Shell Game Transcript

Fontaine's Oyster Bar

GUESTS: Oyster lover
              Oyster hater

    Ah, oysters. Few foods generate such passion, devotion, or downright revulsion. If you're a fan, there's nothing finer than slurping down one plucked fresh from the sea, all on a half shell.

OYSTER LOVER: [takes an oyster and slurps it down]
AB: Nice, huh?

    If you're not a fan, however, the oyster is, at best, a mystery. At worst, it's a slimy mud-slug enjoyed only by epicurean Evel Knievels.

AB: [presents oyster platter to OH]
OYSTER HATER: Ugh! [shudders and leaves]
AB: [chuckles]

    Okay, I don't doubt that the first oyster was downed on a dare. But I do feel certain that the second, third, fourth, and every one since has gone down with a smile. Because whether raw or cooked, oysters deliver the goodness of the sea like no other critter can.
    So stick around, won't you, because we're going to arm you with the tools and know-how required to turn these humble bivalves into seriously ...

Fontaine's Oyster Bar: Atlanta, GA - 2:17 pm

    [we see Alton's hands pick up an oyster, we hear a slurp and then the shell is returned to the plate, the camera pans up*] Although oysters appear to be the hottest thing on two plates these days, the oyster fad is actually a little bit of history repeating. The Greeks were so crazy about oysters, they used oyster shells as ballots in their many elections.
    The Romans were big fans, as were the Chinese, who preferred their oysters dried. Ancient Americans, big oyster fans. They left giant mounds of oyster shells all along the coasts of America. 19th-century Americans, now there were some oyster-crazy people. They couldn't get enough of 'em.

Outside Fontaine's Oyster Bar

GUESTS: Oyster Vendor (Chuck)

    In the 1860s, New York oysters were plump and plentiful, and routinely outsold anything at the butcher's counter. Served in bars for a penny a dozen and from street vendors as fast food, oysters were, in those days at least, considered food for the poor. In fact, Dickens wrote in "The Pickwick Papers" that "poverty and oysters always seem to go together."

OYSTER VENDOR: [in a heavy British accent] Good afternoon, sir. Care for an oyster?

Oysters For SALE

AB: Oh, gee. Uh, I don't know, I don't ...
OYSTER VENDOR: Nothing to be afraid of, sir. Just close your eyes and give it a slurp.
AB: Well, I'm not afraid, I've just ... I've got a little problem ... [points downward]
OV: [quietly] Say no more, sir. A dozen of these and it'll put the fire back in your britches, I assure you!
AB: And I assure you there's nothing wrong with the fire in my britches!
OV: [shouting] Looks like denial is not just a river in Africa!
AB: The problem is not with my pants, it's with your sanitation!
OV: Are you calling me crazy?
AB: No, but you would have to be crazy to eat oysters that have been sitting out in the sun all day.

    You know, it's a wonder that anybody lived to see the 20th century!

OV: It's not nice calling people crazy!
AB: No. You're right. Here. [hands OV some money]
OV: Now you wanna buy an oyster?!?
AB: No, now I want you to buy a bag of ice!

    I mean, since they're alive, when you buy them in the shell you've gotta be even more careful when handling oysters than you would with any other kind of seafood, and that means finding a reliable vendor.

OV: Now I'm unreliable!

    Preferably one with a store of some kind.

AB: See ya, Chuck.
OV: [normal voice] See ya, Mr. B.

Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA - 10:03 am

GUEST: John Boller

    Once you've found yourself a reliable vendor, you may have some rather intimidating choices to make. But don't fear. Almost all of the oysters in that cabinet are the same variety. How could that be? Well, these oysters are a lot like coffee beans.
    Now, fine coffee beans whether they're grown in Colombia, Guatemala, or Ethiopia, are almost always Arabica, okay? They're the same variety. They just taste different and are marketed differently because, well, they grow in different places so they brew a cup with a different flavor. Well, it's the exact same thing with oysters. Where they grow determines how they taste and the name under which they are marketed.
    Now the guy back here, my fishmonger, John Boller, knows more than I could ever, ever know about this stuff.

AB: So, John, give us a rundown on what you've got in the case today.

JOHN BOLLER: Sure, Alton. Let's start off with the old reliable in this neck of the woods. This is an Apalachicola [pron: ap-uh-latch-a-CO-la] oyster.


