This weekend we had our "annual" Carolina Oyster Roast. I put it in italics because, due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the difficulty in getting oysters from the Gulf, we had to cancel our 2005 annual oyster roast. And once it stopped, seems like we would never think of it again in time to get it all together!
But this year is different! We had been to Charleston SC back in January 2011 in order to attend the Boone Hall Plantation Oyster Roast, and that got us geared up to start back up this year!
We sent out the invitations about a month in advance. Per the RSVP, we planned on 22 guests showing up, plus my wife and I, for a total of 24 people.
Previous roasts indicated I would need about 5 cases of oysters. I ordered them from Whole Foods a week in advance (per their instructions), the same place I've been buying them for years. They do oysters a little odd around here (Atlanta) - they sell them by the case, instead of by the bushel. Anyway, a case is about 35 lbs of oysters in the shell.
On the day before the party, the manager at Whole Foods called to say they weren't going to be able to provide us with the oysters! They offered me 1 (one - one little lb) lb of shrimp for my trouble! Quite generous of them, considering they were putting us out of business with our guests!
I located another seller - Bufford Hwy Farmer's Market. They had plenty, so I took a ride down to have a look at the quality. They looked great! I picked up 5 cases and returned home with them. These oysters were from New Zealand, instead of of the Gulf of Mexico - they were in bigger shells, and the shells were thicker. However, the oysters themselves were larger.
Once I unloaded them, I realized the yield from their cases were less than Whole Foods, which accounted for the price difference (the cases were a lot less expensive), but now I was going to be short of enough oysters.....but that is what Son-in-laws are for - to go get more oysters! He returned to the store and picked up another 3 cases
With a total of 8 cases, we examined each oyster for breaks or open shells before washing them under a hard spray of water, then transferred them to a large plastic tub, where I then covered them with ice to hold them over to the next day.
BTW - we do not serve any raw oysters at our parties; all are cooked. Our favorite method for cooking oysters is to steam them. This is a superior method for cooking oysters. The heat of the steam is lower than that provided over a grill, so it allows you to cook the oyster slower and more precisely to the desired amount of doneness. We like ours to be hot and full of liquid, not shriveled up little homeless creatures! And steaming them allows you to provide just that amount of doneness.
We setup the party in the garage - seven (7) 6-foot tables, arranged in a "U" shape - with one end accessible from outside (where I was cooking) and the guests lined up along the outer edge of the tables. We provided gloves to protect our guests' hands, and an oyster knife for each guest, along with beer and wine, as well as Low-Country-Boil for our guests that didn't like oysters (this is shrimp, sausage, potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob).
Outside, I set up three 'turkey fryers', which are sold here in the USA. These consist of a large propane burner, a 20 lb propane tank, and a 5 gallon pot with a large basket strainer. I poured a couple of inches of water into each of the three pots, then lit burners. Three burners going at the same time produces quite a roar! While this was coming up to heat, we filled each basket 1/2 way up with oysters - this is important, because we will be lifting these baskets up and over the pots, then into the garage, where we will go along the tables pouring out a stream of oysters. If we were to fill the baskets up, they would be too heavy for us later in the night (this goes on for a couple of hours), and also it would be too many oysters at once for the guests, so they would cool down.
There were three of us cooking this time - me, my son-in-law, and a friend. It takes this many people to feed 20 people with hot oysters! It takes about 20 - 30 minutes for the first batch to be ready. You know they are ready after it comes to a boil, the froth from the oysters will rise up all the way to the top of the lid. So it's past the point of boil, but waiting until the froth hits the top, tells you they are ready (per the temperature and doneness we like to serve ours). We made sure the oyster tub was set up on saw-horses at waist high, as the first year I had them on the ground and filling the baskets all night with 500 oysters left me crippled with my back from stooping - so now we set the tub up at waist high, put the basket in the waist-high tub and fill them up.
Once we start delivering oysters to the tables, our goal is to keep a steady stream of oysters going to the guests. In order to do this, we've got one person filling the baskets and lowering them into the pots, then another person monitoring the pots, then a third person pulling the basket and pouring the oysters out along the tables, then returning the basket to the oyster-filler.
We keep this assembly line process going, switching off each job among ourselves, as the oyster basket-filler person will get numb fingers after a while, and the person doing the delivery will need a rest for his arms.
While we are doing this work, we don't stop for anything - we don't eat oysters, and rarely drink a beer, as it's just too busy.
Later, when the last batch of oysters are in the pot cooking, we'll start on our beers and our dinner.
Afterwards, we sit around a 'pit fire' that we place onto our driveway, smoke cigars, have Lemonchellos, laugh, and just visit with each other.
The party starts at 6 PM, and usually the last guest has left around 2 AM.