Bourbon has become an often-used ingredient in food. In fact, I was interviewed once on what the top five ingredients were that I couldn’t do without, bourbon was one of them.It’s great in main courses, side dishes, desserts and sauces.
Scotch, on the other hand, isn’t found used in food very much at all. It doesn’t have the sweetness of the corn in bourbon, so it’s not used as an ingredient as often. You’re more likely to find pairings with Scotch than scotch used in something. To me, this is a missed opportunity. For one thing, Scotch has such a broad range of flavors that it’s tough to lump all Scotch into one category. It goes from subtle flavors, found in the triple-distilled Lowlands whiskies, to sweeter, sherry-finished Speyside whiskies to peaty, darker-flavored island whiskies. There’s something in there for just about everyone, and a lot that can be used as a great addition to recipes.
I tend to favor very peaty Islay whiskies, from distilleries like Ardbeg, Caol Ila, and Lagavulin. these have flavors of toffee, tar, and smoke. There’s also a bit of the taste of the sea, which I thought might go well with oysters.
With that in mind, I thought through how I could match up some peaty Scotch with oysters. We’re talking about some pretty strong flavors, so anything else involved would need to either support that or at least stand up to it. Browned butter came to mind as something to enhance the flavors, and, maybe more importantly, provide a good mouthfeel to the oysters. A bit of nuttiness and a bit of butterfat is good for just about any dish.
Along with the browned butter, the herb that I thought would stand up to the other flavors well was tarragon. Its licorice-like flavor wouldn’t overpower but would go well with the other things in the dish, including the last ingredient, bleu cheese. I wanted a creamy bleu cheese, so I used d’Aurvergne.
Shucking oysters can be a daunting task. I personally don’t like the thought of slicing into my hand to get to a morsel of seafood. Grilling oysters makes that easy, though. I set up a two-zone fire on my grill, with more coals to one side of the grill (on a gas grill, only turn on one burner). While the grill warmed up, I browned the butter. This is really easy to do: just melt half a stick of butter (for 6 oysters) in a saucepan. Once it’s melted, keep it over a medium/low heat, stirring a bit now and then (or just move the butter in the pan by moving the pan quickly). The butter will foam a bit, then settle down, then foam again. When the foam starts to look brown, watch it carefully, moving it more over the fire. As it browns more, take it off the fire before it turns black (it can turn from browned to burned very quickly).
With the butter browned, add two ounces of peaty Scotch (I use Ardbeg 10-year-old; it’s very peaty but not too expensive) and a teaspoon or so of chopped tarragon.
Now the fire is ready. Over the hot part of the grill (remember, it’s a two-zone fire, hotter on one side), put the oysters on the grate curved side down. One side of the shell will be flatter, and the curved side acts more as a bit of a bowl to keep the other ingredients in. After about two minutes, the shells should be opening (if the shell was open before putting on the grill, don’t use it). Carefully holding the now-hot oysters, slide a paring knife under the top, flat shell to make sure the oyster isn’t attached. Place each oyster on the cooler side of the grate.
When all the oysters are shucked, pour the butter/scotch/tarragon mixture into the oyster shells. Try to have the shells as level as possible os the mixture doesn’t just pour out, then add a couple crumbles of the bleu cheese.
All that’s left now is to close the grill and let the oysters cook a bit, the cheese to melt a bit, the flavors to cook together a bit. When the butter/scotch browns along the shell a bit, the oysters are done (about five minutes). Take the oysters off the grill and serve immediately.
Each oyster will give you a quick taste of creamy, smoky ocean. I recommend getting more than you think you want; they go fast, and you’re going to want more!
- 6 in-the-shell raw oysters (fresh)
- ½ stick butter
- 2 ounces Scotch whisky
- 1+ tsp fresh tarragon
- 1 ounce bleu cheese, crumbled
- Prepare oven for indirect cooking. On a gas grill, add wood chunks to give some smoke flavor. On a charcoal grill, the charcoal will give enough wood flavor.
- In a saucepan, melt the butter and brown.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the whisky and tarragon. Set this aside.
- Place the oysters over the direct heat on the grill until the shells just begin to open (about 2 minutes).
- Remove the flat half of the shell, and return the oysters, in the curved half of the shell, back to the grate, but not over the cooler side of the fire this time. (Place oysters shell-side down).
- Add butter/whisky/tarragon to the oysters evenly, and top with the bleu cheese.
- Close the grill and cook for approximately 5 more minutes, until the butter just starts to brown along the shell.
- Remove and serve immediately.
Photos copyright © Livefire Photography, used with permission
Curt has a love for things that taste good, starting in barbecue competitions, then moving to teaching cooking classes, writing a food blog and writing for national grilling-related companies, and, currently, as a regular on a local news show in SW Ohio doing food segments (for which he’s become known for his use of bourbon in food). In fact, when interviewed about his top five cooking ingredients, bourbon was included in that list.
Curt’s love of whisky goes back years, but, more recently, his wife encouraged him to have more than one partially filled bottle of Lagavulin by buying an Ardbeg for him for Christmas, then letting him add more and more to his collection. Now amassing a pretty nice little group of Scotch, bourbon, and ryes (and a few other whiskeys here and there), Curt enjoys his whiskey mostly with nothing but a couple drops of water (but is fine with a whiskey cocktail now and then, too). Curt’s feeling is that you don’t have to like the same whisky he likes, but he hopes you enjoy yours as much as he’s enjoying whichever is currently in his glass.
Read Curt's full profile.