JOHN BOLLER: Here we move up to Long Island. This is a Blue Pointe.
AB: Very famous.
JB: Yup. Full-meated, very delicious.
AB: It just comes from this one little part of Long Island Sound, right? So if somebody said to me, "Hey, I've got some great Boston Blue Pointes," they would be ...
JB: They would be misleading you.
AB: They'd be misleading me. Lying. Next?

Blue Pointe

JB: Next let's go up to Nova Scotia.
AB: Nova Scotia?
JB: Prince Edward Island. The Malpeque [pron: MAL-uh-peck] oyster.
AB: Malpeque. Probably sweeter meat and not quite as large.
JB: That's right. So far all these oysters have one thing in common, they are all Atlantic or Eastern oysters.
AB: Eastern oysters.


JB: Like this one from Chincoteague [pron: CHINK-co-teak] Bay in Virginia. It's a Parramour [pron: PAIR-uh-more] oyster. Mildly salty with a distinct fruity flavor.
AB: Wow. Big guy. Keep going.


JB: Back to Nova Scotia ...
AB: Nova Scotia.
JB: ... to the Beausoleil [pron: bo-suh-LAY] ...
AB: Beausoleil. What does that mean?
JB: It's nicknamed the "Beautiful Sun," and it's got a sweet, mild taste.
AB: Oh, right: Beau [French: beautiful] Soleil [sun]...
JB: Kind of like the Malpeque, it doesn't get very big.
AB: Wow, that's a really pretty jewel of an oyster. Nice single bite there.


JB: We've got here some Emerald Cove, from British Columbia, Canada. It's mildly salty.
AB: And that is a very different-looking oyster. It's got a very frilled lip on it.
JB: Some of the western oysters will have kind of a scalloped edge like that.
AB: So if were were talking coffee beans here we could say that these [indicates everything but the Emerald Cove] were all Arabica and this [Emerald Cove] was the robusto.
JB: Good analogy.
AB: Excellent. Now, since this is a different variety, different flavor?
JB: Little bit different, yeah.
AB: Little bit different. Do you see these very often here on the Atlantic where we live?
JB: No.

Emerald Cove

AB: Now, if we were in California, would we have a bunch of Pacific oysters lined up here, and maybe just the Blue Pointes?
JB: Exactly. You'd have the opposite.
AB: So it really depends on where you're living.
JB: Right.
AB: Now, you know a lot about oysters, do you actually like them?
JB: I love oysters.
AB: How do you take them?
JB: I personally like to have them raw, on the half shell, a little Tabasco, a little lemon, wash it down with a cold beer.
AB: Outstanding.
JB: I'm old-fashioned.
AB: I'm going to take ... [ponders] ... all of them.
JB: I may need a bigger bag.
AB: Go get a bigger bag.

    He needs a bigger bag.

It's not uncommon for oysters to change gender several times in their lives.

The Kitchen

    To store your oysters, lay them out in flat layers in a container, okay? If you put them on their sides, oysters are sometimes tempted to open and that'll make them spill their liquor and they will go bad faster. Now, you don't have to put them on ice, but you do have to keep them refrigerated and covered with a nice moist cloth. And if you've got more than a couple of layers' worth, you might want to slide another cloth in between somewhere.
    Now, uh, kept this way, you should be able to keep your oysters alive for a week. Of course, I can't really imagine waiting that long to break into one. Speaking of breaking and entering ...

By 1877 New York's Fulton Fish Market was selling
50,000 pounds of oysters a day.

First Skookum Bank: Tacoma, WA - 2:43 am

GUESTS: Lever Man, Superhero
             W, Equipment Specialist

    [repels down a rope in front of a huge vault door with a plate of oysters in front of him] Breaking into an oyster might be easier than breaking into a bank vault, but not by much.
    We could use high explosive. That would do the trick. Maybe overkill though. We could always cut our way in. That would be efficient, but we might get shell shards in the oysters and that certainly wouldn't be good eats. Nope, I think we're going to have to rely on good, old-fashioned leverage!

