by Gina Salvadori.
Oysters generally keep fairly Spartan company: a spritz of lemon juice, a grind of horseradish root, a dab of cocktail sauce. Not at Ella’s Woodburning Oven. At Ella’s, chef/owner Marc Swierkowski treats oysters like royalty, pairing them with rich ingredients that make their flavors sing.
Oysters will be front and center on April 23, 2014, when Chef Marc hosts a Chef Demonstration and Wine Pairing as part of the Wareham Oyster Festival. “I wanted to do something that showcased the oysters with four different techniques,” Swierkowski said.
Following a cocktail hour featuring raw oysters, the Ella’s menu will include baked oysters, pan roasted codfish and oyster stew, and hearty greens with fried oysters. Each of the dishes will be paired with a wine from the Loire Valley of France, presented by M.S. Walker.
“Oysters are a challenge, because you need to be so very delicate,” Chef Swierkowski said. “They cook in seconds.” We watched that happen, with the baked oysters. On a recent visit Marc topped four Onset oysters with pancetta, kale, and a little parmesan, then slid them into the wood-burning oven that is the focus of Ella’s open kitchen. What emerged was a rich, buttery, lemony oyster which, despite its many flavorful accompaniments, remained redolent of the sea. Its richness, Marc said, was primarily due to the béchamel-style sauce that bathed each little oyster. But the salty pancetta and meltingly soft kale blended perfectly.
The three course Festival Dinner will each have distinctly different heritage, he said. The starter baked version has a Tuscan feel, and actually recalls a dish currently on the Ella’s menu, with clams instead of oysters. The codfish and oyster stew will have a New England sensibility, comfort food for those of us who live in the Southcoast area. Augmenting the rich stew will be new potatoes, leeks and pernod. And the main course, greens with fried oysters, will have a French influence, with toppings of crispy pork belly, and poached egg.
“Whenever I have greens, I want to add something salty, sweet, and crunchy,” said Chef Swierkowski, adding that the quickly fried oysters, swathed in a light tempura batter, will do the trick. He originally planned the greens as a second course, but found the dish to be a substantial main course. This dish, Swierkowski said, was best accompanied by a light red wine, so he chose a Cabernet Franc. Other wines will include a sparkler and a Muscadet, which he believes is the best accompaniment for shellfish.
Seating at the chef demonstration dinner is limited, and seating is family style with comments from both the chef and the wine experts. Reservations are required and can be made by calling Ella’s Wood Burning Oven Restaurant at 508-759-3600.
The event is part of the first Wareham Oyster Festival, presented by the Wareham Village Association. Throughout the week beginning April 21, 17 restaurants throughout Wareham, including Ella’s, will present signature oyster dishes. A Speakers’ Series will feature presentations by experts on cooking oysters, the health benefits of oysters, and their environmental benefits.
During an Oyster Festival Gala on April 25, local shellfishermen will pair their wares with Westport Rivers Vineyard wines and Buzzards Bay Brewery beers, all topped off by desserts prepared by Gourmet and Gourmand on Main Street. Visitors can work it all off at the Oyster Festival 5K on Sunday, April 27, with a quick run along Wareham’s festive waterfront.
The week will conclude with the Wareham Oyster Festival itself, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with shellfish and other treats, live music, crafts, and paddleboat or kayak rides on the Wareham River.
For more information, visit WarehamVillage.org.