Here's Why Grilled Oysters and Clams Should Be Part of Your Summer Entertaining Menu
First and foremost, there's no need to shuck!
The first human who decided to open an oyster shell in order to get to the meat inside was probably watching birds crack them on a rocky shore. It's not as easy for us as it is for the birds-that determined person must have struggled for a long time before they were finally able to open the shell. Or maybe they realized while sitting by a blazing fire one evening that they could let the heat do all the work for them; when left over an open flame, the bivalve's shells popped open quickly, revealing the juicy, cooked meat inside. If you've never considered putting oysters or clams on the grill, you don't know what a pleasure lies in store for you. Not only is it the simplest way to open their shells, but grilling also seems to intensify their creamy texture and add a hint of mineral flavor.
Grilled oysters, dabbed with nutty browned butter the minute they open, are a delicious warm appetizer that can be eaten straight out of the shell. Martha uses her favorite oysters from Maine, but choose the best and freshest ones from your region this summer. The most important thing to remember when grilling oysters is to place the curved side of their shells on the bottom; this ensures that their precious briny liquid doesn't spill out when the oysters open on the grill. Many recipes spin off the original Oysters Rockefeller and use various anise or licorice-scented ingredients to flavor broiled or grilled oysters, just as our founder did in her book Martha Stewart's Grilling ($10.98, amazon.com) with her recipe for Oysters with Fennel-Shallot Butter, a compound butter that is kept at room temperature and melts when it goes on the just-opened oysters, mingling with their warm liquor.
Boston chef Chris Schlesinger recommends grilling clams as an appetizer while you're preparing a main course for a party. He suggests eating some yourself while you cook, and when folks wander over to admire your incredible creativity at the grill, offer them a clam. Keep a wide pan of buttery white wine on the grill, so the opened clams can be bathed in that, shells and all. Be sure to scrub the shells well and soak the clams for 10 minutes first in water with cornmeal to rid them of any sand before you get grilling.
And why not grill mussels while you're at it? Chefs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi of New York City's Via Carota restaurant like to add mussels to a mixed seafood grill, scrubbing the shells and debearding them before spreading them over a medium fire. Mussels are more delicate than clams and oysters, so be sure to pick through them and discard any with cracked shells. As with all shellfish, don't eat any that haven't opened after the others are cooked. And for optimum freshness, keep bivalves and other shellfish well chilled before cooking them. Restaurant chefs recommend holding seafood in a pan or bowl of ice near the grill.
Doesn't this all sound easy and delicious? Outdoor entertaining should be relaxing and fun, so if you're going to be grilling soon, try adding oysters, clams, or mussels to your menu and get into the spirit of summer.