The holidays are a time of year when families are brought together around a dinner table covered in delicious family specialties. Here in Charleston, we have many holiday traditions involving food, including Oyster Dressing, Hoppin’ John and Collard Greens. It seems every family has their own version of a recipe and a story to go along with it.
We asked Chef Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill to share some of her recipes for holiday dishes that will be perfect for your family feast. Best wishes for a happy holiday and a prosperous new year from everyone at Belmond Charleston Place Hotel.
Cornbread Oyster Dressing
Ingredients For Dressing
5 cups cornbread (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup small dice of bacon
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons Italian parsley leaves
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh sage
1 cup roughly chopped fresh baby spinach
1 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups half-and-half
3 dozen oysters, shucked and liquor reserved
Ingredients For Cornbread
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup sour cream
2/3 cup whole buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Make the cornbread, roughly crumble it and leave it out overnight to dry. You will need five cups.
When you’re ready to make the dressing, preheat oven to 400°F. Melt butter in a medium sauté pan. Add onions, celery and bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and fat has rendered from the bacon. Remove the pan from heat and add lemon juice and zest and herbs. Allow mixture to cool slightly.
Put crumbled cornbread in a large bowl. Pour the onion mixture over the cornbread and gently toss together. Add spinach and toss again. Add Parmesan cheese. In a separate bowl, mix eggs and half-and-half and pour over the cornbread mixture. Add oysters and their liquor and carefully stir together.
Place mixture into a buttered 8 x 12 x 2-inch baking dish. Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 more minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove dressing from the oven and allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
Preheat oven to 400°F and place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet inside to heat.
Sift flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt together. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs just enough to break them up. Stir in sour cream, buttermilk and oil. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix.
Pour mixture into hot skillet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
Charleston Grill Collards
2 bunches collard greens, washed and stemmed and chopped rough
1 tablespoon oil
1 large yellow onion, diced small
5 slices apple smoked bacon, chopped rough
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
7 cups chicken stock (or low-sodium chicken broth)
1 bottle beer (Chef Michelle suggests Palmetto Amber)
2 teaspoons Texas Pete hot sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and bacon. Sauté until onions are translucent. Add vinegar, Texas Pete, stock and beer. Bring to a boil, and add the remaining ingredients. Stir in the collards a few at a time (they will wilt, so you will have enough room to get them all into the pot). Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours or until tender.
Oyster roasts have been a part of Southern social life dating back to the middle of the 20th Century. Lowcountry natives were raised with this tradition and understand the ins and outs of this culinary experience, but newcomers face their first experience with trepidation and concerns over not fitting in.
Before we offer some general oyster roast etiquette, let’s dispel the myth around what months are best for oysters. You may hear people around the Lowcountry mention prime oyster season is only during months that end in “R”. Actually, Charleston’s oyster season includes all months that have an “R” in it, running from September to April. Over these months, the water temperature drops and the oyster beds are ripe for picking.
If you’ve never been to an oyster roast, or felt a bit awkward during your first experience, we’ve compiled a list of things that are good to know before you start shucking.
1. Come prepared. It’s a good idea to bring your own oyster knife. Knives will be provided, but they are sparse and you’ll look like an old pro if you bring your own. Charleston Cooks on East Bay Street has a nice selection. The Messermeister Oyster Knife is our favorite. It’s good to use a cloth or glove when handling the sharp shells, so bring your own glove. We’ve been told it’s a “Southern thing,” but it’s never a bad idea to bring your own beer koozie, too.
2. Know how to open an oyster. When oysters are steamed they start to open up a little. Many people think it’s best to open the oyster at this seam. On the other side of the oyster is a hinge. If you open the oysters from this angle, it’s cleaner and takes less time.
3. What to drink. Beer is the drink of choice at most casual Southern affairs. If you’re looking for a local brew, check out Coast Brewing Company. When it’s cold, Bourbon is always a good choice. Bloody Marys are great because they play on the cocktail sauce and lemon. Some of our favorite mixes are Charleston Bloody Mary Mix and Fat and Juicy Mix. If the night lasts long enough, you could end up making Oyster Shooters—a combination of vodka, cocktail sauce and a raw oyster. Although champagne is often paired with oysters, you can bet a longneck Bud you won’t see one.
4. Talk like you’ve done this before. Throw “‘bo” around whenever you get a chance. Bo’ is local vernacular and short for “boy”, i.e., “Hey ‘bo, you gotta check out these oysters. We got them from up around Bull’s Bay”.
These days most oysters are steamed in an aluminum pot attached to a propane tank. Purists still use a fire pit with a sheet of steel on top. The oysters are placed on the sheet, covered with a wet burlap feed sack and steamed to perfection. Ask your host if they’ve ever roasted their oysters the old-fashioned way. Might win you a few points.
5. The gift of giving. You’ll need to thank your host; it’s the polite thing to do. If you’re looking for a hostess gift, try the Shops at Belmond Charleston Place. If your host loves southern cooking, stop by Tommy Bahama and pick up the Flavors of the Southern Coast cookbook, or grab a Charleston-themed Pineapple Bottle Opener, the perfect gift of friendship and hospitality.
6. What to wear. Despite being Southern traditions, oyster roasts aren’t fancy affairs. Jeans and khakis are always welcome. Footwear is key as you will be outdoors and possibly near a bonfire. Ladies, skip the heels and pick boots for comfort. If you really want to dress the part, King Street is lined with stores that can outfit your evening. Dumas is the perfect store for a gentleman’s preppy Southern attire.
Did we miss anything? If you have others tips to help readers fit in better at their next oyster roast please share.
If you missed the “World’s Largest Oyster Roast” at Boone Hall Planation, during the annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival, don’t fret. There are plenty of local roasts to attend. Many restaurants feature oysters, and a local favorite is “Oysters on the Point.” This once a month winter series features local, steamed oysters, live music and plenty of beverage choices.