The Smoked Oyster Gambit

Ed Lee, the executive chef of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky., had it firmly planted in his mind: He would use fresh oysters in his dish during last night’s Top Chef elimination challenge. During a phone interview earlier today, Ed told me his first thought was, “What was always fresh at the nearby Whole Foods? Oysters. Of course, the one time I needed fresh oysters they didn’t have them!” But rather than switch to something else, Lee went right for the canned smoked oysters. It was a decision that would cost him a place in the finale of Top Chef: Texas. (You can read the rest of my take on last night’s episode here.)

As for the oyster itself, “It is hard to explain to those who don’t do it by what strange impulse humans take these primitive creatures with their tiny hearts pounding and slide them down their throats,” writes Mark Kurlansky in The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. “The best explanation is that a fresh oyster from a clean sea fills the palate with the taste of all the excitement and beauty—the essence—of the ocean. If the water is not pure, that, too, can be tasted in the oyster….”

If you haven’t read Kurlansky’s books, they’re a lot of fun, and I highly recommend you pick one up—his histories on the oyster, salt, and cod are informative, easy reads. In fact, just go to the Amazon search engine two columns over (it’s that quick!), type in the author’s name, and order a copy today—don’t delay!

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