The Best Way to Grill Oysters Is With This Simple Garlic-Chili Butter
One of my favorite things to do in New Orleans is pull up a chair at an oyster bar, order a cold drink, and happily put away a dozen or two grilled oysters. At home, I’ve experimented with heavier versions of the dish that involve heapings of breadcrumbs and cheese and browning various toppings under the oven broiler. But my favorite way to cook oysters in the summertime is inspired by a simple, classic recipe in New Orleans-based chef and restaurateur Donald Link’s book Real Cajun.
Basically, you shuck some oysters, put a spoonful of compound butter on top, and grill it until the juices and butter are bubbling and the meat is just barely cooked and a little smoky. You could use anything you like, but Link’s butter is packed with anchovies, lemon zest and juice, raw garlic, and chili sauce—it’s delicious on crisp and briny oysters as well as creamy, meatier specimens.
Some people like to skip shucking when they're grilling and just let the heat of the coals do the work, popping the oysters open. This works just fine, but it means the oyster meat is almost steamed through by the time you add the butter, and the meat doesn't get hit directly with so much smoke. I prefer shucking because it gives you more control over how far you cook the meat, and as a bonus, you get the chance to loosen the oyster from the shell, so everyone can slurp it back somewhat gracefully. Serve with a little crusty bread and extra compound butter melted on the side or just plain, right off the grill.
Grilled Oysters with Garlic-Chili Butter
Adapted from Donald Link's Real Cajun
3 cloves garlic
2 anchovy fillets
Zest and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons Sriracha
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
Finely mince the garlic and anchovies, then put them in a stand mixer with lemon zest and juice, Sriracha, cayenne, and butter, and mix until smooth. Scrape all the compound butter onto a piece of parchment paper, roll it up into a log, and refrigerate until needed.
Prepare the grill. As it heats, rinse and shuck the oysters and discard the top shells. Place a pat of butter on each and arrange the oysters on the hot grill, using a sheet of scrunched foil to keep the shells steady if needed. Cook until the juices are bubbling, the edges of the oyster are browning and curling, but the meat is still plump and soft. Serve immediately with additional lemon wedges and some of the extra melted garlic-chili butter on the side.
Note on finding oysters
Visit your local seafood shop, and if you don’t have one, keep in mind that many American farms will deliver. Island Creek will ship you its oysters (a box of 50 for $100) from Massachusetts, and Taylor Shellfish can deliver small Pacifics ($.85 each), which are ideal for cooking.