Years ago, when I was working at Pearl, I read M.F.K. Fisher's Consider the Oyster. It was then that I first learned about the oyster pan roast. I experimented with recipes for it a few times. Then when The John Dory opened next door to Del Posto a few years ago, I fell in love with chef April Bloomfield's "Oyster Pan Roast with Sea Urchin Butter."
A little salt, a little pepper, plump oysters sitting at the bottom like some lost treasure, found. That smoothness of the cream and uni butter that just melts away. Amazing. So it was a real blow when the restaurant closed and New York lost Chef Bloomfield's Oyster Pan Roast and Hangtown Fry (juicy oysters, thick bacon, and spicy jalapeño). Sure, Grand Central Oyster Bar has a pan roast that's celebrated, but it just didn't matter. New York had lost two of its best oyster dishes. I was forlorn.
So I rejoiced when The John Dory and its Oyster Pan Roast were revived at the ACE. But in the jilted time in between, I was forced to perfect my own recipe. It's fairly simple, and I didn't try to replicate the uni butter (though The Times did everyone a public service by adapting the chef's recipe so you can try if you like), but I have to say, I'm pretty proud of it.
This recipe features oysters from Hood Canal (the Puget Sound) provided by the New York Oyster Company — big, juicy, very briny oysters. But truth be told, I've made pan roasts with all kinds of oysters and I've yet to encounter an oyster that makes the dish a fail. You can even use a combination of oysters if you like.
Now, how about bringing back the Hangtown Fry, Chef?
Pour the oysters and liquor into a strainer, collecting the liquor in a small bowl. If you really want to make sure you get rid of any grit you can place the oysters back in their liquor and jostle them gently in it, then remove them and strain the liquor again. Depends on how much grit gets into the oyster, how good a shucker you are, and how OCD you are about grit. Personally, grit and cream don't mix for me.
Melt the butter in medium-sized pan and lightly sauté the garlic, shallot, and celery until translucent. Add the cream and gently simmer. Add the milk, and oyster liquor, and gently simmer. You want a thick creamy consistency but you don't want to be drinking straight cream here.
Add the oysters, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, paprika, and the ground peppercorns, give it a second for the mixture to meld together. Serve it all up in a cup or a bowl a little parsley on top, portioning out the oysters depending on how much you like your guests and how selfish you are.