Recently, a very good neighbour and friend of ours, and in fact a fantastic cook whose range of books and kitchen gadgets would give the combination of Nigella and Heston (there’s a thought) a run for their money, came over to our house with a surprise; a small bottle of magic – liquid smoke. Since it has been sat in my cupboard I have been eager to use it, often caught with the urge to liberally apply it to everything that I cook, create or eat. As you may have guessed I love smoked food, but to use this potent little gem needs care, precision and the right combination of flavours. So splashing it all over one’s dinner as carefree as my football team leaks goals would only serve to put me off that smoky nuance forever. No, I needed to think carefully about a dish to use it in.
On my last sojourn to the fish market I procured some Coffin Bay oysters (Coffin Bay is in South Australia) and then hit on the idea of smoking them with the liquid smoke. Once I had shucked the oysters (at this our neighbour is an expert, so maybe I’ll ask for a guest post!) and had taken in the aroma of sea saltiness and freshness, I felt that to introduce only liquid smoke would maybe overpower the oysters and not work in harmony. What was needed was something that would add acidity and sweetness to the saltiness of the oyster and complement the smoke flavour. I have been studying Spanish cuisine lately and decided that a roasted red pepper (capsicum) sauce incorporating the smoke liquid might be what I was looking for – and thus the invention of Oysters Español.
- ■ half a dozen fresh oysters | Without mistake if you can buy live oysters and have the means and adventure to shuck them yourself the rewards really are in the eating.
- For the Spanish Sauce:
- ■ 1 medium red pepper (capsicum) | Cored and deseeded, cut in half lengthways. Rub with olive oil till coated and then season with sea salt and black pepper.
- ■ ¼ white onion | Finely chopped. White onion has a sweeter and milder flesh than brown onion.
- ■ 1 tbsp. olive oil |
- ■ a pinch sea salt |
- ■ 2 tsp. fino sherry | A dry sherry.
- ■ 2 tsp. sherry vinegar | An aged vinegar with wonderful sherry characteristics – the taste of Spain.
- ■ 10 drops liquid smoke | The one I use is Colgin natural hickory liquid smoke.
- ■ 2 pinches smoked paprika |
- ■ 2 thin slices prosciutto | Used as a garnish that also adds a crunchy texture.
The first thing to do is prepare the prosciutto. I cut thin strips of prosciutto and then spiral it around oiled metal chop sticks – 4 in total. In an oven at about 60 deg C dry the prosciutto until crisp (2-3 hours). Remove from the chopsticks when cool and crumble. Put aside until later.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C. Place the oiled and seasoned red pepper flesh down on an oiled baking tray and roast in the oven for about 25 minutes. The flesh should be soft and the skin darkened and eager to be peeled. Remove the pepper halves from the oven put in a plastic bag, seal the bag and leave for 5 minutes; after 5 minutes remove them from the bag and peel. Discard the peel and set the flesh aside.
In a small skillet or frying pan heat the olive oil, add the white onion and sea salt, and gently sauté the onion until translucent and soft. The onion should not be browned as we do not want to impart too much flavour and browning would do this. Add the fino sherry and sherry vinegar to the onion and reduce until there is no more liquid. Add the red pepper and onion mix to a miniature food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until a smooth puree is achieved. Push the puree through a fine sieve and then add the smoked paprika and liquid smoke drops and mix well.
For the oysters: once shucked carefully drain the oysters, retaining the salty oyster juice, gently wash them in cold water and then dry on kitchen towel or on a tea towel. Scrub the inside of the boat shaped oyster half-shells until cleaned and then place a cleaned oyster in each. Add ¼ tsp. of reserved oyster juice to each oyster and then top each with a generous teaspoon or two of the red pepper puree. Garnish with the dried prosciutto.