Chef Tom’s Food and Cooking Column appears on page 13 of the Ace Weekly print edition. Text and Photos by Chef Tom. This entry is part of Ace’s annual “12 days of Christmas series.”
BY TOM YATES
New Haven, Connecticut. Christmas Eve, 1981.
After a few fun-filled months of living in New Haven, I found myself alone on Christmas Eve. My roommate and my friends had flown home for the holidays. For reasons I can’t remember now, I stayed behind. New Haven received eight inches of snow on Christmas Eve. I stood by the window of our 2nd floor Victorian kitchen and watched the heavy wet snowflakes drop. It was the kind of snow children dream about. Dense, thick, and wet. The piling snow caused tree limbs to bend and evergreens to sag. Everything was smothered and covered in masses of white wet snow. It was beautiful. Christmas in New England.
Being from Kentucky, I was quite taken with the gloppy menacing snow. Cocooned in my Victorian kitchen snow globe, I felt safe, warm, and content. Let it snow. I had nowhere to be, nowhere to go, and nothing to do. The world was my frozen oyster. Urban Alpine Heidi.
My romantic idealized notion of a New England Christmas Eve didn’t last long. Nope. Who was I kidding? I was home alone, 21 years old, adventurous, antsy, and full of myself.
The following morning, I slopped through the snow and boarded the Metro North commuter train for the short two-hour trip into NYC to see my first ever Broadway musical production.
As the train slowly chugged along the ancient tracks, the conductor chanted each arriving station in song-like fashion, “New Caanan, Danbury, Waterbury, Grand Central Station.” “Have your tickets ready, please.”
Peter Pan, starring Sandy Duncan, was playing at the Lunt Fontane theatre on 47th Street. Sandy Duncan, Captain Hook, the Darlings, the lost boys, Peter Pan, and me. On Christmas day. After two hours of sword fights, flying imps, crocodiles, precocious children, and gorgeous music, I was mesmerized. Just when I thought nothing could be more surreal or fabulous, Peter Pan flew over the audience and showered us with glittering faerie dust. I was undone. Spent. Wrapped and unwrapped. Merry Christmas to me.
When the show was over, I meandered a few blocks north back to the station. I had some time to kill before my train left for New Haven, so I bellied up to the winding bar of the Grand Central Oyster Bar and ordered a steaming bowl of their iconic oyster pan roast. Tucked under vaulted tiled ceilings, a chef prepared my oyster pan roast in front of me. He cooked the simple ingredients in an old silver steam jacket kettle. When the plump oysters started to curl around the edges, he tilted the pot and carefully poured the creamed oysters into a large white serving bowl. Poetry in motion. It was magnificent.
“The Oyster Bar pan roast — still being served at the Oyster Bar in the bowels of Grand Central–is a silky concoction, thicker than soup but gentler than stew. It’s made with a half dozen Bluepoints, sweet butter, a dash of secret chile sauce, and flagons of country cream, all poured over a comforting mattress of soggy toast. In that magisterial, eternally bustling room full of strangers, it tasted exactly the way it did when I ordered it for the first time with my grandfather, a lifelong New Yorker: opulent, mysteriously spicy, and faintly like the sea.”
–Adam Platt- Grubstreet
I’ve never forgotten that taste of Christmas.
I slurped the last oyster from the creamy bowl and ran down an endless concourse to catch my train back to New Haven.
Somewhere between Danbury and Waterbury, the train lost power and slowly glided to a gentle standstill.
I stared through the window at the blue moonlit snow. It was so quiet, I could almost hear the snow melting as it splashed against the frosted double-paned glass. Silent. Dark. Still. I didn’t care. For a brief frozen moment, I was a lost boy dreaming of Neverland.
Within minutes, the train powered up and we were on our way home.
from The Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant Cookbook.
One serving. I doubled it for Michael and me.
I used fresh Bluepoint oysters from the Lexington Seafood Company.
8 Freshly opened oysters
2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) butter
1 tbsp chili sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup oyster liquor
1/2 tsp paprika
dash celery salt
1/4 cup clam juice
1/2 cup cream
1 slice of dry toast
Place all ingredients except cream, toast, and 1 Tbsp of butter in the top of a double broiler over boiling water. Do not let the top pan of the double broiler touch the water below.
Whisk or stir briskly and constantly for about 1 minute until oyster edges begin to curl, stirring carefully as to not damage the oysters.
Add cream and continue stirring briskly. Do not boil.
Top with remaining 1 Tbsp butter and sprinkle with paprika.
Serve right away.
Instead of dry toast, I slathered toasted ciabatta crostini with lemon chive butter. After floating the crostini over the pan roast, I drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil before finishing with snipped Beaujolais spinach stems for crunch.
Let it snow.