By Paul Suplee
“What will I teach them first? How to break down a chicken? Vegetables? Seafood and shellfish? Baking? Meat fabrication? This is going to be great!”
These thoughts and many more rolled through my mind as I excitedly awaited starting my new job. Then I started my new job.
I vividly recall my first day as a high school teacher, 11 years ago. It was hands down the worst workday of my life, including four years in the Marine Corps. My military days paled in comparison to September 2, 2008.
On day two, my empathetic late wife – genius, warrior and truly good spirit – observed me sitting on the edge of the bed in silence with my head hung low, rubbing my hands together. She tenderly placed her hand on my shoulder and reassured me, stating, “It will be OK, honey. You’ll be fine.”
Introspectively, I quietly and slowly responded, “I don’t want to go back.”
With four children and one income, I knew that I had to go back. But those kids – they were not the kids I was told I was getting. No, it was a room of miscreants and derelicts, with a slight smattering of good students. And at the end of the day, I was the one arming them with knives and fire.
My principal was a visionary and wonderful woman. She sat me down and told me to give it three years. She assured me that it would work out, and she was right. The first year was brutal. The second year remains one of my fondest years, career-wise. The third year was static and, by the fourth, I knew that I had repaid any karmic debt that I had amassed as my time as a holy terror in junior high and high school.
It took me years to make the connection that I was one of those miscreants. I was a derelict, the very reason that my parents moved me from public school to private school in my sophomore year. They knew that if any environment were going to increase my chances of survival, priests and nuns would be running it. I guess they were right, because here I am, still plugging away at it.
I guess what they didn’t count on was my picking up my first job in Eastport across from Annapolis at the Chart House. Surrounded by the booze-fueled boating and restaurant crowd of Annapolis in the early 80s, it wasn’t long before I was getting into even more trouble. But, at least I was making good money ($3.35 per hour) and all of that – every last penny – went to punk records, camo pants, skateboards, surfboards, clothes from Commander Salamander, and food. On a rare night off, I loved going to the various places downtown and getting an appetizer, like barbecued oysters. At 15 years old, I was king of the world.
It didn’t take me long to realize my love for the ubiquitous oyster and that passion has only grown over the decades.
Now, I understand that the smell of oysters wafting through the air can be either invigorating or frightful, depending on who you are. I for one adore the snotty little things, both raw and cooked, and given my druthers I would have them much more often than I do at present. Of course they are easy for me to open, as I have been shucking the blasted things since the early 80s, but for many people it might not be such an easy task. For that part of it, I will leave you to your own devices.
But, I can at least share with you the simplest of recipes and one of my favorites. I make sure to teach this to my students every year, and it’s always an easy sell in a restaurant. It is delicious. Moreover, for me, it is a beautiful memory of hot summer nights in downtown Annapolis, spending my hard-earned scratch and earning the privilege (unbeknownst to me then) of paying back society years later as a high school teacher.
Serves 6 people
3 dozen fresh oysters, scrubbed and shucked
2 cups BBQ sauce (recipe follows)
9 slices thick-cut bacon, half-cooked
Smoked salt to finish
- Set up six plates with an assortment of rock salt, peppercorns, star anise et al
- On a baking tray, lay out the oysters with a little space in between
- Top each oyster with a square of the half-cooked bacon and top with the barbecue sauce
- Place in a 425F oven for about 12 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly, oyster is cooked through and bacon is properly tempered
- Remove and place six oysters per plate for your guests, garnishing with some Italian parsley and a grilled lemon
Homemade BBQ Sauce
makes about 1 quart
2 cups Ketchup
1 cup Apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup Molasses
1 Tbsp. Dark brown sugar
1 tsp. Granulated garlic
1/2 medium yellow onion, roasted
1 Tbsp. Ground mustard
1 tsp. Smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
- Combine all ingredients in a pan
- Bring to a simmer and maintain
- Cook for about two hours, stirring regularly. If it starts thickening too much, add water to get it to the correct consistency
- Carefully transfer sauce to a blender and puree the onions until the sauce is silky smooth
- Chill or use immediately