I was delighted to read in last week’s Independent that Bob Costa’s poker game is now up and running again after a two-year Covid pause (“Who’s Got the Cards?” page A3). But I was more than a little disappointed that the snacks did not include his famed Wednesday Night Card Game Oysters, the recipe for which was published in the now tragically out-of-print The Joy of Shucking (first edition published by Wellfleet SPAT in 2004 at the very reasonable price of 15 clams).
With the gracious permission of both the publisher and the author, I am reproducing the recipe below. It’s a classic, and I recommend it to all Independent readers.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT CARD GAME OYSTERS
Bob Costa, owner of Christine’s Oasis in Wellfleet, loves his card game
almost as much as he loves food. These are the oysters he makes for his
Wednesday night game — and no wonder the game has been going on
for 25 years. Bob’s variation on traditional Oysters Rockefeller
(spinach is the classic ingredient) reflects his Italian roots: pancetta
lends these oysters their luscious meaty flavor and fennel, herbs, and
Sambuca add a more prominent herbal note.
3 dozen Wellfleet oysters, shucked on the half-shell
2 small bags spinach, washed and stemmed
1 Tbsp. salt
1 large bowl of ice water
¼ lb. pancetta (or bacon), diced into ¼-inch pieces
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 cup coarsely chopped fennel
2 cups coarse bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. each chives, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, basil (or any similar combination of herbs), finely chopped
Zest and juice of one lemon (or lime)
¼ tsp. nutmeg, grated
¼ lb. butter, melted
Sea salt and pepper to taste
½ cup Sambuca or other anise-flavored liqueur (optional)
Lemon or lime wedges
2 boxes kosher salt
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Prepare the spinach: place one cup of water and one tablespoon
salt into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add spinach and cook until
completely wilted, but bright green in color (about one minute). Drain
and transfer to the bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Cool, drain again,
squeeze spinach dry, chop it coarsely, and set aside.
To complete the filling: heat olive oil in a heavy skillet, carefully add
pancetta or bacon and sauté until just cooked, but not crisp (about 3-4
minutes; it will cook more in the oven); transfer to a paper-towel-lined
tray and set aside. Turn down the heat and in the same skillet sauté the
shallots and garlic for about one minute, stir in the chopped fennel and
cook covered for another 6-8 minutes or until all ingredients are soft.
In a bowl large enough to hold all of the filling ingredients, toss the
chopped spinach, bacon, fennel mixture, bread crumbs, herbs, lemon
juice and zest, nutmeg, butter, salt and pepper.
Assemble and bake the oysters: Spread one box of kosher salt on a
baking dish big enough to hold the three dozen shucked oysters.
Twist oysters into the salt to hold them steady. Gently spoon a
heaping tablespoon or more of the filling onto each oyster, drizzle
with Sambuca and place pan in the top third of the oven. Cook
until the oyster filling is golden brown (about 5-7 minutes).
To serve: spread second box of kosher salt on a serving platter or
individual plates. Using tongs or gloves, set the hot oysters on the
platter or plates, nestling them in the salt to hold them steady.
Garnish with the lemon or lime wedges.
Fred Kavalier lives in London, England and Wellfleet.