OYSTERS WITH FENNEL CREAM, BREAD CRUMBS, AND PARMESAN CHEESE
Celebrating the Seasons by John Littlewood
Along with champagne and caviar, oysters are synonymous with luxury. This fennel cream is rich, but delicate enough that it doesn't mask the mollusks' briny flavor.
Serves 10 (2 each)
• Fennel cream (recipe follows)
• 1/4 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan or Asiago cheese
• 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry white bread crumbs
• 20 oysters, medium to large size
1. Make Fennel cream,
2. Make crust mixture by stirring together cheese and bread crumbs.
3. Preheat oven to 400°. Scrub oysters under running water and place on a baking pan.
Bake 6 minutes, or until a few oysters are open. Remove all oysters from oven. Shuck oysters (see Notes).
4. Place oysters on the half shell on a baking pan. Top each one with about a tablespoonful of the fennel cream, or enough to cover oyster completely. Top fennel cream with a big pinch of crust mixture. Bake 6 to 8 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned.
• I prefer panko, or Japanese-style bread crumbs.
• Look for Hog Island, Fanny Bay, bluepoint, or Belon oysters,
• When shucking oysters, always use an oyster knife, wrap a towel around your left hand (or the hand holding the oyster), or wear a sturdy glove on that hand. Hold the oyster firmly on a stable surface while twisting the oyster knife into the "hinge" where the two shells come together. Once the knife is inside, sweep it around to free the oyster from its shell, then remove top shell. Sweep knife below the oyster to free it from bottom shell, or "cup," leaving oyster sitting in the cup. Remove any shell pieces.
• Rock salt can be used in this recipe either for baking or for presentation. For baking, fill the pan to a depth of Vi inch with rock salt and nestle oyster shells in salt. For presentation, spread a thin layer of rock salt in your serving dish and nestle oysters in the salt.
• If you want to splurge, top each oyster with a little caviar just before serving. Sturgeon, or "true," caviar ranges in quality and cost. From least to most expensive types, they are sevruga, osetra, and beluga.
Makes 1¼ cups
• 1/2 large fennel bulb, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
• 3/4 cup whipping cream
• 1/4 cup water
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 2 teaspoons lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon chopped fennel leaves
1. Trim off root end of fennel bulb. Wash bulb and leaves. Remove leaves from stalks. Discard stalks. Chop leaves and set aside.
2. Place fennel bulb, cream, water, garlic, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low, cover, and cook 20 minutes. Watch the cream carefully—it loves to boil over!
3. Place cream mixture in a blender with pepper and lemon juice. Cover blender with cloth to prevent hot mixture from spraying. Blend on low speed and gradually increase to high speed for 10 seconds, or until completely smooth. Stir in fennel leaves.
Note: If you enjoy the "licoricey" flavor of fennel, stir in a tablespoon of Pernod or Ricard (anise-flavored liqueurs) with the fennel leaves.