Oysters are a loogie in the culinary sandbox. An epicure will slurp them, but most folks would rather eat egg salad that’s been clotting on a picnic table for six hours. Consequently, any oyster dish is the ideal game-changer at your Thanksgiving table, and is odds-on to send that cousin-in-law whose name you can’t remember to the punchbowl to bob for the courage to hold his nose and swallow one whole.
My mother was an odd filly to pick up the oyster habit. Her Dust Bowl childhood in the Nebraska Sand Hills (which we only heard about every ten minutes: blizzards more blinding with each White Zin; a trek to school that crossed most of the continent) suggested a palette more attuned to the oysters you carved off Elsie’s husband after he stopped being good for anything else.
That’s why I figure this recipe, which I still have in Maggie’s loopy script on a 3×5 card, must’ve hatched during her tour as a landlubber Navy Bride, docking her at exotic ports-of-call such as Macon or Waco. The sort of scurvy-inducing concoction bored base wives dreamt up during afternoons of euchre, cigarettes, and the next deployment of Creamettes and evaporated milk.
It is the perfect whitebread oyster dish, in that you can loathe oysters, but love this, for the simple reason it tastes nothing like oysters. The gourmands among you will still locate their slithery, salty seductiveness within the folds of cream, until you find yourself explaining to your 7-year-old nephew what “they literally came in my mouth” means while your sister glares at you.
Which, since we’re on the subject: oysters? Aphrodisiacs? Though I can’t testify, because I’m usually passed out somewhere after meals involving them, my scholarly research indicates:
1. Oysters are an aphrodisiac because they resemble testes.
2. Oysters are an aphrodisiac because they resemble the female parts of a female.
3. Oysters are definitely not, studies show, an aphrodisiac, although they promote zinc development, which makes the menfolk’s something something.
4. Oysters are maybe possibly, studies show, an aphrodisiac, because somebody did lab work and got tingly.
I guess I haven’t fondled enough oysters—or other people’s personal effects—to get onboard with either the testicular tactility or yoohoo tingle theory. To me, oysters feel like what you’ve been carrying around in your throat for several days of a really bad cold.
Maggie’s Oyster Dressing
What’s best about this recipe is that it’s dirt simple. The hardest part will be shelling out (ha-ha) the $10/can you have to pay for oysters these days. The other ingredients are white trash staples you can lift from any pantry in the nearest trailer park. [Ed. Note: you mean “are also white trash staples, but carry on.]
You will need:
• 2 containers oysters (They’re, what? 8 oz. each? C’mon, you’re standing at the fish case. Get two.) (Also: if the top of the container bulges to where it rolls off the counter, pick another one.)
• 2 sleeves Saltine crackers (Please buy real Saltines. It’s a goddamn holiday.) (Although if you’re an Astor, use Ritz. They’ll make it even butterier.)
• 2 tubs oleo (You heard right.)
• 3 hot dog or hamburger buns, slightly stale, FROZEN.
• 2 pints half & half. (All right, a quart. Although you may not need all of it.)
Still there? Get a baking dish. I use Mom’s 9” Corningware casserole. That diameter works best. But it needs depth. I measured mine last night and it’s about four inches (careful, buster). You’re going to be pouring a lot of glop into the thing.
Turn the oven to 350º. Although you can do this at 325º if you have more than an hour. What? You’ve got a turkey in there? Get rid of it. This is better.
Put a gob of oleo on a piece of towel paper and grease up your baking dish. If you want to lick off the towel when you’re done, knock yourself out. Check the towel for cat hair first, if you want.
Take a rolling pin—or a bottle—or a ball-peen hammer—to each package of crackers. This is for therapy. Imagine your ex-, or your boss, whoever gets your inner Carrie-at-the-Prom off. When the crackers turn into what you’d like the skunk who made your life a Living Hell to look like, they’re ready for the casserole.
Get your frozen buns out and break them up. These don’t have to look like your Ron Paul ‘04 neighbors after you’ve run them through a composter. Just get some decent crumbs to toss in the dish when I say so.
Clean the oysters. Don’t worry that your hands will smell like the dumpster behind McCormick & Schmicks. Buy some Dawn. Save a penguin.
One thing they don’t do when packing oysters is delouse them. Your raw oyster has flavor chips, like big toenails, glued to them, and while they’re likely scrumptious, they’re also iffy, texturally, so lop them off. Rinse each gooey sexpart under cold running water. DON’T put them back with the other oysters you’ve not deglopped. (And don’t throw away the stinky juice.)
Here comes the complicated part. Although probably the complicated part is making sure you have enough wine in reach to get you through the next five minutes. You’ll be layering.
Start with those headbasher Saltines. First, put the contents of both oleo tubs in the microwave and melt them (micro-safe dish, please. Be sensible, people, albeit loaded-sensible). Put the melt in a yet another dish (you’re cooking, one of your lame-o relatives can do dishes) with the Saltines you beat to hell and mix it up until it’s Saltine stew. Line the bottom of the baking dish with the mess. Use a little less than half, maybe 1/3 or so, because you’ll need two more layers.
Now. Toss some frozen bun crumbs in there. Go on. More.
Get one container’s worth of cleaned oysters. Line the layer of your cracker and bun mix with oysters. Spread them apart with your fingertips until you tingle.
Now grab one of the oyster containers that you’ve removed oysters from. Do NOT tell me you poured out the gross-smelling juice. I told you NO!! If you did, you’re going into the drain after it.
You want to empty one container’s worth of oyster syrup on Layer #1. If there’s any solids left in the juice that look like they might not flush, you can remove them.
Time for Layer #2: more soggy crackers mix, more crumbly freezer buns. Until no one would ever suspect you’ve got the Red Tide of the Umatilla swimming beneath.
Come on. You know what’s next: the second can of oysters. And, Right, pour oyster juice all over it! There, see? You’re Rachael Ray, with smaller hands!!
Finish it off with the last of the Saltine mix and whatever buns are left. If you’ve run out, then tell your Sweetie to get his/her rank ass off the couch and over to the 7/11 for more. Because you’ve simply got to have that top layer of fake-buttery crumbs, and everyone knew six weeks ago the Lions were going to lose.
Then, the velvet glove: that quart of Half & Half. This is what sells the dish, so don’t blow it. Pour in as much as possible. Let the faux cream rise right to the rim as it oozes in. When it starts dribbling over onto your socks, put the casserole in the oven.
As I said, bake at three-something (but never ever over 75). Covered, at first, but later take your top off so it tans. Maggie said on her card bake for 45 minutes, but the crust doesn’t brown or set right unless you smoke it for close to an hour. Maybe even more. You’ve got to keep an eye on it, and keep pouring in half & half periodically (not every five minutes. Go watch hovering cartoon balloons, or stuff your celery with Portwine Velveeta) to keep it moist.
When the crust is golden (and it will be, if you’ve done this right. Otherwise, don’t ever cook for me, okay?), take it out, let it rest, then FORCE YOUR GUESTS TO EAT SUCCULENT OYSTERS. It’s a Holiday, see, and you’re Sophisticates. So let’s behave like it. Serve a good Chardonnay with the casserole, something Santa Ynez-ey that’ll lean into the butter, but not something so expensive you’ll get pissed when your no-account relatives put ice cubes in a tumbler of Kistler and use it for Lavoris.
Your party will cheer you for this something-something-in-your-mouth delicacy from the Noncom Barracks of Bossier City. Someone might even get randy enough to bite someone else’s neck. Hopefully, they won’t be too closely related.
Ladies and gentlemen, the magic, the majesty that is KarenUhOh.