These shell fish are found in perfection in the cool waters of the Northern Atlantic coast. The Blue Points from Long Island are considered the best in the New York market. The Wareham and Providence River are equally esteemed in Boston. Oysters are neither healthful nor well flavored from May to September; at all other times they are used more extensively and are more highly prized than any other shell fish. They are nutritious, and are easily digested when fresh and eaten raw, or when only slightly cooked. When over-cooked, they are tough and leathery. Oysters should never be kept long after being taken from the shell; and if to be used raw, should not be opened till just before using.
Wash and scrub the shells, and put them in a pan with the round side down (to hold the juice), and cook either in a hot oven, on the top of a hot stove, on a gridiron over the coals, or in a steamer, ten to twenty minutes. When the shells open, the oysters are done. Remove the upper shell; season the oyster on the lower shell with butter, pepper, salt, and vinegar, and serve at once. Or take from the shells, put into a hot dish, season, and serve immediately. There is no other way of cooking the oyster in which the natural flavor is so fully developed.
Open the oysters; look them over carefully; remove any fine pieces of shell which may adhere to them; then season slightly with salt and pepper, and let them stand half an hour in the ice chest. Serve on fancy oyster plates, or on the deep half-shell, with slices of lemon. Serve with small squares of buttered brown bread.
Put a rectangular block of clear ice, having smooth, regular surfaces, in a large pan. With a hot brick or flat-iron melt a cavity large enough to hold the desired number of oysters. Pour the water from the cavity, and fill with oysters, which should first be drained, and seasoned with salt and pepper. Place a thick napkin on a platter, put the ice upon this, cover the dish with parsley or smilax, and garnish with lemon. The ice is sometimes roughly chipped to resemble a rock. If the dinner be served from the sideboard, individual plates of ice are made.
Pour half a cup of cold water over one quart of oysters; then with clean hands take out the oysters separately and remove any bits of shell or seaweed. Serious accidents have often resulted from the presence of pieces of shell. The crabs which are found among the oysters are considered a delicacy and should be saved. The oyster liquor is seldom used, as enough comes from the oysters in cooking; but, if desired, it should be strained before using. The oysters may then be cooked in any of the following ways.
Put them in a saucepan without water; stir them, or shake the pan slightly; as soon as heated, sufficient liquor comes from them to keep them from burning. When the edges curl or ruffle, and the oysters look plump instead of flat, they are cooked. Season with salt, pepper, and butter, and serve as a plain roast; or pour on toast, and call it a fancy roast.
For Oyster Stew, see page 154.