The fresh mineral taste of fresh oysters is bliss to some, but for others raw oysters evoke a vehement, “No, thank you.” For those who do not see the appeal of an oyster on the half-shell, garnished with a fresh lemon wedge and horseradish, baked oysters may be the answer. The turn of the 20th century saw the creation of the dish Oysters Rockefeller, but many variations for baked oysters have been created since that time. Whatever recipe you choose, baked oysters on the half-shell make for a special and delectable appetizer.
Purchase raw oysters from a reputable fishmonger to ensure freshness and high quality -- 20 to 24 oysters work well as an appetizer that serves 10 guests. The oysters should feel heavy for their size and be tightly closed. Shuck the oysters with a heavy knife or an oyster shucking knife. Keep the liquid -- known as oyster liquor --in the shell as it is full of flavor.
Lay the oyster shells on a rimmed baking sheet -- open side up, with the raw oyster and oyster liquid still in the shell. Set aside the baking sheet and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Add the butter and flour to a pan. Over medium heat, whisk for two minutes -- this will remove the raw flour taste. Slowly add the cream and whisk until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Heat a skillet over medium heat until hot and saute bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and set aside. Add leeks, celery and one bay leaf to the same pan. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are soft -- about 12 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed. Slowly add reserved cream mixture and simmer for three minutes until slightly thickened. Add Parmesan cheese and the reserved bacon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place 2 tbsp. of the cream mixture onto each oyster shell. Sprinkle each oyster shell with bread crumbs. Place into the preheated oven, baking until mixture is bubbly and breadcrumbs are golden, about eight minutes. Serve immediately and enjoy.
Oyster stuffing is a tasty alternative to serving baked oysters on the half-shell.
Wear a glove when shucking oysters to prevent any cuts from the knife and the shell.