to save for people that you really adore. But then again, who really has Thanksgiving with people that they don’t adore? And if that is the case, then you need to come over to my house next year. Awesome folks only, that’s our only rule.
Oysters Rockefeller Dressing
1 pint of whole oysters with their liquor
1 tbs. of olive oil
4 small shallots (or 2 large), minced
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 c. of dry sherry (Pernod and Vermouth also work)
1 lb. of frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed of water
1 sprig of thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
1/8 tsp. of ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
vegetable stock (if needed)
about 5 c. of bread crumbs
1/2 c. of freshly grated parmesan
Drain the oysters, making sure to save the liquor. If oysters are particularly large (1 inch long or larger), you may want to cut them into smaller pieces. Set both oysters and liquor aside.
In a large skillet, add the olive oil and heat over high heat. Add the shallots, celery, garlic and bacon and cook until the entire mixture is fragrant, about a minute. Add the sherry and cook for 30 seconds. Add the spinach, thyme, nutmeg, white pepper and black pepper and cook until spinach is heated through. Now add the reserved oyster liquor, bread crumbs and oysters and stir to combine. If the mixture is a little dry, add vegetable stock to moisten. Turn the dressing out into a buttered casserole dish and top with the parmesan cheese. Bake until warmed through and browned on top, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve.