Saturday, December 6, 2014

The World Is My Oyster - Oyster and Sausage Dressing

What ever made me think of this?  The summer that I volunteered at St. Joseph's Hospital, I would ride my bicycle from my home in North Woodmere to some spot on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, lock up the bike, then take a bus to the end of the line in front of the Far Rockaway branch of the Queens Library, and then walk to the hospital on Beach 19th Street.  Then, I finished my shift and reversed the trip, unless Bethe and I were heading back to her house first.  Or we would walk around the block to Beach 20th Street, curious about the convent on the hospital grounds. At the end of our time together, she would walk me part of the way back to the bus stop.

Neither of us had a driver's license; I was fifteen, and she was a very precocious fourteen.  Despite that, it was a summer of great independence for me.  I was far from the stultifying sameness of North Woodmere and even better, far from my grandmother's sharp tongue and occasional fisticuffs.  Those twice-weekly trips were great exercise, too.  I was a klutz in the school gym, but a whiz on the bicycle.  Good memories, except I can't imagine what triggered them ... they popped up while I was in my car, driving from Kissimmee to the juvenile court in Orlando (don't ask, I can't tell), and I passed the Children's Advocacy Center, where CPT (the Child Protection Team) is located.  I can't count the number of times I have actually been in that building over the years, but it always makes me feel like I am getting caught in a drug-induced hallucination. (Let me make it clear that I am implying no criticism of the CAC or CPT or the marvelous work they do to protect children.  I could not do my job as effectively or efficiently without them.) Bright clashing colors, cartoonish representations of various animals, fake trees sculpted out of metals and plastic, looking dangerous rather than cheerful. Even the pictures on the outside of the building continue that weird Alice-in-Wonderland-on LSD theme.

So is that what triggered the cross-county bicycle trip memory?  That would be simply too weird. Does that mean if it's not ear worms, it's bright colors setting me off?  Cognitive overload.  "Too many notes."  Too many visual bursts of lights and color apparently disrupt my train of thought, sending me off into a daydream fugue episode.  This may explain why I failed calculus in college.  All that fresh air and the bright, clean colors of nature up there in the Shawangunk Mountains.  Everything was so greeeeeeen .... just kidding, all you Mel Brooks' fans

So when I got home, I buried myself in Kevin Walsh's Forgotten NY site and took various tours of the Rockaway Peninsula.  Such interesting history, and I'm crazy about the roads, especially the way the Rockaway Freeway zooms under the elevated subway and between the concrete posts of the trestle supporting that structure.  Plenty of times my Pop would take that road when we found ourselves in Rockaway heading to relatives in Arverne, having crossed over the Marine Park Bridge (now known as the Gil Hodges Bridge) after bumping over the cobblestones of Flatbush Avenue (yes, you read that correctly) before he somehow magically merged onto Beach Channel Drive, which morphed into Seagirt Boulevard.  I'm a map freak, an architecture freak, and a New York City subway freak.  The world is my classroom.  And my oyster, at least according to Shakespeare.

This might be a good time for a recipe.

I never tasted oysters until I was in my early forties.  For someone who practically grew up in Lundy's restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, that's pretty darn amazing.  I ate steamed clams in enormous quantities, but nary an oyster, cooked or raw.  Broiled scallops, steamed lobsters, mussels in wine sauce and an oceanful of shrimp, but no oysters.  Forty years of unrestrained eating gone to waste.  Imagine the vast quantities of oysters I could have consumed during my heyday, if I had only known how utterly delicious they are.  The first oysters I ever ate were fried, but since then I've had them grilled, raw, Rockefellered, casseroled, Emerilized, and floating in a perfect stew.  I have used them at home in gumbos and seafood stews, as well as in stuffing for turkey, which brings us full circle to my Thanksgiving recipes.  I know, it's been a long trip from Far Rockaway, but it was all worth it.


1 cup corn kernels, frozen
3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, chopped
3/4 cup chopped celery
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1 - 1 pound roll of hot bulk sausage (Jimmy Dean)
2 - 8 oz. refrigerated cans shucked oysters, with their liquor
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
2 teaspoons dried thyme
4 cups cubed cornbread, dried in oven
4 cups cubed Thanksgiving bread, dried in oven
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
granulated garlic

In a 10- to 12-inch deep skillet over high heat, throw in the frozen corn kernels, and cook dry until the kernels start to brown.  Remove to a large bowl and set aside.  In the same pan, combine butter, onions, celery, red pepper and garlic. Stir often until vegetables are lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Pour into a large bowl.

Crumble sausage in frying pan and stir often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to onion mixture. Discard fat.

Pour oysters and liquid into frying pan. Stir to free browned bits and bring to a boil. With slotted spoon, lift out oysters and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Add to onion mixture. Boil oyster liquid until reduced to 4 tablespoons, stir in 1 tablespoon of butter and add to onion mixture. Add sage, thyme, and mixed bread cubes; mix well. Season to taste.  Add the beaten eggs and use wooden spoon to combine.  Try not to break up the oyster pieces.  If mixture is dry, gradually add small amounts of water to moisten, but do not let the stuffing get soggy.

Pat into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes; remove foil and bake another 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the internal temperature is at least 150 degrees.

If making this a day or two prior to your dinner, bake covered for 25 to 30 minutes, then remove from the oven, let cool a bit, and place in the refrigerator.  About an hour before you are ready to serve, place the covered baking dish in the oven for 45 minutes, then uncover and continue baking until the center reads at least 150 degrees, and the top is nicely browned.

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