A taste of history: Thomas Downing-Inspired NYC Oyster Pan

 04 Oct 2016 - 14:49

A taste of history: Thomas Downing-Inspired NYC Oyster Pan
Thomas Downing-Inspired NYC Oyster Pan Roast (Washington Post photo by Marvin Joseph)

By Bonnie S. Benwick / The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - With 2 1/2 years of planning and testing, several dry-run previews serving 700 guests and opening weekend behind him, Albert Lukas is ready and eager for folks who visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture to try his food at the museum’s Sweet Home Cafe.

“What I am most proud of is that we are telling the story of African Americans’ contributions through the food they made and ate,” says Lukas, 48, the longtime supervising chef of Restaurant Associates, which operates the cafe.

From the cafe’s menu, Lukas chose three recipes to share with Post readers that reflect the mission. Take the Son of a Gun Stew, made with boneless short ribs: After the Civil War, freed black men found jobs as ranch hands out West, he says. “We modified a cowboy stew, cooked with some staple ingredients you would have found on a chuck wagon.”

On the Thomas Downing-Inspired NYC Oyster Pan Roast: The black abolitionist and son of black slaves was also a successful restaurateur, Lukas says. Although he didn’t serve this exact dish at his tavern in New York, Downing grew up harvesting oysters on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and became an oysterman when he moved to New York with his wife.

On the Joe Frogger Cookies: These were served at a tavern owned by Revolutionary War veteran and freed slave Joe Brown in Marblehead, Mass., Lukas says. Brown’s wife made her molasses-spiced cookies “as big as the lily pads” that frogs sat on in front of their restaurant.

The rich, chewy ones served at Sweet Home Cafe aren’t quite that big, but they are certainly big enough to share - along with your own stories of museum discoveries.

Thomas Downing-Inspired NYC Oyster Pan Roast

6 servings
Adapted from a recipe developed by Albert Lukas, supervising chef at the Sweet Home Cafe in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
12 baguette slices, for serving
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 of them melted
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 cup dry white grape juice (or wine)
3 dozen freshly shucked oysters, preferably from the Chesapeake Bay, plus 1 cup oyster liquor
3 tablespoons Heinz chili sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup heavy cream
Generous 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Arrange the baguette slices flat on a baking sheet and brush the tops of each one using the tablespoon of melted butter. Bake (middle rack) for 12 to 16 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the shallot; cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until tender, then add the grape juice; increase the heat to medium and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until that liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the oyster liquor and cook just long enough for the mixture to begin bubbling at the edges.
Add the chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce and cream, stirring to blend well. Cook for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low; add the oysters and stir to coat. Cook for 2 minutes, being careful not to overcook them.
Gently stir the Tabasco sauce and the remaining tablespoon of butter into the saucepan until thoroughly incorporated. Remove from the heat.
To serve, place 6 oysters into each wide, shallow bowl, then ladle the chili cream sauce over each portion. Garnish each with 2 baguette slices.
Nutrition | Per serving (not including baguette slices): 260 calories, 8 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 115 mg cholesterol, 330 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar