Consult the Experts: How to roast the perfect oyster

SHELL STATIONIt’s winter in the Lowcountry, and you know what that means: Huddling up under heavy wool blankets around the fireplace. Wait, no! Leave that noise to the folks who winter in the Midwest; here, nature barely cracks a window for the cold air before bathing-suit season returns again. Besides, the chillier months bring some of the best locals’ events around: oyster roasts, where friends and neighbors celebrate the kind of Lowcountry heartiness that refuses to cede the outdoors, even when the rest of the country is snowbound. But how can you make sure your oyster roasts with the best of them? We asked Russell Anderson — owner of Captain Woody’s, the site of monthly oyster roasts for more than a decade — for a pro’s primer:

Q. Is there an unspoken rule that oyster roasts should always take place near a body of water?

A. There’s not really an unspoken rule. That’s just where they’re coming from. It’s just like a Lowcountry boil: If and when having one, I would recommend doing it by water. It just makes the atmosphere better.

Q. How many oysters do you need?
A. At least a dozen and a half to two dozen per person. They’re very easy to eat when someone’s steaming them up for you.

Q. How do you cook them?
A. You can put them over an open fire pit. Put a metal sheet down over the pit, and top it off with a wet burlap sack. That will steam them right open. But that’s the old-school way. You can also use a steel plate, metal plate, metal pot. Once they get to temperature, it only takes three to five minutes.

Q. What is the best way to serve?
A. Right out of the shell. The traditional way is to use crackers and cocktail sauce with horseradish. But my favorite is what’s called the Carolina Rooster. Take an oyster in the shell, pop it open, put cocktail sauce, horseradish and a jalapeño on top, and wolf it down. When I do catering events, I always bring a side of jalapeños. It’s a little crowd pleaser. There are some people that put them on pork rinds too.

Q. What kind of beer goes best with roasted oysters?
A. More of an ale, I would think. But I’m a Bud Light drinker.

Q. And the tunes?
A. We try to find local entertainment, and we try to spread it out as best we can. There’s not one that’s better than another.

Q. What do you do with the empty shells?
A. If they come from local (waters), they go back to the oyster company. The Bluffton Oyster Company likes to keep all their shells and replant them. If they come from the Gulf, people will take them and do things with them. Sometimes artists use the shells, sometimes people crush them to use for sidewalks and stuff.

Q. If a freak snowstorm hit, could you hold an indoor oyster roast?
A. I don’t see why not. I’d do the cooking outside and then bring them inside. I’ve never done one and never heard of one. It’s just a crowd pleaser: an oyster roast on a cold day.