Martha Reveals What She Always Serves at Holiday Parties
Martha went to a cocktail party years ago that left a lasting impression—the menu was simple, but the guest reception was spectacular. Today she uses that same principle at her annual open house. Here, she shares her crowd-pleasing approach to shrimp cocktail and oysters on the half shell.
Planning a holiday party doesn't have to be complicated. The trick is to serve a pared-down but special-feeling menu. One of my favorites, which I serve at my annual open house in Bedford, is a delicious fresh-seafood buffet of oysters and shrimp, accompanied by a bar stocked with icy-cold whites, a delectable rosé, and a sparkling wine or two. As a young married woman in New York City, I experienced such a buffet at the town house of some friends before a performance of the Messiah at Carnegie Hall. It occurred to me at the time that our hostess was a genius to focus on such a limited yet tasty and refined menu. We ate our fill, then trekked to the concert sated and happy.
When preparing this spread, make sure you use high-quality seafood. Seek out a reputable fishmonger, and remember: Seafood should smell clean, never fishy. Opt for sustainably harvested or raised shrimp, and choose oysters that are tightly closed. Plan for three to six shrimp and three to four oysters per guest.
I always try to find an expert to shuck oysters at my party, but it's easy enough to do it ahead on your own (see the how-to ahead). I also make traditional toppings; I think they taste just a bit better than anything you can buy. My jalapeño mignonette is an adaptation of the garnish served at Hog Island Oyster Co., in Marshall, California. The fresh horseradish is a take on my mother's recipe—I make mine in a food processor.
Of course, you can build on this buffet for a hungrier group. Try adding a country ham with angel biscuits, or pâté de foie gras with melba-toast points—or a bowl of domestic farm-raised caviar with all the fixings! The important thing is to keep it simple, so you can relax and enjoy the party. Happy holidays, and cheers!
Martha likes to serve shrimp cocktail on cake stands of varying heights. She arranges the shrimp in rings and garnishes each display with a burst of leafy-green butter lettuce from her vegetable greenhouse.
To get the party started immediately, Martha also greets her guests with glasses of chilled Champagne.
Beauties on the Half Shell
How to Shuck an Oyster
Norm Bloom, owner of Copps Island Oysters in Norwalk, Connecticut, shows us his technique for shucking oysters. Before you start, make sure to protect your hand with a steel mesh glove or towel. Then, find the hinge. To do so, insert the tip of a shucking knife into the muscle that holds the shells together at the bottom tip. Turn it like a key until it pops open
Slice It Open
Next, scrape the knife along the top to slice the muscle. (Be careful not to damage the meat.) Clean any sand or grit from the bottom shell.
Release the Oyster
Now it's time for the fun part. Glide the knife underneath the meat to separate it from the abductor muscle, without spilling the liquid (aka liquor). Serve on ice.