Blackwall Hitch partners with oyster farm to produce house oyster

May 5, 2017

As you’ve probably noticed, restaurant chefs go to great lengths to source their ingredients - from planting herb gardens outside their kitchens to cultivating relationships with local farmers. Just like many of us who cook for family and friends, they select local, sustainable and preferably organic items for their menus. 

I recently learned about a surprising twist in this quest from Chef Chip Miller of Blackwall Hitch in Rehoboth Beach. The restaurant group (with additional locations in Annapolis, Md., and Alexandria, Va.) has partnered with a private oyster farmer off Assateague Island who produces their exclusive, private-label “house oyster” called the Blackwall Beauty. 

As you may know, the flavor of an oyster is determined by the environment in which it grows. Similar to the wine industry’s respect for “terroir” and how the characteristics of the vineyard - soil, climate, elevation - influence the grapes, so too do oysters reflect their home waters. Oysters can filter as much as two gallons of water each hour, extracting oxygen, salt and micronutrients that dramatically affect their flavor. 

With college training in the field of oceanography, Chef Chip skillfully described the unique qualities of the Blackwall Beauty. Most of the Eastern oysters offered in local restaurants are pulled from the brackish waters where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Their unique flavor profiles come from the water’s salinity, flow rate, temperature and concentration of phytoplankton. 

To differentiate the varieties, they’re named for the specific location from which they’re harvested. When you hear names like Rappahannock, York River, James River or Chincoteague, you’ll have a sense of the saltiness or sweetness to expect from that particular oyster. The Blackwall Beauty is saltier and juicier than a northern Blue Point but not as briny as a southern Chesapeake. Medium in size with a deep cup, these pair perfectly with the innovative mignonette sauces created by Chef Chip. 

Instead of the overpowering heat of horseradish-laden red cocktail sauce, the Blackwall Beauty will also be served with pipettes of cucumber and mango mignonette (see photo). These are a riff off the traditional shallot and red wine vinegar mixture. The bright, fresh cucumber will surely become a summer favorite, and the hints of sweetness in the mango beautifully balance the oyster’s briny notes. 

While we were waiting for the delivery of the first batch of Blackwall Beauties from the War Shore Oyster Company (who advertise their seafood is delivered from farm to restaurant in 24 hours),  Chef Chip offered a taste of his flaming crab dip.

It’s served in a realistically crab-shaped metal dish nestled in a bed of seaweed, topped with a splash of brandy and set alight (see photo). 

Although he wouldn’t reveal all the ingredients in the mix, Chef Chip acknowledged there was cream cheese, Old Bay, Tabasco, Worcestershire and a Cheddar-Jack cheese blend. The consistency of the dip was lush and rich, with flavors reminiscent of crab imperial and cream of crab soup. 

Chef Chip shared the restaurant’s recipes for his two new mignonette sauces, which I’ve adapted here for the home cook.

(If you want to duplicate the chem-lab serving technique of individual pipettes, you can find them on Amazon.) Since I couldn’t puzzle out the secret ingredient in the hot crab dip, I’ve included my standard recipe.

If you’d prefer not to turn on your oven, stop by Blackwall Hitch and sample Chef Chip’s flaming version.

Mango Mignonette* 

1 C mango nectar 
1 C white wine vinegar 
1/2 oz granulated sugar 
1 oz minced shallots 
1/4 t kosher salt 
1/8 t black pepper 

Whisk ingredients together until combined. Store under refrigeration in a sealed plastic container.

Serve as a sauce for freshly shucked raw oysters. Yield: 2 cups.

*Adapted from Chef Chip Miller @ Blackwall Hitch. 

Cucumber-Lemon Mignonette* 

1 cucumber 
1 1/5 C white wine vinegar 
2 T lemon juice 
2 oz minced shallots 
1/2 t Kosher salt 
1/4 t black pepper 

Peel the green skin from the cucumber into the bowl of a blender.

Reserve inner flesh for another use. Add vinegar to cucumber peels and puree on high until thoroughly combined. Strain the liquid into a bowl through a cheesecloth, pressing with the back of a spoon to release as much liquid as possible.

Discard the solids. Add the remaining ingredients to the cucumber mixture and whisk to combine. Store under refrigeration in a sealed plastic container. Serve as a sauce for freshly shucked raw oysters. Yield: 2 1/2 cups. *Adapted from Chef Chip Miller @ Blackwall Hitch. 

Baked Crab Dip 

8 oz softened cream cheese 
1 T cream 
1 T grated onion 
1 t prepared horseradish 
1 t Old Bay seasoning 
1 t Worcestershire sauce 
1/4 t Tabasco sauce 
1 T snipped chives 
1 lb crabmeat 
6 oz shredded Cheddar cheese 

Preheat oven to 250 F. Coat the inside of a 1-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Place cream cheese and cream in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add onion, horseradish, Old Bay, Worcestershire and Tabasco; stir to combine. Gently fold in crabmeat and chives.

Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish and sprinkle with cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake until lightly browned, about 5 more minutes. Serve with crackers, pita wedges or sliced French bread. Yield: 8 appetizer servings.