You see raw oysters everywhere these days, as well as roasted ones and fried ones and Rockefeller ones. What you don’t encounter as often, at least not in American restaurants, are oysters that have been steamed.
Take a trip to the food-forward Southern city of Richmond, though, and you may come away convinced that oyster lovers are missing out on a magnificent (and simple) mode of bivalve expression.
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At Rapp Session, a shellfish-fixated saloon here that was opened by the people behind the Rappahannock Oyster Co., steamed oysters arrive hot and plump and almost fluffy, with an airy, gossamer texture that calls to mind a souffle.
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Dylan Fultineer, the chef at Rapp Session and its companion restaurant, Rappahannock, splashes them with butter that has been deepened with dry vermouth and reddened with pimenton, the smoky paprika from Spain. Prepared this way, the oysters are so good that you find yourself downing a dozen of them with the sort of speed usually applied to pie-eating contests.
Fultineer likes to use fat oysters that won’t wisp away in the heat. The dampness of steam delivers the magic.
“The steamed oysters just seem to keep the moisture intact,” said Travis Croxton, an owner of the Rappahannock Oyster Co. Grilling can sometimes lead to dryness and uneven textures. “Instead of cooking them so long that they start to shrivel and toughen, we want to just get them a nice bubbly hot very quickly and pull them off,” Croxton said.
Steaming oysters at home? Easy. Here’s Croxton’s advice: Grab a pot, get your water boiling and place your oysters on a tray in the steam for about three to five minutes. When a few of the shells start to open, you’re ready.
“At that point, they’re all cooked, even if they aren’t open,” Croxton said. “And in this capacity, anyone can become an expert shucker, because they’ll pop very easily, even with a butter knife.”