I sometimes wonder if I was born with a taste for the sea. The first time I stepped foot in Norway, I experienced a deep sense of belonging and longing. It was as if I had finally arrived at a home I never knew was mine. I was in the country of my father’s birth, where relatives on both sides of my family had once lived. My deep roots were almost palpable. As the days went on, I created a taste map of sorts, a way of understanding the country through the meals we ate. I was also finally able to put into context all those Norwegian meals my grandparents had served throughout my youth.
My memories of eating my way through that jagged-coasted country in 2008 are punctuated with seafood: My husband and I ate steamed mussels on the Oslo waterfront, sampled smoked whale from the famous Bergen fish market, and savored salt cod simmered in tomato sauce while escaping from the rare sweltering sun in that coastal city.
As a country with less than three percent arable land, Norway has relied on its seafood over the centuries. Many Americans largely associate Norwegian food with lutefisk. However, that often-maligned dried cod soaked in lye is only one facet of the country’s cuisine.
Delicate poached cod, fillets of salmon cured with the essence of fresh dill, creamy fish soup, and a medley of seafood-topped smørbrød (open sandwiches)—these are just some varieties of classically-Norwegian seafood preparations. These days, when I serve fish for dinner, it’s usually with Scandinavian flavors. I often take some liberties with the type of fish and cooking methods, but these meals almost always stem from the culinary traditions I grew up with or invoke the flavors I associate with my heritage. And that’s where these oysters come in.
Living in Seattle, I’m lucky enough to have easy access to the region’s fresh, tender oysters. Most of the time I prefer to eat them simply: raw on the half shell with an ice-cold martini or glass of crisp sparkling wine. But variety is a wonderful thing, and lately I’ve been playing around with some other techniques, from oyster shooters to grilling and roasting, as well as flavor pairings that complement the briny nature of the oysters.
Today’s recipe begins with the freshest oysters you can find—even though they’re roasted, they retain the tender quality of raw oysters served on the half shell. Once the hinges release and the oysters begin to slightly open, you remove the top shells and spoon a bit of mignonette into each one. But this isn’t just any sauce. This one gets its magenta hue from red wine vinegar and shallots—which are typical for mignonette—as well as an unexpected ingredient: rhubarb.
Rhubarb is a beloved ingredient in both Norway—where my family is from—and the Pacific Northwest—where I live. It is so tart that most of the time it’s prepared with a generous amount of sugar. However, in this recipe, rhubarb’s intensity is an asset. Anyone who’s put back an oyster shooter or slurped a fresh oyster out of its shell knows how briny these little guys can be. While some people (like me) enjoy this flavor in its pure form, there’s a reason why oysters are often served with a vinegary sauce, Tabasco, or lemon wedges. In this case, the oysters and rhubarb compete in their level of intensity, but the flavor profiles are so different that they end up complementing each other in the most delicious way.
These days I buy a dozen oysters about once a week, practicing my shucking skills and experimenting with new recipes. While oyster recipes don’t figure largely in the traditional Norwegian culinary canon, I’d like to think that recipes like this one honor both my Norwegian roots and my American identity.
When my grandparents and father left Norway in the 1950s and settled in Seattle, they made their new home in a place that mirrored some of the terrain and resources of their old home, from the mountains to the lakes and fjords. These days it’s hard to imagine living in a place with better access to some of the most incredible seafood, from Alaskan cod and salmon to a variety of shellfish including oysters. If, indeed, I was born with a taste for the sea, then I’m certainly living in the right place.
Roasted Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette
Kosher or rock salt
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely-diced rhubarb
1 tablespoon finely-diced shallot
Chopped curly-leaf parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Rinse the oysters well to remove any debris. In a roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold the oysters without crowding them, pour in salt about a half inch thick. Nestle the oysters in the salt, cup side down–the salt will help prevent the oysters’ liquor from spilling out. Slide the pan into the oven on a rack positioned just below the heating element and roast until the oysters’ hinges have released and the oysters have just begun to slightly open, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the mignonette: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, rhubarb, and shallot. (This will certainly benefit from being made in advance to let the flavors mingle, but it’s fine to use immediately as well.)
To serve, use an oyster knife to fully loosen the hinge and remove the top shell, as well as separate the meat from the bottom cup. Arrange in a serving dish–feel free to reuse the salt from the roasting pan to keep the oysters from tipping and spilling their juices. Spoon a little of the mignonette over each oyster, making sure to include a little rhubarb and shallot in each. Garnish with parsley and serve.
*When working with oysters, especially if they’re raw or just barely cooked, be sure to use the best, freshest ones you can get. I buy mine from a select few stores that I trust, and I appreciate the care that the fishmongers take in selecting the perfect dozen for me. I also prepare and serve them the same day I buy them. If you have any questions about food safety or how to tell if an oyster has gone bad, be sure to talk with your fishmonger–they should be able to guide you and answer any questions you have.