To the novice, they may not seem appetizing in appearance, but after overcoming the initial hesitation, it becomes evident that oysters are a universe of subtle aromas and complex flavors that are increasingly seducing the universal palate. “I grew up eating oysters on the beach. It was very basic, with lime and spicy Mexican sauce. In Mexico and in the United States, there are a lot of different types of oysters, and they’re all really good,” said Chef Julian Medina, the owner of several well-known restaurants including Toloache, Yerba Buena, Coppelia, and Tacuba Cantina Mexicana, in New York. “On a trip to Prince Edwards Island, in Canada, I learned that in order for oysters to grow, the seed has to be planted in a cold sea and the water has to be in constant movement. The temperature and movement of the water determine whether they’re briny, juicy or plump, as well as their size.”
Chef Medina has promoted excellence in Latin cuisine for over 15 years and one of the secrets of his restaurants is keeping his staff members for as long as possible and creating a sense of family. “Innovation is very difficult to achieve. Every day you learn something new and there’s a lot to learn,” he says.
Paul McCartney, Sofía Vergara, Neil Patrick Harris, Tom Hanks, Daniel Boulud and Bobby Flair, are among the celebrities who have savored his dishes. “Simplicity in cooking is of upmost importance today. A lot of chefs are returning to our roots, and to the ingredients and customs we grew up with. Products that are local, in season, fresh and that are not mass produced.”
Tips from chef Medina
Choosing your oysters: “Large oysters tend to be brinier, not as plump and have a lot of liquor. The smaller ones are creamier, plumper and are incredibly sweet. I like oysters somewhere in-between. Personally, I like oysters from the West Coast because they’re creamier, plumper and very delicious. The ones from Long Island and Massachusetts are too.”
Freshness: “When you buy oysters, they should be very fresh and completely closed. You should always try to find out when they arrived and when they were caught. They all have an identification tag that says when they were retrieved from the water. If you’re not sure about what you’re buying, you can ask the people at the fish counter for the tag.”
Poached Oysters with dulce de leche mole, cashews, shishito peppers (Serves 4)
- 12 fresh oysters (reserved juice)
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup cashews, roughly chopped
- ½ cup canola oil
- 8 shishito peppers, roasted, finely chopped
- 2 ½ cups of dulce de leche mole
Dulce de leche mole
- 3 pasilla peppers, dried
- 3 mulato peppers, dried
- 3 ancho peppers, dried
- 2 chipotle peppers, dried
- 3 chiles guajillo peppers, dried
- ¼ cup raisins
- 1 Mexican vanilla stick
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 whole Spanish onion, quartered
- 3 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 2 cups canned dulce de leche
- 1 quart water
Dulce de Leche Mole
1. Heat half the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, Mexican vanilla stick, cumin, and garlic. Sauté for about 2-3 minutes. Add all chiles, and let ingredients cook down for 3-5 minutes. Add raisins, water, and salt to taste. After coming to a boil, turn heat to low heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
2. Pour the cooled sauce into a blender or food processor and blend until sauce reaches a smooth consistency. Pass through a strainer.
3. In a fresh skillet over medium heat, add the remaining oil and pour the strained sauce into the skillet. Bring to a boil again, then turn to low heat and let simmer. With a wooden spoon stir the sauce every 30 seconds for 15 minutes to prevent separation of the sauce. Add the dulce de leche to the sauce and cook for about 5 minutes on low heat. Remove from heat and set aside.
On a grill or in a medium skillet, cook peppers for 5-7 minutes turning them occasionally or until peppers are charred and blistered. Remove from grill. Cool, then finely chop.
1. Shuck the oysters. Pour juice from each oyster into a bowl and place the oyster aside on a plate. Clean the halved shells, set aside.
2. In a sauteuse over medium heat, pour in the oyster juice and water. Add the shallots and bring to a low simmer. Place the raw oysters into the simmering liquid and poach for 15 seconds.
Assemble and serve
On a plate, pour a generous bed of kosher salt and place each oyster half on top. Place one oyster on each halved shell. Lightly drizzle with the dulce de leche mole on top. Garnish with the roasted shishito peppers and cashews.