Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving Tailgate

To many people, Thanksgiving is all about the turkey. And who could blame them for getting excited about 20 pounds of succulent meat perfectly roasted and nicely carved on a platter? But then there are those — you know who you are — who could forego turkey all together and consume happily only the ridiculous amounts of side dishes: stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc.  I personally would be hard pressed to join any one camp, but I definitely have my opinion about what is required to complete my Thanksgiving meal. I like white meat better than dark, prefer dressing over stuffing, could pass up the sweet potatoes for the mashed, and can skip the cranberry all together. My dad wants all dark meat, rice not potatoes of any kind, and anything with onions in it. My mom on the other hand really just wants a turkey sandwich with all the fixings. As you're reading this perhaps you're making a mental inventory of which foods make it on your "necessity list." 

Above all, though, Thanksgiving is one of those holidays with lots of traditions behind the meal. In fact, many times dishes are named after the "chefs" who've made and contributed them year after year to the celebratory feast. We've got Monk's cranberry salad, Carla's banana cream pie, Patty's broccoli casserole . . . . I shutter to think what would happen if that person decided to bring something else one year. 

But every once in a while, someone throws a new wrench into the mix that is met with wild applause and is then destined to become yet another tradition. We had one of those this year. 

Thanksgiving happened to coincide with my grandmother's 90th birthday. As you can imagine, we had quite a crew in town for the family meal and to honor this remarkable woman. After the second helpings, touch football game, family portraits, and fawning over the new babies, a collective sigh of contentment could be heard as the sun started to set. About that time, my brother's father-in-law, Jimmy, walked over to his truck, put the gate down, and pulled out a large cooler filled to the brim with Apalachicola oysters

Apalachicola oysters are some of the finest — if not the finest — oysters in the world. And I can never find them in any California restaurant or outside of the Southeast for that matter. Meaty, mellow, plump, clean-tasting. Heaven on the half shell (no accoutrements needed). The uniqueness of Apalachicola oysters comes from the right mixture of water from the rivers that flow from Georgia and Alabama and the salty water from the Gulf of Mexico. Jimmy and my brother pulled on a rubber glove, grabbed an oyster knife and started shucking. Believe you me when I tell you they couldn't shuck fast enough. After the heavy, rich Thanksgiving meal, this cold, refreshing, buttery-seaweedy treat was the perfect palate foil. 

As much as I love the softness and slight saltiness of oysters, I'm very drawn to the Zen-like ritual of preparing and eating them: the shucking, the anointing of sauces, the tilting of the shell, the slurping of the liquor, the tossing of the empty shell into a pile. And eating oysters is very adult. I don't know how else to say it. I think most people remember the first time they sucked down a raw oyster. Usually it is in the company of adults. You're presented with a seemingly slimy blob. You want their acceptance but you're not sure which is worse: "failing" them or eating this creature. Their approval wins out and you close your eyes and throw back the oyster. Afterwards you feel a mixture of relief and pride — and then ask for another one as the adults are high-fiving you. My niece had her first oyster conversion experience this Thanksgiving. And I was proud of her.  

While the raw oysters were outstanding, Jimmy showed us a new way to grill them that literally had people lined up for them. You take a cooking pan and pour a layer of rock salt on the bottom creating a bed to place the oysters on. You then cover them up with a wet dish towel and let them steam for a few minutes (until the shells start to open). The end result is to die for. It's so easy and so ridiculously tasty. Please try it the next time you get your hands on some oysters. The pan will be trashed though so there will be no chance of sneaking that back into the kitchen unnoticed. Just christen it the grilled oyster pan. 

As we stood around, someone commented that we looked like a bunch of rednecks. There were about 20 cars in the front yard (the majority which were trucks), University of Alabama flags on the cars (ready for the Iron Bowl game the following day),  and we were drinking Cheap Red Wine out of plastic cups.  

You can say what you want about rednecks, but they always look like they're having a good time. And that's exactly what we were having. I hope the Thanksgiving Tailgate becomes an annual tradition. 

No comments:

Post a Comment