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Guinness oysters an ode to Eire

"Fried" Guinness battered oysters with mustard pickle sauce. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I have packed four Irish ingredients into one tasty little appetizer — oysters, cabbage, Guinness stout and Colman’s Mustard.
What’s that? The skeptics among you are claiming that fully half of those ingredients — the oysters and Colman’s — are ringers? Not so. And here’s why.
In search of inspiration for this recipe, I dove into a shelf’s worth of Irish cookbooks. Much to my surprise, oysters kept bobbing to the surface. So I concluded that the Irish love oysters. Unfortunately, they tend to love them most when they’re swimming in cream, a fate to which I would never consign them.
Here in America we like our oysters fried. But I no more intended to fry these guys than to bathe them in cream. Not only is deep-frying unhealthy, it’s also messy and too much trouble.
As I continued to pore over my Irish cookbooks, I noticed that Guinness stout appeared as an ingredient nearly as often as oysters. and suddenly inspiration hit. My favorite batter is made with beer. Why not batter my oysters with Guinness (and a bit of flour), then sauté them, rather than fry them?
Beer brings two wonderful qualities to a batter — bubbles (which make the batter light) and alcohol (which amplifies flavor even if you don’t taste the alcohol).
As for the sautéing, a couple years ago I learned how well it worked as a frying substitute when I used the technique on beer-battered shrimp. Turns out it works just as well on oysters. As a result, this recipe requires only a single tablespoon of oil, instead of the 4 cups usually called for in deep-fat frying. And the oysters turn out with a nice (albeit not so stiff) crust. That said, a non-stick pan is a must for this recipe.
Now I just needed to sauce them up a bit, which brings us to Colman’s Mustard. I know it’s made in England, not Ireland, but that’s close enough for me. Please believe it; Colman’s has been crossing the border to the Emerald Isle for ages and it’s widely available in our own supermarkets.
What I love about Colman’s is that it’s seriously hot, very reminiscent in its tear-inducing, nasal-cleansing potency of the equally scorching Chinese mustard many of us love. I added a generous dollop of the stuff to a combo of mayo and Greek yogurt, along with some chopped pickles.
The only thing missing now was a nod to one of Ireland’s favorite vegetables after the potato, namely cabbage. So I topped this appetizer with a tidy little mix of shredded cabbage and carrots, tossed simply with cider vinegar, sugar and salt. The acid in this topping provides a tangy counterbalance to the breaded oyster with its creamy sauce. The whole concoction came together very nicely. A true ode to Ireland.

“Fried” Guinness Battered Oysters
Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)
Serves 4
½ to ¾ cup Guinness Stout
½ cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the oysters
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1½ tablespoons finely chopped cornichons or dill pickle
½ teaspoon prepared Colman Mustard (or the mustard of your choice)
¾ cup coarsely shredded carrots
¾ cup finely shredded cabbage (preferably savoy or Napa)
1½ tablespoons cider vinegar
Hefty pinch of granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
12 oysters, shucked, reserving the bottom (curvier) shell to serve
In a medium bowl, whisk together ½ cup of the Guinness, ½ cup flour and ¼ teaspoon salt. The batter should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter. If it is thicker than that, add additional beer. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, cornichons or pickle and mustard. Season with salt and pepper.
In another small bowl, toss together the carrots, cabbage, vinegar, sugar and salt.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium, heat the oil. Dip the oysters in the additional flour to coat them on all sides. Transfer the coated oyster to a strainer to shake gently to remove excess flour.
Add the coated oysters to the beer batter. Lift them from the batter, letting the excess batter drip off, then add them to the skillet. Cook until they are golden, about 2 minutes per side, then transfer them to paper towels to drain.
To serve, put the oysters in the reserved shells, then top each with a bit of the mustard sauce and carrot mixture. Serve either on a platter as hors d’oeuvres, or divide between 4 serving plates. Serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 200 calories; 60 calories from fat (30 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 25 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 5 g protein; 430 mg sodium.