LEVER MAN: I'm Lever Man! [repels down a rope in the same manner]
AB: Thank goodness you're here, Lever Man. Tell us, what do you have for us?
LM: I have a crowbar!
AB: Crowbar. Hmm. Okay. I'll tell you what, why don't you go to work on that big door over there, and I'll go to work on these.
AB: W! Get down here!
W: [repels down in the same fashion, annoyed] What?
AB: Did you bring the things I asked for?
W: Yes, and I actually brought what you're going to need.
AB: Like what?
W: Like this glove!
AB: I've already GOT a glove!
W: Not that glove, that won't work! Elasticized cotton, with a rubberized palm. That'll help you grip the oyster and protect your hand.
AB: Are you saying I need to get a grip?
W: I've been telling you that for years.
AB: [mockingly] Ha, ha, ha. Knife!
W: Okay, ergonomic, non-slip handle, sturdy blade, slightly angled at the tip.
AB: Oh yeah, look at that. Huh. Does size matter?
W: Despite what you've been told, yes. Two and three-quarters inches is best.
AB: Two and three-quarters inches. Great. Well, [quoting in Shakespeare-ese] "then the world is mine oyster, which I with sword will open!"
W: Try not to mutilate that oyster the way you do Shakespeare, okay?
AB: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
W: Well, I am just getting started.
AB: Yeah, well, I'm just getting started too.

    I'm going to make sure the flat side is up so we don't lose any juice, pop the knife in the hinge, give it a little twist, then just work the knife all the way around. Gotta make sure to separate that adductor muscle from the top shell. Then, just scrape our way under. There. Got it.

LM: Got it! [alarm system sounds as the vault door springs open] Lever Man rules!
W: The world's just not his oyster, is it?
AB: He's not the sharpest lever in the drawer, you know?
W: Bye-bye! [the rope pulls her up]

The Kitchen

    Okay, here we go again. Make sure that the round part of the shell is down. And look, this one had some baby oysters riding on it. Work your knife into the hinge. And sometimes it works better facing up, sometimes down. Try to twist the oyster and the knife at the same time, just until you feel it pop. Don't try to pry it open all the way. Then, work the knife around jiggling it back and forth gently. Always press it up against the top of the shell to make sure you get that adductor muscle. There. Then just sweep right under the main part of the oyster to separate that other muscle.
    As you might imagine, raw oysters are best when served fresh. So, save the shucking until right before service time. Now when it comes down to numbers, well, if you're going to serve this as an appetizer, I'd go six large or eastern oysters, eight to ten if you're dealing with the little Canadian guys. And if it's the only thing you plan on serving, well, the sky's the limit.
    Now, oyster aficionados often scoff at the idea of additives. But if you ask me, a squeeze of lemon, a little squirt of hot sauce, or a dab of horseradish is quite acceptable. What is not as acceptable is icky, prepared horseradish. We're going to make our own.

    A member of the cabbage family and kin to mustards, turnips, and other radishes, horseradish gets its name via mispronunciation. You see, in German it's called Meerrettich, or sea radish. The English came along, and they didn't read German any better than I speak it. So they just saw the "meer" and and thought "female horse," so they called it horseradish. Although roots 20 inches and longer are not rare, you won't need anything as horsey for this.


[AB peels the horseradish] Pell about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of horseradish with a vegetable peeler.

[grates the radish and adds the ingredients as indicated, and whisks] Grate 1/4 cup of the fresh horseradish into a bowl.

Add 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard and 1 cup of sour cream.

Whisk together thoroughly. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

True pearls don't come from oysters. They come from a type of mussel.

    There we go. Just a little dab.

AB: [hands an oyster with horseradish sauce to off camera person] Go ahead. Give it a try. [person takes it, returns empty shell] You DID like it, didn't you?

    Now this will keep in the refrigerator, if tightly wrapped, two to three weeks. And don't worry if it seems a little hot at first. That pungency will die down after a couple of days. Me, I like it full power.

Since they contain so much calcium, oyster shells are
often fed to chickens to strengthen their eggshells.

Doctor's Office

GUESTS: Dr. Totten, Medical Nutriontionist
             Fanny Bay, Clinical Nurse

    Traditional wisdom holds that one should not consume raw oysters in months without 'Rs. That is, of course, summertime. The issue? Spawning. Summer is spawning season, and when an oyster's thoughts turn to love, well, the meat gets kind of milky and soft and yucky. Now we've overcome this to some degree with the introduction of genetically modified oysters which never spawn. Never spawn? What kind of fun is that? But, there are some other reasons to avoid oysters in the raw state during the summer months.

