Monday, March 28, 2011

Trust Me, It Will Fit

It's a damp and raw Monday Morning here in the Land of Palm Trees. The kind of morning where you just consider rolling over and staying in bed for another hour or two. But that wasn't an option for me this morning, so now that I have the kids delivered to school I will have to settle for another cup of coffee and my normal "writing" chair perched at the bistro table in the breakfast nook watching the explosion of green taking place outside through the windows.

Since we had the extreme pleasure of going to an "ahhster roast" (thats Chawlston for oyster roast) Saturday Night and I took some great pictures to feature in a blog, and since the rawness of the weather this morning reminds me it is still oyster season in the Lowcountry, I thought it was a great morning to blog about a southeastern coastal tradition, the oyster roast. Now the last place I lived was absolutely without a doubt the "chicken-burn" capital of the universe. For those of you not from West Virginia, a chicken-burn is when a bed of Kingsford Charcoal (it's local you know from the hardwood forests of West Virginia) is built in a cinder block pit 40 foot long by 4 foot wide and fabricated steel screens used as barbecue screens are covered with whole chickens that have been marinated in a "nectar of the Gods" type of sauce and "burnt" to perfection by flipping the screens at regular intervals. The "burns" were a major fund-raising vehicle for local Lions Clubs, Little Leagues, Women's Clubs and just about any other charitable cause known to man. Now that I live here in the Lowcountry, I realize that in a lot of ways, the oyster roast is very similar to a chicken burn, although, much more elaborate and especially when they are held in a friends back yard, much more fun.

As you would expect, the Lowcountry Oyster Roast has morphed into a style of it's own, and has recently garnered a lot of attention nationally in style and food sections of some Nationally syndicated publications. One such article that I read recently from the New York Times Dining and Wine Section instructs on the many facets of holding "as faithful a facsimile of the Lowcountry creek-bank roast" as possible on the banks of the East River in NYC. Can you believe it, "as faithful a facsimile?" Bubba says, "Huh?"

But you get the point, oyster roasts are in vogue, and besides that, they are a helluva good time, especially when combined with cold beer and other pot-luck favorites, and of course, bannana pudding (see my earlier blog post "Sweet Friday"). Case in point, on Saturday night we were invited by our good friends Troy and Danielle (Troy is a fellow West Virginia University Alum) to join them and some other friends in their backyard in Goose Creek for an Oyster Roast and Lowcountry Boil. I've got to tell you, as you can see for yourself from the picture, Troy and Danielle have one of the coolest back yards in the Lowcountry and Troy knows some grillin' and smokin'. If it will fit on his huge industrial sized smoker he can make it taste good.

Upon my arrival I rushed to the roasting area to survey the scene, what I found was a couple of huge coolers filled with Lowcountry select oysters on ice, fresh from the tidal creeks around Charleston.
These tasty bi-valve morsels had resided in a creek until earlier in the day when they were whisked away into a boat that eventually landed at a dock where they were quickly placed into big burlap sacks for their journey to my belly via Troy's grill.

Also, next to the grill was a huge pot of water heating over a propane flame. Now aside from the roasting of the oysters, the buzz of the day was the on-going debate between Troy and his wife whether the ample supply of potatoes, sausage, corn, onions and shrimp would all fit into the HUGE pot. Relying on my cooking skills and instincts of measurement, and since I am a man and felt the need to support my buddy Troy, I immediately sided with Troy and said, "well of course it will fit," even though I had my doubts.

Not that anybody who knows me would ever accuse me of being one who likes to "stir the pot", I did have quite a bit of fun reminding the ladies that the pot obviously had room to spare once all the ingredients were added and in fact, this time, Troy was right.

Soon enough, hot dogs complete with WV Hot Dog Sauce and macaroni and cheese was prepared for the teenagers who just haven't acquired a taste for good oysters and Lowcountry Boil. And on the adult side the hearty Beaufort Stew was served along with trays of steaming hot oysters. And for the next two hours we ate and drank beer, although I was pretty wiped out from working 9 of the past 11 nights so I stuck to the sweet tea. As darkness engulfed the backyard oasis and the tiki torches took over where the sun left off the oysters got better.

Troy and Will, the oyster roasters were getting their groove on so to speak and the bed of coals was nearing perfection and the oysters began to take on a much more firm and roasted texture, and a smoky and salty taste. For me, it was nearly Valhalla.

The neat thing about Lowcountry oyster roasts is that there are so many options for making the event uniquely yours. The backyard at Troy and Danielles provides a beautiful and relaxing location with a pool and tasteful landscaping to serve as the focal point and on this warm evening the tiki torches set the mood for a tropical feast. But sometimes on cooler nights and in a different locale a big bonfire serves as the focus or even a dock out over the river. On this March night we had stereo sound of NCAA basketball, but it is not uncommon for guests at Lowcountry oyster roasts to spend the night shag dancing to a live band or disc jockey playing beach music.

But the best ingredient at an oyster roast is not the oyster, or the shrimp or even the bananna pudding. No, the best ingredient is the friendship and company that you experience while enjoying all the other ingredients.

Once again, the purpose of this blog is to share life here in the lowcountry from the perspective of a transplant. Somebody who during their time spent vacationing along the South Carolina Coast didn't realize that life as a permanent vacationer was so much more multi-faceted than you ever get a chance to see just by spending a fabulous week in paradise on a Carolina Beach. I hope you enjoy my blogs and I hope as I share our experiences you will be inspired to follow your dreams wherever they may take you or keep you.

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