There are two things that our little island of Chincoteague, off the coast of Virginia is known for…Pony Penning, and oysters. Since we are a barrier island next to Atlantic Ocean we have extremely high salinity (salt content) in our water, making for some extra-salty and delicious oysters. They ship them all over, to the fanciest restaurants and oyster bars in the country – and people pay top dollar for them. Chesapeake Bay oysters are also world-renowned, but for their sweetness from the brackish waters (part salt, part fresh) as opposed to the briny saltiness. I find it so interesting that they can taste so different, but still be so delicious in their own way…
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I’m so thankful to call this little stretch of land between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean my home. While we have things like clams and blue crabs to look forward to in the summer months, the cooler months is the time for oysters. The rule of thumb is any month that ends in “ember” is the best time to enjoy them.
My best friends aunt has an oyster bed, and dredged up a half a bushel for me on Saturday morning. They are always covered in marsh mud, and require plenty of scrubbing – but they smell of the sea, and to me that’s one of the best smells in the world.
Now, it’s pretty much blasphemy for anything to be served with “Chincoteague Salts” – as they contain so much flavor from the salty brine found inside. But for any other oysters you’ll commonly find a mignonette sauce served with them. It’s a simple vinegar based sauce that usually includes minced shallots, black peppercorns, and fresh herbs.
It’s an extra special appetizer during the Holidays, something that’s easy (provided you have a good fishmonger or husband who is prone to shucking!) and so impressive. If you have access to fresh oysters, even if they aren’t from my neck of the woods, pick up a dozen and give them a try. And if you are lucky to have access to them in abundance (or you are more into cooked renditions of oysters), make sure you check back here in the next week – I have two other oyster recipes coming up that will knock your socks off!
Oysters with Mignonette Sauce
1 dozen oysters, on the half shell
For the mignonette:
1/4 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
1 shallot, finely minced
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1/4 tsp kosher salt
For the sauce, combine all ingredients in a small bowl or ramekin. Mix to combine. Let sit for 20 minutes to let the flavors mingle and meld together.
Meanwhile, place the crushed ice in the bottom of a shallow serving dish. Carefully lay the oysters on top of the ice for serving.
Serve the mignonette alongside the oysters with the lemon wedges. Hot sauce and cocktail sauce are also popular condiments.