THREE CHEESE OYSTER GRATIN
MY MOJO (COULD HAVE) SANK INTO A MENTAL ABYSS SO DEEP, IT WOULD TAKE A KRISPY KREME-SUBMARINE TO RETRIEVE
Hello. Sorry. I think it’s been awhile. I don’t know if there was a guideline on the Successful Food Blogging Manual specifically on post-frequencies, but I’m sure an entire week of blankness and neglect would on the other hand, dominate the entire Troubleshoots Section (As well as questions like this: What to do when you accidentally publish an unfinished post?)(Answer: Call 911.)(And: What is a writer’s block?)(Answer: Eat a donut.). Well, the truth is… that I wish there was a more socially excusable answer for my absence, you know, dog theft, broken hips, dead grandparents… house fire? Because really, anything is better than what I’m about to confess, which is the silent gasps among food-bloggers, the leading Do-Not’s under the manual’s flashing red, Skull-headed Section that you should probably read before Getting Started (Side by side with: Bad-mouthing Jesus.)(And also: Cursing out children). But the truth is that, in the past week, as honestly as I can put it… I simply got tired of foods.
Yes, if you were a food-blogger, along with the acute urge to weep after a deflated cake (Answer: Ingest alcohol and blog about that instead) and recipe-deficit (Answer: Put down the donut and make that a sandwich), this complication too can happen. But different from how I’d imagine it, which should’ve been a natural and peaceful death following a long and beautiful journey, this temporary episode came prematurely due to a self-inflicted and unforeseeable cause. In short, I simply got tired of foods because there had been simply, too much fooding. Can there be such a thing? Yes. As briefly mentioned before, I partook in an annual Beijing’s restaurants review for a city magazine, thinking it was going to be the best blogging-perk ever, but after cramming almost twenty restaurants into the past mere four weeks (that’s 3~5 restaurants per week!), things started to get a little… overcooked. Like a bridezilla on her third wedding, I had managed to turn the single, most appreciated aspect of my otherwise ungrateful life, into just another demeaning chore. To say the least, it backfired.
Even though this miscalculated experiment, for my wellness sake, timely ended last Thursday, it has left me in a prolonged state of mental paralysis where I just wanted to suck my thumbs in peace and not having to come up with another word to describe a meal other than cursing it out. I wanted to just exist… on soda crackers for a month. Or so at least, fortunately, it only felt that way. To my surprise as well, thanks to a book here and there, it only took a few days for the cravings to cook again to slowly creep back in, and literally, exploded over this weekend. In hindsight, if the two dishes I made over the weekend had flopped, my mojo would’ve sank into a mental abyss so deep it would take a krispy krem-submarine to retrieve. But no, they didn’t flop. In fact, they were both smashing success, and one of them being what I’m about to tell you – the three cheese oyster gratin.
This recipe was inspired by what we didn’t have at Vin Vi, one of the better restaurants/izakaya we’ve dined at during this entire process, which was on their menu but unavailable the day we visited. I’ve always loved izakaya-style cheesy grilled oysters/kaki mayo, where shucked in-shell oysters are topped with a mixture of Kewpie-mayonnaise and cheese, then go under high heat to be melted into the gloriously broken, greasy, and unapologetic beauties that they are. Its absence from that meal (perhaps thankfully to that) had left a vacuum in my oyster-deprived heart that, even after the most vicious eating-fatigue, must be filled. But if there was one thing I didn’t like about kaki mayo, it’d be the pool of oil they often sit on, being the aftermath of post-high heat mayonnaise that had inevitably separated.
So I substituted the mayonnaise with a thick béchamel sauce infused with dry white wine and loaded it with shredded white cheddar, gruyere, and a daring pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Then after blanketing the shucked oysters from all directions with this stringy goo, it was then covered again with freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, more freshly grated nutmegs (the key, people, the key), and a few/or many little nubs of unsalted butter. Baked under the top-broiler for 13~15 minutes, the sweet oysters had released their juices to be blended as part of the cheesy pool of joy, slightly shrivelled and firmed up but still supple to the bite, smoldering under a crust of golden and bubbly surface. I’d warn you that it was hot, but again it might had been too late. After all, even I, who have been subjected to an entire month of human-foie gras feeding regimen and was already at the stage of over-ripened-for-harvest, couldn’t resist to (huff~ huff~ huff~) tuck one into my mouth right out of the oven and part the burning white sea with a torn piece of crusty sourdough.
And guess what, it was worth the burn, worth the paralyzing month of restaurant-hammering that ultimately led to it, worth every dragging agony to crawl back to the kitchen to make it, and now the what’s-one-more bulge of fat sticking out from places I don’t even know exist on my body. Hey, my friends, if you ever feel tired of foods, going in or churning out. Take a couple days off, eat some soda crackers. Then come back, and make this. And I promise you, all shall be good again.
- 8~10 large shucked oysters
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
- 3/4 cup (75 grams) shredded white cheddar
- 3/4 cup (75 grams) shredded gruyere
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 1/3 tsp sea salt, plus more to adjust
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, plus more to top
- Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese to top
- Rinse and clean the oysters to get rid of any impurities, gently dab dry, then set aside. In a pot over medium heat, melt the unsalted butter then cook the flour for 1 min. Whisk in the whole milk and dry white wine, and continue whisking until the mixture comes to a simmer and has fully thickened, then keep cooking for 5~6 min until reduced slightly and the alcohol has evaporated. Turn off the heat, then add the shredded white cheddar, shredded gruyere, grated garlic, sea salt, ground black pepper, ground white pepper and freshly grated nutmeg, and stir with a fork until the cheese has fully melted (taste and re-season with sea salt if needed).
- Preheat the top broiler on high. In a shallow oven-proof skillet, spread 1/2 of the cheese sauce on the bottom, then arrange the oysters evenly and cover with the rest of the cheese sauce. Grate enough Parmigiano cheese to entirely cover the surface, then scatter a few extra nubs of unsalted butter here and there. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 13~15 min, until it's bubbly and golden browned. Grate another generous pinch of fresh nutmeg over the top (do not be shy with the nutmeg!), then serve immediately with crusty sourdough.