Oysters Toofey

Oyster lovers are allowed to take their oysters cooked, despite what the toffs might think. This recipe came from Toofey’s, one of my favourite seafood joints.

Toofey’s chef, Michael Bacash, is one of the true fanatics of the business. Aiming for one thing: perfection. Perfection in his produce, perfection in his cooking, perfection in his service. Since he opened his joint in 1989 he has been unable to remove a house speciality from the menu, a cooked-through oyster dish that has much in common with oysters Rockefeller. I asked him for the recipe. He forgot, then somehow remembered while sunning himself in Bali. Chefs are like that. This is his postcard.

‘Whilst I believe the best way to serve oysters is freshly opened with all the juices and tell-tale grit, I decided that any attempt to serve an oyster “hot” must involve it being covered with something that will protect the flesh from being cooked. A cooked oyster would have a change of texture which would be much less appealing. The perfectly cooked Oyster Toofey will have a crisply grilled topping and a warm moist raw oyster below, with lots of buttery, cheesy, sea-flavoured liquid to be sucked out of the shell.’ You can see the creative process in that sentence. Great cooking is about retaining essential flavours (’sea-flavoured liquid’), adding enhancers (‘buttery, cheesy’), and donating texture (‘crispy grilled topping’). These are the reasons for cooking oysters, or better, warming through the oyster – just enough to change the temperature of the oyster, not, as Michael points out, its texture.

1 dozen live oysters, unopened

1 smallish onion, diced finely

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

3 heaped tablespoons butter

1 bunch of spinach, stalks removed, thoroughly washed and chopped roughly to about 5 cm squares

black pepper

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (Italian preferably)

rock salt


How to deal with oysters! You will need an oyster knife to open these tough little fellas. Hold the shell in a tea-towel in the palm of your hand and work the knife into the hinge part of the shell. Gradually work it away from the bottom. Don’t be afraid to let a bit of grit into the bottom: this is the seafood equivalent of a couple of bits of shot in wild hare; and whatever you do don’t lose any of that wonderful oyster liquor.


In a large, flat-bottomed pan, sweat the onion in the butter with the garlic.


When the onion is beginning to brown, add the spinach and allow to cook evenly for 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to overcook as this will cause the spinach to lose its colour. The mixture may be very wet at this stage depending on the water content of the spinach. Mix in some coarse black pepper.


Remove pan from heat and add parmesan a bit at a time, as much as you feel is necessary to flavour the mixture and to absorb some of the spinach juice and the butter.


Transfer mixture to a flat tray so it will stop cooking and cool more quickly. This mixture should last several days in the fridge. Keep covered. You can use it tossed through pasta if the cat pinches the oysters.


The oysters should be left in their shells and covered with a layer (about ½ cm thick) of the spinach and cheese mixture. Sprinkle again with a liberal amount of grated parmesan.


Cover an ovenproof tray with rock salt and embed the oyster shells so the topping remains level. This will prevent the juices escaping.


Cook on a fast heat under the grill or in a hot oven, until the cheese topping begins to brown – a couple of minutes, depending on the heat of the grill.

Oysters And The Microwave

While on oysters, I must report the most unlikely combination to you: oysters love the microwave. It all happened like this… I was spruiking oysters to the family, and nobody would eat them with me. My (then) four-year-old daughter, Sarah, tried a tiny piece and spat it across the room, which suggested to me she didn’t really like them, so I kept opening them and sucking out the juice and slinking oysters down my gob and then my son Andrew said he’d like one, but only if it were cooked.

I couldn’t be bothered getting the oven organised and tossed an opened oyster into the microwave to see what would happen, and waited until the oyster started to spurt (about 20 seconds). I took it out and burnt my fingers and gave it to him and he didn’t like it, so . .. so I tossed it down and was amazed. The oyster was plumped up, perfectly cooked, and had given an inordinate amount of juice to its own shell. I tried it again: same result. Plumpness and juice and flavour. Perfect for cooked oyster lovers, in a hurry.

WINE: Personally I think fresh oysters knock good wine for six. Good sparkling wine usually has the acid to cope with oysters – or fino sherry or a well-made beer.