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2-4 dozen oysters, chilled (most people will eat 1-2 dozen)
1 bag of crushed ice*
1/4 cup grated fresh horseradish root
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
2 Tbsp prepared horseradish
2-3 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
or 1 tsp hot sauce of your choice
1 large shallot
Scrub all of the oysters to remove any surface mud or dirt. I like using a Japanese tawashi for this as it's very easy to use and to clean.
On a suitable surface spread out a bag of ice (I like to use two stacked half-sheet pans with a wire rack), stacking the pans helps prevent condensation on whatever you set them on. You can use any container you like provided there is somewhere for the melted ice to drain into.
Place the cleaned oysters on the ice with their curved sides facing down. You can comfortably fit about 2 dozen on a 1/2 sheet tray. If you're having more than 2 dozen oysters place the rest of the cleaned oysters in the refrigerator, or get another tray set up with another bag of ice.
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, taste and adjust seasoning and add water until you form a wet paste, set some aside for the cocktail sauce, then place the rest in the freezer to quickly chill. In a pinch, you can use a good brand of prepared horseradish instead.
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, taste and adjust seasoning, then place in the refrigerator.
Using a sharp knife peel and then finely mince the shallot. Add it to the vinegar. In a small skillet, toast the peppercorns over medium heat just until fragrant (about a minute), then roughly crush them with a spatula or back of a spoon and add to the vinegar. Mix well and let stand at room temperature.
Open the oysters. There are many ways to do this but I prefer this method. I usually use a 4" Boston style knife, it's a pretty solid all-rounder and keeps your hand far enough away from the shell so you're less likely to scrape a knuckle. If you're accident prone, I recommend using a pot holder to hold the oyster down from above with a flat palm, this way none of your hand is in the blade path.
As you open each oyster just replace it on the bed of ice, being careful not to spill the juices.
Serve with cocktail sauce, mignonette, horseradish, and fresh lemon.
While all the condiments do go with everything, I find that the mignonette is particularly great for West Coast (where I'm from), Japanese, and most European oysters. The cocktail sauce shines with East Coast oysters.
To drink? Or course a great chardonnay-based champagne always works. The savory character of the wine and the oysters is a great match. Or try fino sherry or stout beer, both also packed with umami.
* if you can only find cube ice just wrap the bag in a towel and whack it with a rolling pin or short broom handle until crushed.
Food images and recipe © Christian Leue.
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