“My uncle and aunt used to make cooking a very enjoyable experience where everyone was involved. Whether we were contributing or just criticizing, we all did our share. It was usually a dish that took awhile, such as smothered corn maque choux or rice and gravy, so there was plenty of time to hang around and be a family. Playing horseshoes, grilling oysters, telling stories, and shooting pistols in the woods were all things you could expect at a get-together with the Devilliers. Now that all the kids are grown, we don’t get to do those cookouts very often, but anytime I get a whiff of something that reminds me of those days, I cherish it. The flavors and aromas of Oysters Bienville—peppers and shallots along with the briny oysters and smoky bacon—always take me back.”— Chef Justin Devillier, La Petite Grocery, New Orleans, Louisiana
Food & Drink
Chef Justin Devillier shares his favorite recipe for baked oysters
photo: Peter Frank Edwards
1 dozen Gulf oysters, shucked, liquor reserved (arrange oysters on open bottom shell and discard top half)
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1 jalapeño, pith and seeds removed and fine chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped celery hearts (about 1 rib)
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (about 4 shallots)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. flour
1/2 cup oyster liquor (supplement with water if necessary)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. Angostura bitters
2 tbsp. fresh-picked thyme
2 tbsp. snipped chive
2 tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Coarse salt and white pepper to taste
Bread Crumb Mixture Ingredients
1/3 cup finely chopped cooked bacon (applewood smoked rather than hickory)
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2/3 cup panko (lighter, crispier Japanese-style bread crumbs that make an extra crunchy crust)
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
In a medium-size saucepan, heat oil over high heat. Add garlic and vegetables, stirring a few times to coat, and turn heat down by half. Stir occasionally until vegetables start to release moisture (without browning), about 4 to 6 minutes.
For the roux, add butter and melt. Slowly add flour, whisking constantly, until flour is incorporated. Cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Slowly add oyster liquor and cream, whisking until smooth. Turn heat to high and bring to a light boil, all the while whisking. Let the sauce thicken, about 1 minute. When sauce has thickened, adjust viscosity with water. This is the trickiest part. You need to use enough water to thin the sauce down and prevent scorching, but not so much that the sauce gets too thin. (Note: We used ½ cup.) Reduce heat and simmer, stirring regularly, until sauce is thick enough to liberally coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Turn off heat. Add bitters, herbs, salt, and pepper.
For the bread crumb mixture:
Combine bacon, Parmesan, and panko in a bowl and slowly add the melted butter, folding lightly with a spoon.
Fill a baking pan halfway with rock salt as a bed for cooking the oysters, and heat in oven for about 15 minutes at 475ºF. (Preheating the prepared pan allows each oyster to cook with equal heat from below as well as above.)
Top each oyster with 1 tablespoon or more of sauce, and sprinkle with a generous amount of bread-crumb mixture. Transfer to prepared pan and bake in preheated oven until golden brown and slightly bubbling, about 7 to 10 minutes.
Line two shallow bowls or rimmed serving plates with rock salt. Transfer oysters to the prepared plates, and serve with cocktail forks.
Recipe from chef Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery in New Orleans, Louisiana
The Chef's Twist
Created by Arnaud Cazeneuve at Arnaud’s Restaurant in the French Quarter (and named for Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, the second colonial governor of Louisiana), this baked oyster dish is traditionally topped by a mixture of béchamel sauce with sautéed chopped shrimp, shallots, and garlic. Instead of shrimp, Devillier adds smokehouse bacon—equally Southern—to the topping (so that it stays crisp) and swaps out the nutmeg used in classic béchamel for aromatic Angostura bitters to bestow an old-fashioned “clove-y” flavor.
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