Food & Drink

How Chef Adam Evans Grills Oysters

The chef is coming home to Alabama, with Automatic Seafood & Oysters, opening this March in Birmingham. Here’s a preview of his menu—and his favorite oyster-grilling technique

photo: Ranch Pillow and Barbara FG


Adam Evans may have earned acclaim for his way with seafood, but it wasn’t love at first bite. “Growing up, I remember eating oysters with my dad,” says the chef, who gained national recognition helming the kitchen at the Optimist in Atlanta. “I tried them twice, and got sick both times, so I thought I must be allergic.” Turns out, the problem was the horseradish, not the oysters.

photo: Ranch Pillow and Barbara FG

Evans at the grill.

Bivalves will be a fixture on the menu of Evans’s new restaurant, Automatic Seafood & Oysters, in Birmingham, Alabama, slated to open in early March. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Evans, who grew up in Muscle Shoals and attended Auburn University before starting a career that took him from New Orleans to New York, then back South. His wife, interior designer Suzanne Humphries, is also from Alabama, and the two have been planning a move back to the Yellowhammer State since shortly after they met. In the Magic City, he’ll be part of a flourishing culinary scene that includes such lodestars as Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings. “I remember being a cook in New Orleans, and I saw Frank’s book, and started learning about him. I thought, ‘Well, if this guy is from Cullman, Alabama, and he made it, I want to be the guy from Muscle Shoals who makes it.’”

Ranch Pillow and Barbara FG

Evans’s new restaurant occupies a 1940s warehouse—once the Automatic Sprinkler Company—on the edge of Birmingham’s booming Lakeview district. Sustainability will be a guiding principle of the menu, and with it, flexibility. “As a chef, I was buying literally tons of seafood, and I realized that if I feel strongly about sustainability then I could actually make a difference,” Evans says. He aims to continue that commitment at Automatic, plating more bycatch. “You can get grouper and snapper anywhere. Not to say that we won’t have them, but there’s so much more out there. The fin-fish offerings will and should change daily.” His raw bar will blend Gulf favorites like Murder Points with West Coast offerings. “If you love oysters, you love all kinds.”


More: Adam Evans’s Salt-Baked Shrimp


Chargrilled oysters are one dish he promises will always be on the menu. His take is inspired by Drago’s, a New Orleans-area Louisiana seafood institution. “They have these massive grills, and guys are shucking the oysters right there, putting them on the fire, and ladling butter over them,” Evans says. Evans brightens that richness with tart preserved lemon and fresh thyme. Sample it for yourself with his recipe, available exclusively here, or at Automatic, when it opens in March.


Ingredients

  • (Yield: 36 Oysters)

    • 1 lb. butter, cubed

    • 4 tbsp. garlic, chopped

    • 2 tbsp. thyme, chopped

    • 1/2 cup preserved lemon, finely chopped

    • 2 tsp. kosher salt

    • 1 tbsp. black pepper, freshly ground

    • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper

    • 3 lemons, halved and juiced (plus 1 lemon for plating)

    • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • 1 cup parsley leaves, chopped

    • 2 tbsp. chives, chopped

    • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

    • 1 box rock salt

    • 36 medium/large oysters, shucked, in shell


Preparation

  1. Prepare a hot charcoal or wood-fire grill.

  2. Place butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When butter completely melts and starts to foam, add garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add thyme, preserved lemon, salt, black pepper, and cayenne, and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Turn off heat, add the lemon juice, Worcestershire, and set aside at room temperature.

  3. In a medium bowl, combine parsley, chives, and cheese to be used when oysters are on the grill.

  4. Fill a sheet pan with rock salt to use as a resting place as you shuck the oysters. (“I always keep an empty container nearby when I’m shucking to reserve the liquid that might escape as you shuck. This liquid can be added back to the oysters that need it before they go onto the grill.”) Using tongs, place half of the oysters directly onto the hot grill grate; as soon as they are placed, start spooning butter to fill up each shell. (“The idea is that half of the oyster is braised in the butter and the other half gets a little crispy because of the heat.”) As soon as the butter is boiling, and the edges of the oyster start to curl, sprinkle the herb/cheese mixture over the oysters and cook until cheese melts. Remove them from the grill and return them to the rock salt as they finish cooking, continuing to grill the other half.

  5. Arrange oysters on a large platter, adding any remaining butter or herb/cheese mixture and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Serve immediately or they can be held for a few minutes in a hot oven.


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