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SWEETHEART OYSTERS

My father’s favorite seafood dish was something he called “sweetheart oysters,” because it is best when made for two. To prevent the oyster meats from overcooking, he would stir them around in the pan with his finger, something he’d seen his mother and grandmother do. When it got too hot for comfort, he’d immediately yank the pan off the burner and spoon the oysters and the sauce—nothing more than pan juices and melted butter—into warmed soup plates.

Daddy’s pint of shucked oysters often came from Russo’s (estab. 1946), in downtown Savannah, but, if the mood struck, he would hop in the car and ride out along Johnny Mercer Boulevard to Turner’s Creek seafood market and co-op (now closed), on Wilmington Island. It was easy to shoot by the turn-off if you weren’t careful, so wheeling into the picturesque parking lot (see above photo) always had a triumphal air.

Aside from appreciating my father’s remarkable memory for every lyric Mercer ever wrote, I didn’t realize how special this all was until I landed in New York. Although the city prides itself on serving impeccably fresh oysters from waters near and far, the idea of selling the shucked bivalves, packed in their own bracing liquor, by the pint at seafood markets and grocery stores, has never caught on.

Go figure. I suppose I could pay big-city prices for a dozen or so oysters in the shell and shuck them myself, but you and I both know that they would never make it to the saucepan. Which is why, when a friend from Savannah decided to pop up our way for the weekend and asked what he could bring, I didn’t have to think twice.

Monday, after all, is Valentine’s Day, and my gift to my husband will be sweetheart oysters. We’ll eat them with a small mountain of hot toast, followed by a watercress salad with lemony vinaigrette. For dessert? We’ve been getting outstanding pears lately—their juice is so sweet and syrupy—so perhaps that’s all we need. Well, a little Johnny Mercer would be nice.

MY FATHER’S SWEETHEART OYSTERS

Serves 2

Before you begin, set two soup plates or shallow bowls to warm in a low oven and toast as much bread as you want. Some people like to embellish their oysters with a little hot sauce, but the pure rich essence of oyster is enough for me.

Drain 1 pint shucked oysters in a sieve set over a bowl and reserve the liquor (frozen, it comes in handy for sea stock). In a small heavy saucepan, melt an enjoyable chunk of butter (about 2 tablespoons) over moderate heat.

Tip in the oysters and stir them gently but constantly with a (scrupulously clean) finger just until their gills begin to curl and you think, “Ow! This is hot.” This only takes a couple of minutes. Take the pan off the heat and season generously with freshly ground black pepper and a touch of sea salt if so desired.

Spoon the oysters and their pan juices into the warmed soup plates (and over your toast, if you like). Devour immediately with someone you love.

Comments

Comment from Damon Lee Fowler
Time February 10, 2011 at 10:09 am

Oh, Jane! This is lovely, and it describes so lucidly one of my favorite Savannah dishes (and isn’t “Sweetheart Oysters” a lot catchier than “Panned Oysters”?), complete with the finger-stirring technique.

What a wonderful lift on this cold, gray February day.

Damon

Comment from admin
Time February 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I have such vivid memories of watching my dad cook those oysters! He loved sharing them with people. “They don’t taste right when you’re alone,” he once said. When visiting from New York, I’d often get there late in the evening, and that would be our first supper together. Sometimes we’d skip the toast and have Saltines instead.

Comment from Linton Hopkins
Time April 15, 2011 at 8:19 am

I will forever use the phrase ‘an enjoyable chunk of butter’ in all future recipes.

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