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The Mast-Head: Sorrel in the Sauce

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 12:30

Like the farmer she seems to be becoming, Bess anticipated the frost that would kill the sorrel. And, while this would scarcely deserve mention, because she was going to be away for a week before Thanksgiving, having broiled oysters with a green, Pernod-laced sauce is a family tradition, something had to be done.

Oysters Rattray is what someone, perhaps our parents or perhaps one of their lefty friends, called the swap-out for the spinach that is usually the base of an oyster preparation named, because of the color, as in money, for the Rockefellers. James Beard noted in his fish cookbook that there had never been consensus among the recipes, but green was, so to speak, the common denomination.

In addition to the lemony sorrel and Pernod, our version includes flat-leaf parsley, shallots, butter, a touch of garlic, and breadcrumbs, which get lightly sautéed then blended as one would pesto. When the time comes, we level the half-shell oysters on a bed of kosher salt, spoon a bit of the sauce over them, and run them under a broiler until bubbling and browned.

I have a visual memory of the recipe for oysters Rattray in my mother’s handwriting on a piece of paper tucked into a cookbook. Not having it at hand, I laid out a half-dozen cookbooks for reference then more or less did my own thing based on the common proportions of greens to onions to breadcrumbs to booze. For a test, I cooked a little of the sauce in a pan, then put the rest into a container and dropped it into a chest freezer on my sister’s back porch.

Snorkeling on opening day of scallop season a week ago, I drifted over an area paved with large oysters. I put a few in my bag and then, making a rough note of the location, moved on. Back in the water a week later, I could not find the spot, which led to what has become yet another tradition: getting in touch with Mike Martinsen, who runs Montauk Pearl Oysters, to ask if he might have a dozen or two large ones for me before Thursday.

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