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Matchmaker: Spicy Baked Oysters and Sparkling Wine

Add holiday cheer to this party-friendly dish with American bubbly

Nick Fauchald
Posted: December 20, 2004

Three things readily at hand during the holiday season--oysters, bubbly and a reason to celebrate--make this pairing a great addition to your holiday menu.

Frank Stitt and his trio of Birmingham, Alabama, restaurants--Highlands Bar and Grille, Café Bottega and Chez Fonfon--are known for his Provence-inspired southern cuisine. Oysters are a staple of Stitt's repertoire, and this recipe for spicy baked oysters from his new cookbook Frank Stitt's Southern Table is a simple and tasty way to dress up those briny bivalves for a prefeast pass-around.

Wine Pairing

While fresh, raw oysters go best with crisp, lemony whites (such as Chablis, Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc), this dressed-up preparation needs a high-acid, dry sparkling wine to cut through the richness of the caramelized onions and the saltiness of the pancetta, while finishing with a cool, effervescent rinse to tame the dish's overall spiciness.

Sweeter sparkling wines will overpower this and are best left attending your party stag, but the wine doesn't need to be bone dry, as long as it has ample acidity. Citrus notes add a zingy brightness to the pairing, but an overly tart or lemony sparkler can leave a sharp, bitter taste in your mouth. Each of the wines I've recommended with this dish--two bruts, three blancs de noirs and a blanc de blancs--are crisp and refreshing enough to cleanse the palate after each bite without overwhelming the baked oyster's distinct flavors.

From Frank Stitt's Southern Table: Spicy Baked Oysters with Caramelized Onions
Serves 4

This is so simple, yet there is an almost magical explosion on the palate when briny oysters collide with sweet onions, salty pork and spicy hot chile. Cover the oysters with the caramelized onions and treat everything else with discretion, adjusting the amounts to suit your own taste. Less is more. More is dangerous.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, quartered and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rock salt for serving
24 oysters (such as Apalachicola, bluepoint, Pemaquid, Chesapeake or Malpeque) shucked and left in the bottom shells
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
Coarsely ground dried hot chile or cayenne pepper to taste
6 or 7 very thin slices pancetta, cut into 24 1-1/2-inch squares, or 6 slices bacon, preferably center-cut, cut into 4 pieces each
1 cup medium-coarse bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Make a bed of rock salt on a baking sheet and arrange the oysters on top. Top each with a little of the sautéed onion-just enough to cover. Place a teaspoon of butter and a good pinch of chile on each, then top with a square of pancetta (or bacon) and a scattering of bread crumbs to finish.

Bake until the pancetta is slightly crispy, the bread crumbs golden and the oysters heated through, 10 to 12 minutes.

--Frank Stitt

Wines

Wine Score Price
IRON HORSE Blanc de Blancs Sonoma County Green Valley 1995 88 $34
Mature, with rich pear, fig and bread dough flavors that come with this much time in the bottle. Those who prefer a little bottle age should enjoy this wine, as the complex secondary flavors turn rich and creamy. Drink now. 2,060 cases made. --J.L.
 
J Brut Russian River Valley Vintage 1999 88 $30
Intense, with vibrant ripe pippin apple, pear, spice and hazelnut flavors that are complex, with an elegant mouthfeel. Drink now through 2009. 28,000 cases made. --J.L.
 
MUMM NAPA Blanc de Noirs Napa Valley NV 88 $18
Refreshing, with pretty cherry, strawberry and rose petal aromas that extend to the palate, featuring ripe, creamy fruit flavors and a long, smooth finish. Drink now. 25,000 cases made. --J.L.
 
ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Anderson Valley NV 88 $22
Smooth, rich and creamy, with spicy pear, fig, melon and honeysuckle flavors that are fresh and lively, ending with a tasty burst of ripe fruit. Drink now. 65,000 cases made. --J.L.
 
DOMAINE STE. MICHELLE Blanc de Noirs Columbia Valley NV 87 $12
Soft, round and tasty, with delicate watermelon, strawberry and white pepper aromas and flavors, finishing with a fine texture. Drink now. 10,000 cases made. --H.S.
 
GLORIA FERRER Blanc de Noirs Sonoma County NV 87 $18
Wins points for its understated elegance and subtle hints of ripe cherry, rose petal, spice and citrus notes. The finish is refreshingly clean and offers enough complexity to tempt you for a second glass. Drink now. 25,000 cases made. --J.L.
 

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