Like most American seafood lovers, we sweated and worried over the Gulf oil spill this year, fretting about tainted fish and most importantly, those sedentary morsels, oysters.
OK, specifically Apalachicola oysters. The little fishing town on the Florida panhandle provides 90 percent of Florida’s oysters for consumers and restaurants. Even though they are the same species – Crassostrea virginica – that are harvested up and down the entire East Coast, Apalachicola oysters have that certain something.
People who know a lot more about it than we do, say it’s the perfect combination of fresh river water and silt combining with salt water in the estuaries of St. George and St. Vincent sounds. The good news is that the oil didn’t reach that far. Apalachicola oysters weren’t readily available for a while because oystermen were helping clean up the spill. But now they’re back, these perfectly plump, meaty, salty bites of goodness.
And you know how we know this? Because once or twice a year, our good friends, the Bonacasas, bring us several containers of Aps when they visit from Panama City, Fla. In fact, before we even give them a welcoming hug, Sal thrusts the cooler containing the oysters into our arms and orders us to put them away first.
Later that evening, or the next – and sometimes both – after we’ve caught up, it’s time for oysters, the Bonacasa way. Baked in a garlic/wine sauce, these oysters provide a twist – they have to be cooked in muffin tins. It’s just the way that it is done, don’t question it. Then, when they are brought to the table- – each cup bubbling with wine and cheese and oyster – diners stake out their row. No one is allowed to touch that row without permission. I found this out the hard way, when I once got smacked on the back of the hand with a buttery fork. Territorial? Yes. Delicious? You bet.
1 pint fresh shucked oysters
1 stick salted butter
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups light white wine (chardonnay is too overpowering – try a riesling)
1 cup shredded parmesan
1 12-cup muffin tin
Wash the oysters, removing any shell fragments. Place three to four oysters in each muffin cup.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and simmer for two to three minutes. Add the wine and simmer, uncovered, for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pour the wine mixture over the oysters. Top with grated parmesan and bake 10 to 15 minutes, until cheese is bubbling.
Serve with red and green hot sauce, saltines and sliced french bread for sopping up juice.