Raw bar party

My favorite part about the onset of September involves bivalves. The months of May, June, July and August mean a shortage of oysters among other shellfish, and there is nothing I've been craving more as Fall thinks about setting in.

raw-oyster-bar-with-mignonette-sauce

Raw oysters can be really scary – especially if they're un-shucked. However, if you have someone doing the heavy-lifting, a raw oyster bar can be a great way to entertain. I've used them for pre-dinner reservation after hours paired with some brut rosé, a halftime snack for the Super Bowl and as a treat at a Valentine's Day party with some bite-sized sweets.

The hard part of this dish is buying the oysters. Head to a grocer or fish monger that you trust – no one wants to get sick – right before your guests arrive; you'll want them as fresh and cold as possible. Standard specialty grocery stores, like Whole Foods or Central Market, keep oysters in stock almost year round; months ending in "R" will have the best Pacific and Atlantic options.

Luckily, you can make all my fixings ahead of time, especially my mignonette and champagne dressing. Acidity and oysters are a match made in heaven. Add a touch of citrus and making sure there's fresh horseradish on the side is a great way to make sure there's something for everyone. I'll whip up a beurre blanc, too, when it's cooler out for a creamy, warm balance; use this recipe if you feel so inclined.

Oysters with mignonette and the fixins

What you need

2 dozen oysters (request to keep the shells if you'd like a traditional presentation)

1 cup red wine vinegar

Zest of 1 lemon

1 shallot, minced

1 tbsp pink peppercorns, crushed

Pinch of sugar

Fresh horseradish, to taste

1 small cucumber, peeled and diced

3 leaves basil, finely chopped

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Beurre blanc sauce

Tabasco sauce

Rock salt, for serving

How to do it

Whisk together red wine vinegar, lemon zest, shallot, peppercorns and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to eat your oysters.

For grated horseradish topping and diced cucumber topping: Grate fresh horseradish into a small bowl, and, in another bowl, mix the diced cucumbers, basil and olive oil. Both of these items can be made ahead of time and stored up in the refrigerator up to three hours.

Go buy your oysters!

To serve: If you have the oyster shells, set them on a large plate filled with rock salt and place an oyster inside each; if you don't have the shells, serve the oysters in an ice-cold, large glass bowl. Lay out your mignonette sauce, grated horseradish, cucumber topping, tabasco sauce and beurre blanc, and have at it. I like to have saltine crackers or pan-toast alongside the light appetizer. A crispy salad, like this one, is also an awesome thing to have around.