Ask Mike Lata about oysters and you’ll quickly find yourself being schooled. Chef and co-owner of FIG and The Ordinary, Lata specializes in ingredients that reflect their home ground. He preaches the gospel of merroir, or characteristics imparted by locations in the sea; this is an extension of terroir, or characteristics imparted by a growing region. For oysters, this translates to size and flavor.
An early adopter of Caper’s Blades, the oysters farmed by area waterman Dave Belanger near the Capers Island Heritage Preserve, Lata sees them as textbook merroir. “Caper’s Blades are unique to the Lowcountry by virtue of where and how they grow,” he points out. “They are briny and feminine. They please both the connoisseur and the pedestrian because of their delicate texture and salty bite.”
Although hundreds of oysters are served up simply on the half shell each evening at The Ordinary’s raw bar, Lata shares a tasty trio of deceptively easy preparations for the bivalve. He suggests his cucumber and jalapeño oyster shooters as a smart supper party starter. “The freshness of the cucumber with the heat of the jalapeño stimulates the palate,” he says.
Calling them tailgate food with a college education, smoked oysters with crème fraîche and saltines are Lata’s sophisticated take on a canned smoked oyster snack he had once while camping. Lightly smoked, brightened with lemon juice, and rich with olive oil, the dish resembles crudo. The baked saltines dusted with Old Bay, combined with crème fraîche and hot sauce, make for the perfect delivery vehicle.
Lata says that simplicity is the key to his steamed oysters with bagna càuda, a warm Italian dip. “Barely cooking the oysters so they are still plump with sea water makes it impossible to stop eating them,” he says. “The bagna càuda is a favorite at The Ordinary because of the savoriness it adds to most all seafood.”
Caper’s Blades are available to the home cook though Belanger’s website, www.clammerdave.com. When the need for oysters is more immediate, Lata recommends sourcing from Crosby’s Seafood on Folly Road.
Dishing It Up with Chef Mike Lata
RESTAURANTS: FIG and The Ordinary
FIRST F&B GIG: “Sullivan’s Mountain View Drive In Restaurant in Hampden, Massachusetts. I was 14 years old, flipping burgers and frying clam rolls.”
EDUCATION: “I dropped out of college after attending a life-changing lecture by Julia Child.”
FAVORITE LOCAL INGREDIENT: Roe shrimp
RECIPE HE'LL TAKE TO THE GRAVE: “No such thing. We all borrow and steal from each other. Anyway, execution is everything.”