Last year was complicated. For the first time in my life, words actually escaped me. I spent a lot of time holed-up indoors, anxiously awaiting emergency phone calls. I stayed productive, searing mountains of meat and poultry and draping them in multi-leveled sauces. I finished my newest book, Pan Sauces (Scheduled to be released by W.W. Norton in August 2018) and I regularly chastised myself for not updating my website. Then I let it go. That was the right decision.
This summer my circumstances have changed. I feel bright and hopeful, and my sauces have been similarly fresh and simple: vinaigrettes, dressings, and coulis. Historically, my summer menus involve a whole lot of hungry friends and a new culinary obsession – there were summers of arepas, fried noodles, and smoked meats. This year, I have been magnetically drawn to the fresh foods of my childhood. Perhaps it is nostalgia for family now gone. My iron kettles have been filled and emptied of clams. Dozens of oysters have been grilled and slathered with spicy garlic butter. For the first time in decades, I made shrimp Louies with crunchy iceberg and horseradish-laced dressing, crab melts on sourdough with sharp Tillamook Cheddar, and alder-smoked wild salmon. My scrappy berry plants have been plucked clean daily, the fruit scattered over thick Greek yogurt or ice cream with a drizzle of runny homemade jam.
Writing is still a struggle, and I don’t expect it to get easier. There will surely be gaps in my posts again, but when I am feeling inspired by an ingredient, a recipe, or a season, I will try to share it. This first revival post is a classic “Dad Sauce” in honor of my late, great, very complicated father, and his zeal for August’s bounty.
Dad’s Oyster Butter
We spent our summers in a cabin perched above oyster and clam beaches. As a knee biter, I would scamper down the path to find what I considered to be the perfect oysters. They needed to be relatively small, with a flat top shell and a deep, scooped bottom shell to keep them compact and juicy. Then I would hand them over to my father, he would pop them open on the hibachi and drape them in garlic lemon butter and hand them back to me. (Then I got a bad one and it took me 20 years before I could even look at another oyster.) I have since learned that Dad’s all over the nation have variations of their own “oyster butter”. This is our current favorite.
1 cube (4 oz./ 115 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces the size of a grape
2 tablespoons minced shallot or sweet onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Salt to taste
Heat a small saucepan over medium. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and stir until melted. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring often, until they soften just slightly and lose their raw aroma, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook about 20-30 seconds longer. Add the remaining butter and stir until melted. Add the Tabasco, Worcestershire, and soy sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Add a good pinch of salt to taste. It should be very strong, with plenty of heat and acidity from the Tabasco, sweetness from the onion and garlic, and salty, umami-rich tastes of the soy and Worcestershire. Adjust to your taste with more condiments if you like.
Spoon over grilled oysters, or use as drizzle on virtually any grilled meat, poultry or seafood. Refrigerate anything that remains. It will hold for a week.