The holiday season is filled with such heavy fare that by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around it’s natural to be craving something a little lighter. It’s also natural to feel less enthusiastic about heading into the kitchen to cook yet another feast. A seafood extravaganza solves both dilemmas, especially if your main course is a platter of raw oysters.
Slurping a dozen raw oysters down is the culinary equivalent of taking a traditional New Year’s Day polar bear plunge. The crisp, clean, invigorating flavor of oysters makes one feel strong and alert and happy to be alive. They require little to no preparation, yet can be the centerpiece of even the most extravagant celebrations. If you’re going the casual route, that’s fine too. Raw oysters are appropriate whether you’re ringing in the New Year wearing a tuxedo and formal gown or shorts and flip-flops.
However you celebrate, there’s nothing wrong with cracking open the shell and simply eating the oysters in their briny juice. If you want to up the experience however, garnishing the oysters with a tiny spoonful of icy lemon granita will make the meal extra special. Partially frozen lemon juice seasoned with a hint of savory sea salt, black pepper and red onion is outrageously good with raw oysters. The oyster is not overwhelmed by the jolt of lemon, rather, the two flavors blend perfectly as they go down.
The slushy granita melts quickly, so add it right before you eat the oyster. As you bring the open shell that cradles the little creature towards your mouth, you’ll get a whiff of fresh lemon and seawater. Your palate will be hit with a hint of salt, a tingle of pepper and red onion and a fresh burst of ice-cold lemon. And then…Slurp! Gulp! The oyster is gone. Plan to eat at least a 1/2 dozen yourself; the flavor is so delicious but so subtle and fleeting that you’ll want to experience it over and over again.
This will make enough lemon granita for several dozen raw oysters. It goes without saying that the oysters should be as fresh as possible. Ideally, buy them only 24 hours before serving. Keep the oysters refrigerated but not submerged in water. Open the shells right before eating. Setting the open shells on a bed of crushed ice keeps them cold and keeps the shells from tipping and spilling out the natural juice. To shuck an oyster, you’ll need an oyster knife.
How to shuck an oyster: First scrub any dirt from the shell under cold water. Next, hold a folded kitchen towel in one hand to cradle the shell and protect your hand from the knife if it slips. Hold the oyster with the rounded side down, facing your palm. Examine the shell and notice there is a hinged point where the upper and lower shells connect. Wedge your oyster knife down into the hinge and turn it with a little bit of pressure to pop the shell open. Slide the knife between the two shells to fully open it up. Remove the upper shell.
Savory Lemon Granita
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (5-6 lemons)
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black or white pepper
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
Mix together the lemon juice, water, salt and pepper. Pour into a dish that allows the liquid spread out and become shallow, such as a 2-quart square baking dish.
Put the dish into the freezer for 30 minutes, then mix and rake with a fork. Keep the lemon juice in the freezer for another 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes with a fork. Mixing the lemon juice with the fork keeps the texture slushy and insures that the liquid doesn’t freeze solid.
Remove the granita from the freezer. Stir in the red onion. Spoon a small amount of the lemon granita into a raw oyster shell before eating.