Updated Friday, January 4, 2013 at 02:31 PM
I ATE MY first raw oyster naked. I, on the other hand, was fully clothed, standing in a restaurant kitchen in my waitress uniform and wearing an expression that said, "Bring it!"
I was still in my teens when I knocked back that sea-salty surprise on the half-shell. Since then, I've hoisted as many oysters as possible, as often as possible, wherever possible.
Which is one of the many reasons I'm crazy about the Pacific Northwest.
Thanks to a magical mix of geography and ingenuity, our oyster culture is the nation's gold standard, and in these parts January is prime slurping season.
I love to belly up to a great oyster bar. But let's face it: Oyster-slurping is no cheap date. So I long ago learned to shuck my own. All it takes is a good oyster knife and a lot of practice.
Slurping out or shucking in, I still prefer my oysters unadorned, save for their own lusty liquor. You may beg to differ, dressing your half-shells with classics like cocktail sauce or a vinegar- and shallot-infused mignonette.
For you saucers, I'll set aside my rule and play by yours, offering some ideas for icy toppers certain to add sass to any oyster occasion.
Felix and Sarah Penn at Frank's Oyster House & Champagne Parlor shared their frozen Bloody Mary trick (perfect for the cocktail-sauce crowd). Local author Cynthia Nims' Grapefruit-Campari Granita (from her new cookbook, "Salty Snacks") takes my favorite summer cocktail — Campari with grapefruit juice — and gives it a wintry spin. And Poppy's celebrated chef Jerry Traunfeld's bracing Juniper Ice had my tasting crew yelling, "Jumpin' Juniper!"
Each recipe makes enough for several dozen oysters. Keep any "extras" frozen in an airtight container for later, or do as I do: Let it melt, have a belt, then chase that with a naked oyster.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' food writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ken Lambert is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Bloody Mary Granita
16 ounces tomato juice
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon Sriracha (hot Thai chili sauce)
½ tablespoon prepared horseradish
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, then pour into a pie plate (or pan with equivalent volume) and freeze, stirring with a fork once every 30 minutes until frozen and flaky, about two hours.
¼ teaspoon grapefruit zest, finely grated
1 ½ cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (about 3 grapefruit), strained
1/3 cup Campari
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
Stir together zest, grapefruit juice, Campari, sugar and salt in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into a pie plate and freeze until it begins to set around the edges, about 45 minutes. Remove from the freezer and draw the tines of a fork through the mixture to break up the forming ice crystals, crushing larger pieces under the fork. Continue freezing the mixture, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes, until it is fully frozen and has a light, flaky texture, about 2 hours total.
1 cup seasoned rice vinegar (not unseasoned rice vinegar)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons dried juniper berries
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
Blend all ingredients in a blender (not a food processor) for at least 60 seconds or until the juniper berries are completely pulverized. Pour into mixing bowl and freeze. Stir after one hour, scraping down the sides, and return bowl to freezer. When fully frozen, scrape with a spoon to break up and smooth the ice.
KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
At Taylor Shellfish on Capitol Hill, David Leck gives Nancy Leson a lesson in proper shucking. Leck, who works at the Melrose Market Taylor Shellfish retail shop, was crowned the nation's best oyster shucker, 2012, at the International Boston Seafood Show.
KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
If you like your raw oysters topped with a splash of something tasty, try these icy variations on the traditional mignonette, from top: Grapefruit-Campari Granita, Bloody Mary Granita and Juniper Ice.