Moonlight Oysters in Boston

“Listen to me.  There is no more money,” said my boss Sam, a stylish, 60-ish adman in his corner office near the Boston waterfront.

oysters, oysters rockefeller, scalloped oysters, recipes, cookbooks, savory, susie norris

Photo courtesy of Steve Dunwell

A steady parade of us (copywriters, art directors, producers, and associate producers in my case) filed in for raises as late fall faded and winter moved in like an evening cold front across the harbor’s sailboats and ferries. End-of-year bonuses: not happening. “You, at least, have something to whine about. Your salary stinks.” By early December, snowy ice crunched under my boots on the walk from the office to Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Most nights and all weekends, I moonlit as a shop girl, selling clothes and shoes and costume jewelry and wondering what it really meant when a boss says “there is no more money.” The ship of this well-known agency’s Boston office was sinking. But the guys had taught me a thing or two. We produced jingles for local banks; we churned out earnest collateral for dog food brands; our one national account required us to occasionally drive south to coastal cranberry bogs with storyboards and chatter about TV campaigns, which we loved.  We frequented the Union Oyster House, the oldest restaurant in America. Plaques on the wall boasted that Daniel Webster was a regular and enjoyed a pint of beer with his plate of oysters and rarely had fewer that six. We were modest in comparison. Good day at work? Oysters for lunch!  Bad day at work? Oysters at nightfall.

oysters, cookbooks, oyster recipes, baking, savory, food writing, susie norris

Oysters- photo by

oysters, oysters rockefeller, scalloped oysters, cookbooks, recipes, oyster recipes, susie norris

We won awards and once they sent me up on stage to collect the giant Hatch bowl for a spot I produced with my friends. We took it to a posh hotel bar and drank champagne from it through straws. I was 25 and happy for all the good graces but couldn’t ignore the fact that this beautiful midnight, moonlit moment would soon grow dark. No raises, no new clients, no strategy meetings, no pep talks about pushing through the hard times. Boston’s mid-’80’s recession had us in its frosty grip. How would we afford the oyster bar if not for our expense accounts? If all of us got laid off, we’d have no more awards and no more celebrations and even my shop girl job would soon enough freeze over. Along with youth and folly comes fearlessness, and I still had a dash of it, plus a few contacts in California thanks to this agency. I set out that February and found my way to a mediocre desk job by March, which eventually led right up the food chain.  The day the entire staff got laid off and the Boston office closed for good, they had a toast to me, their very own California clairvoyant.  The beauty of Boston’s marketplace that winter – shiny with lamplight, ice, farewells, and sea mist – glows in my memory under the big red letters of Union Oyster House.



union-oyster-houseUnion Oyster House Cookbook

Legal Sea Foods – Well-known Boston-based restaurant group – they will ship fresh seafood to your friends & fam.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Oysters in Boston

Special shout out to Woodman’s & The Clam Box on the North Shore

Oysters in Los Angeles

Oysters in Santa Barbara

Oyster Bars in San Francisco

RECIPE:  Scalloped Oysters with Crispy Shallots

This simple dish allows the flavor of oysters to shine.  I sometimes try NOT to make it at Thanksgiving but then, every year, I can’t imagine the holiday without it.  I consider it quick, easy and somehow essential.

2 1/2 pounds fresh oysters (find a high quality fish market), shucked; about a pint

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup cornmeal

1 1/2 cup milk

2 Tbs. butter, melted

2 Tbs. white wine or vermouth

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 tsp. ground pepper

1/2 tsp. paprika

5 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cups frying oil (such as canola)

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Mix the bread crumbs and the cornmeal together and set aside. Place the oysters in a shallow baking dish, then add the milk, butter, wine, salt, pepper and paprika.  Cover the oyster mixture with the bread crumbs and bake at 350 for about 35 minutes.  While the oysters bake, heat the canola oil over medium heat for a few minutes.  Once the oil is very hot, put the sliced shallots in and allow them to cook until golden brown.  Remove them and allow them to drain on a paper towel.  When the oysters are done, put the fried shallots in the center of the dish, then sprinkle with parsley.  Serve hot.


RECIPE:  Oysters Rockefeller

Spicy spinach and protein-rich oysters – this is practically a health food.  Then we add butter, booze and cheeses, so you can omit those if you must. I can’t.

4 cups kosher salt (to line baking pan)

2 dozen oysters in their 1/2 shells

1 1/2 cups fresh spinach, chopped and steamed

1/2 cup bread crumbs (fresh or dried such as Panko will work)

1/4 cup scallions, chopped

1/4 cilantro, chopped

1 Tbs. parsley, chopped

1 tsp salt

6 drops hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco or Tapatio)

2 Tbs. butter

1 Tbs. brandy

2 – 3 Tbs. parmesan (or Asiago, Romano or the Italian-influenced smoked gouda like Old Amsterdam)

1/2 lemon, plus wedges for decoration

Line a baking sheet with the kosher salt, then place the oysters face-up in their 1/2 shells.  Set aside.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine the spinach, bread crumbs, scallions, cilantro, parsley, salt, hot sauce, butter, brandy and Parmesan.  Pusle lightly until mixed.  Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the spinach mixture over each oyster.  Bake at 350 for abut 10 minutes, then finish under the broiler so that the tops are golden brown.  Carefully transfer the oysters to a serving plate. squeeze the lemon juice over them, and garnish with lemon wedges.  Serve hot.

RECIPE:  Ocean Spray Cranberry Jam

I’ve tried the others and despite my usual aversion to the biggest brand, Ocean Spray cranberries from Massachusetts, you are my favorite.  Despite my further bias from my humble service in your advertising efforts, you remain king of cranberries.

1 bag cranberries

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup water

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbs. brandy (preferably Grand Marnier)

zest & juice of one lemon

zest & juice of one orange

Place all the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat and allow to boil.  The cranberries will start to pop.  Season to taste and continue cooking until desired texture is achieved (at least 10 minutes until the fruit is at least 1/2 melted).  Know that it will firm up considerably once cooled.  Transfer to a medium bowl and chill.  Serve cold.

RECIPE:  Spicy Cornbread Stuffing with Oysters

Start by making an unsweetened cornbread – even store bought or mix is OK. Then spice it up with a fresh jalapeno pepper and the salty depth of fresh oysters.

8 cups unsweetened cornbread, crumbled

1 pint oysters, shucked and coarsely chopped

2 cups corn kernels (preferably from fresh cobs)

2 Tbs butter

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

1 red pepper, seeded and chopped

2 small onions, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

2 cups chicken broth (plus)

2 cups cheddar cheese, grated

6 drops hot sauce (such as Tabasco or Tapatio)

Place the crumbled cornbread into a large stock pot and set aside.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter then add the jalapeño, the red pepper and the celery.   Saute them until they are soft and starting to brown at the edges.  Transfer them into the cornbread, add the chicken broth, corn kernels, oysters, cheese and hot sauce and toss.  Adjust seasoning and liquid to taste.  Stuff the poultry cavity and bake, or transfer the mixture to a baking dish and bake for 1/2 hour.


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