Recipe Sleuth: Hank’s Oyster Bar’s Barbecued Oysters

The combination of hot sauce, butter, and briny oyster juice makes this dish a staple at chef Jamie Leeds's two fish houses.

Jamie Leeds, the chef/owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle and Old Town, first tasted barbecued oysters at Hog Island, an aquaculture farm in northern California. The guides there pulled bivalves directly from the water, shucked and lightly dressed them before grilling them on a makeshift barbecue.

“I was inspired,” Leeds says of her al fresco dining experience. “I loved the sauce because it’s light and doesn’t overpower the oyster.”

She returned to Washington with the recipe, and now the “BBQ’d Oysters, Hog Island-Style” dish is one of the best sellers on a menu that also includes raw, fried, and sake-drenched oysters.

Although she first tried the dish with West Coast oysters, Leeds suggests using full-flavored, local meaty ones like Dragon Creeks from Virginia. The barbecue topping—which Leeds describes as more of a Tabasco butter than anything you’d put on ribs—is another element to play with. You can substitute your favorite hot sauce for an extra kick or to tone down the spice. The most important instruction from Leeds: Don’t overcook the oysters—that way, the natural, briny flavor can shine through.

“You’re not really cooking the oyster,” Leeds says. “You’re browning the sauce.”

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Hank’s Oyster Bar’s Barbecued Oysters

For 12 to 24 freshly shucked oysters

For the sauce:
¼ cup white wine
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 sprig thyme
4 tablespoons Tabasco or your favorite hot sauce
½ pound of butter, cut into one-inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley to taste

Set up a bowl of ice large enough to hold a small pot. In that pot, set over medium heat, cook down the white wine with shallots, garlic, and thyme. Reduce by half before seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the Tabasco and bring to a boil. Then whisk in the butter one cube at a time, making sure each is fully melted before adding the next one. Finish with parsley. Place the pot in the ice bath immediately, and stir occasionally until it’s cool to the touch.
The sauce can be made up to a week in advance and kept in the fridge. Bring it to room temperature before using.

To assemble:
Preheat the broiler.

Place 1 tablespoon of sauce on top of each shucked oyster and place the oysters under the broiler until golden brown on top, about two to three minutes. Watch carefully—the sauce can burn quickly. Serve hot.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.