[DT and FB enter and sit on either side of AB,
FB inserts a thermometer into AB's mouth]

DR. TOTTEN: [enters with FB and both sit on either side of AB] Mr. Brown, are you familiar with Vibro vulnificus?
AB: Yuu men tugh ... [removing the thermometer] You mean the bacteria that naturally occurs in some oysters in warm water during the summer months? Well, sure. It can cause sickness in some people, and even death in people that have liver problems or immune system problems or cancer or diabetes. Generally speaking, Canadian or Pacific oysters are exempt, though, because Vibro doesn't like cold water. And it can't survive cooking, either.
FB: [pushes the thermometer back into AB's mouth]
DT: Nor does it like acid. It rarely survives stomach acid, which is why if you plan on eating raw oysters, you should never take an antacid first. But luckily, Vibro is fairly rare.
AB: Faht's gughd ... [removes the thermometer] That's good, because oysters are low in fat, they're high in protein, they've got Omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals ... and ... zinc [notices the pretty nurse taking his pulse] ... and ...
FB: Zinc increases testosterone production, you know?
AB: [slightly mesmerized by FB] Yeah? [turning to DT, whispering] Say, doc, is it true what they say about oysters being ... you know ...?
DT: [loudly] Aphrodisiacs?
AB: [quietly] Yeah.
DT: Uh, no. But if you're having some problems, I can write you a prescription for something.
FB: [reassuringly] So don't give up hope.
AB: Oh, bother.

Casanova was said to have eaten 50 oysters daily with his evening aperitif.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Martin Moonstone, III: Oyster Epicure

    Although hardcore oysterheads may insist that raw is the only way to go, the truth is, our favorite bivalve responds very well to heat. The trick is to not use too much heat. Now take for instance, a classic application like Oysters Rockefeller, which was developed about 100 years ago by a New Orleans chef named Jules Alciatore. Now, old Jules decided to take that recipe to his grave. But I think that we've concocted a version of that dish that will placate the palates of even the richest of food snobs.

MARTIN MOONSTONE: [counting a pile full of money, thick Mr. Magoo accent] Well, let's just let me be the judge of that. Heh, heh, heh.

    Step one, get down your biggest skillet. It does not have to be nonstick. Put that over medium-low heat.

    First thing into the pan: six tablespoons of unsalted butter. Now, why melt this over low heat when obviously high heat would be faster? Because there's water inside butter, right? And if that water expands faster than the fat melts, then it pops and explodes all over your lovely white shirt. And we don't want this. So be patient and let this melt properly. 6 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
    Now, time for the vegetation. We will begin with three-quarters of a cup of onion, finely chopped, and three-quarters of a cup of finely chopped celery. There we go. And stir to coat. We're also going to add some salt, about a quarter to half a teaspoon. 3/4 Cup Finely Chopped
3/4 Cup Finely Chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt

    Now, this is not sautéing, okay? Sautéing would be over high heat and the goal would be to brown the vegetables. All we want to do here is to soften them, so this is technically a called a sweat. And I am going to turn the heat up just under medium.
    Now, why the salt? Because, we want to pull as much water out of the vegetables as possible. And salt will certainly help to do that.
    Now I know this is looks like a lot of butter. But don't worry, it won't be so much by the time we're done. Let this go for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Our next load of software would include one tablespoon of finely minced garlic, that's about four medium cloves worth, okay? Straight in and just stir that in. We're going to let this cook for about another minute, which is just enough time to work up the rest of the software. 1 Tbs. Finely Minced Garlic
[AB finely chops the artichoke hearts]

1 - 14 oz. Can Artichoke
    Hearts, Drained &

    Time to wrap up this Rockefeller: artichokes into the pan. And then immediately follow that with one cup of panko, or Japanese, breadcrumbs, two teaspoons of lemon zest, half a teaspoon of black pepper, one teaspoon of oregano—dried please. And last but not least, just a little bit more salt. Now stir until the butter has been completely absorbed by the breadcrumbs. Then let it cook for about another minute over low heat.

1 cup Panko,
2 tsp. Lemon Zest,
1/2 tsp. Freshly Ground Black
1 tsp. Dried Oregano, &
A Pinch Of Kosher Salt

    Spread four cups of rock salt on a sheet pan, preferably one with sides so you don't season your oven. Now, you could use crumpled aluminum foil instead of the salt, but it won't retain heat nearly as well. Carefully arrange your oysters on top, making sure that they are tilted so the liquor won't pour out, and then cover each with a nice equal amount of the topping. Now, you should have enough for two dozen oysters here.

