February 01, 2007

Gi-Gi's Oysters

Hi everyone. Thought I'd start this off with one of my favorites. When I was a kid, our maternal grandmother was called Gi-Gi. Her name was Georgia, and that's what our grandfather called her, but my older sister couldn't say it that way, and it came out gi-gi. So it stuck.
They lived right behind us in a gorgeous fieldstone house, and every Thanksgiving and Christmas we'd go over for dinner. It was quite the event. Gi-Gi would roast a terrific turkey, complete with all the sides. My favorite side dish was the oysters.
Being from Maryland, I grew up to love oysters. We had blue crabs in the summer, and oysters in the winter. I'd have fried oysters, scalloped oysters, oyster stew, and sometimes you could buy some oysters from a guy selling them out of the back of a pick-up, and take them home, shuck them over the sink, and slurp them off the shell. Winter in Maryland has some horrid weather, but it's pretty much off-set by the fact that you can get fresh oysters in any month that has an 'r' in it.
Anyways, back to Gi-Gi's. Sometimes I'd try to forego the turkey and just fill up on oysters. They were that good. Gi-Gi never looked at a recipe the entire time I knew her. (that I know of) And she surely didn't write anything down. So I asked my sister one time if she knew how to make some of Gi-Gi's dishes. Of course she didn't. Gi-Gi didn't like much help in the kitchen. So we were left to try to figure it out on our own. It took me a while, but this past Christmas I finally figured it out. It's incredibly simple, and I thought I'd use it for my first contribution to this site, as it's a quintessential Chesapeake dish.
For this dish, you'll want to get good oysters. What I mean is, don't try it with those cans of smoked oysters, or other canned oysters that they sell next to the anchovies and sardines. Hoof it over to the fish counter, and look for pint jars of oysters, probably on ice. These oysters are in a briny, viscous liquid, which is called the "liquor". I don't know where it comes from or why it's there. I don't really care. (there are some things it's best not to know) But you're going to need that, so don't get rid of it. When you get ready to put it all together, pour the oysters into a strainer or collander, and collect that liquor in a bowl or measuring cup under the strainer. The directions I'm going to give you will make enough of Gi-Gi's oysters to fill an 8x8 or 9x9 casserole dish. If you have a 9 x 13 dish, you'll probably want to double up. OK, here it is:

1 - 2 pints of good oysters (enough to cover the bottom of your casserole dish)
2 cups of milk
2 sticks of margarine
Saltine crackers.

Preheat your oven to about 350.
Drain the oysters in a collander, and reserve the liquor. Then put the oysters in the casserole dish. In a saucepan, heat up the milk and margarine until the margarine is melted. Once the margarine has melted, pour in some of the liquor, but not too much. Probably about 1/4 cup. You'll want to taste it as you're adding it. It should have a definite oystery taste, but not overpowering. (I made that mistake). Add some salt and pepper to taste. Once this broth suits you, pour it over the oysters, until they're just covered. You'll probably have some left over. Now, take out a sleave of the Saltines, put about 4-5 in each hand, and crush them over the oysters. Do that until the crushed crackers cover the oysters about 1/4 inch thick. The cracker bits should be about dime-sized, not crumbs. Now put them in the oven for about 5-10 minutes. All you want to do here is heat up the oysters. If you cook them too long, they'll shrivel up to itty-bitty things like you see in those cans. (I made that mistake, too) The crackers on the bottom will have soaked up some of the broth, and taste kind of like oystery dumplings. The crackers on top will be crisp, and the oysters -- oh man, the oysters will be like a taste of heaven itself.

Eventually, I'll post some pictures of this. Eventually, I hope this will be a proper food blog. But for now, I just wanted to get things going, and this was always one of my faves. I was so excited when I finally got it right, I had to phone my sister and tell her. You'd have thought I won the lottery.

So that's my first contribution from the Chesapeake, where we currently live. Next I'll post one of my favorites from the West Coast.

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