4 Cups Rock Salt

24 Oysters On The Half Shell

    Now this is going to go into a 425-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. And the topping will keep the oysters from drying out. But keep an eye on them just the same. And remember that breading can go from golden brown and delicious to over-caramelized really fast.


In coastal areas, oyster shells are often used to pave roads and parking lots.

The Kitchen

    There we go. Golden brown, and delicious. The really groovy thing is that the breading protected the oysters from the high heat of the oven. That means that they didn't dry out, and that means that after you eat the oyster you'll have a little spoonful of liquor to enjoy.

MM: [irritated] Where are those oysters?
AB: [equally irritated] I'm coming already!

[scene cuts to MM finishing his last oyster]

AB: So?
MM: By jove, those oysters could certainly rock-a- fella! [chuckles]
AB: [chuckles back] So, a fifth serving then?
MM: Oh, no, no, I'm stuffed. I couldn't hold another bite.
AB: [Imitating Monty Python] Oh, not even a wafer thin mint?
MM: Well, if it's wafer-thin. [eats the mint then shows signs of chest pains]

    So far we have seen how oysters act when they are raw and scantily-clad, as well as cooked and covered. Now it's time to see how they play in a true team environment, as in when they are immersed in a soup.


    First thing we're going to need, oysters, of course. But for a soup I like to use pre-shucked and packaged oysters, okay. They're raw in here. And you can generally get these in pint, quart, and gallon containers. The flavor isn't going to be quite the same as freshly shucked, but it's darned close. To ensure quality, always look at the use-by date on here, and take a look at the liquor. It should be clear, and not cloudy, okay? That's going to provide the meat and the flavor base. But we're also going to use one quart, that's four cups, of cream. Yes, cream. And I've got really good reasons for it. One, texture, which is going to be nice and smooth. And two, flavor. You see, the fat will help to spread the subtle flavor of the oysters. I mean, come on, it's not like I'm asking you to drink a cup a day, okay?

1 Pint Oysters & Liquor
1 Quart Heavy Cream

    We're also going to need two ribs of celery, and a tablespoon of butter just to cook the vegetation.

2 Ribs or 1/2 Cup Finely
    Chopped Celery
1 Tbs. Unsalted Butter

    Start by draining the oysters so that their juice, or liquor, is captured in a large saucepan. Add the cream to that and bring the mixture slowly to a simmer over medium heat. In the meantime, put your largest skillet over medium heat and sweat the finely cut celery in butter with a little bit of salt to help pull out the moisture.

    When that becomes aromatic after a couple of minutes, we are ready to add one onion, finely chopped, that is, and toss to coat with the butter.

1/2 Cup Finely Chopped

    When the aromatics are soft and translucent, time to add the oysters and some celery seed, a teaspoon in fact. Last but not least, several good shots of hot sauce. Go as much as a teaspoon and a half here.

1 tsp. Celery Seed
1 1/2 tsp. Hot Sauce

    There. When the oysters start to plump up and kind of frill around the edges you know that they're done. But remember, we don't want to overcook them here. So into the blender. A blender will definitely give you a smoother soup. But if you don't have a blender you could certainly get away with your food processor. There we go. Now let's get some cream.
    Now if we added all the cream to the oysters at once, we'd never be able to get it all into the blender, so I'm just going to add enough to come up to the top level of the oysters. There. A couple of ladles will do the trick. Put on the lid and puree on medium to medium-high speed depending on your blender until the oysters are completely obliterated. We're looking for a very smooth puree here. Then return cream to medium heat and add the puree back in. Perfect.
    Finish with a squirt of lemon juice, sprinkle in some fresh herbs, parsley, chervil, or chives are nice, and enjoy.
    Now I hope that we've given you oyster lovers a few tips to help you get more pleasure out of your bivalve experience. And if you've never tried oysters, well then I hope we've given you the courage to come out of your culinary shell and give these versatile mollusks a chance to become truly good eats. See you next time.

AB: [to oysters on the half shell sitting next to his plate] I'll get to you next.

*Alton has a very strong intolerancebut not a technical allergy—to oysters. You'll notice we never actually see him consume one. At the end of the show, they replaced the oyster soup with potato soup.

William Shakespeare, "The Merry Wives of Windsor", Act II Scene II

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010