Chef Steven Satterfield's Lowcountry Oyster Roast
At low tide, the wild oyster reefs along Tybee Island's marshy shore stand out like gnarled stalagmites in a vast cave.
One misstep, and the flinty clusters of shell can cause serious injury. So chef Steven Satterfield comes prepared: rubber boots; thick gloves; and a knee-length, waterproof trench coat. Below his salt-and-pepper beard, not an inch of skin is showing.
Armed with a weathered roofing hammer, he climbs the craggy buttes of Chatham County's Oyster Creek. Calcium dust chokes the air as he chisels out the choicest oysters and pitches them into a notched metal bucket. After an hour, he can barely budge the teetering mound, so his friend Seth Solomon, a Tybee Island firefighter, helps him hoist it into their boat, anchored just off the Georgia tributary.
"Growing up in Savannah, we'd come down here every winter and build a fire, roast oysters, and set out all kinds of sauces. It was this big event we'd look forward to all year long," says Satterfield. "Now I get to share that with my closest friends."
With two bushels in tow, Satterfield and Solomon race back to Solomon's dock, now adorned with buoys and string lights for the night's festivities. Tybee Island Social Club chef Kurtis Schumm is already busy building the firepit using granite cobblestones that once lined the downtown streets.
While Solomon cleans and shapes the oysters in a cement mixer, Satterfield flips over a fishing skiff and uses the bottom surface to prep a haul of produce from Canewater Farm—a purveyor beloved at his restaurant, Miller Union, in Atlanta's Westside neighborhood.
With the fire kindled and more friends arriving to lend a hand, Satterfield takes a moment to change out of his mud-spattered clothes to focus on a pot of oyster stew already bubbling inside. Chef Mashama Bailey and her business partner, Johno Morisano, of The Grey restaurant in Savannah, take happy hour into their own hands, raiding the citrus trees surrounding Solomon's property for a batch of Clementine Whiskey Sours made with fresh clementines and amaro.
"If you want a drink, you have to grab a shucking knife," says Bailey as conversation resumes over a pile of newly polished oysters that have been dumped onto a picnic table. At the grill, Satterfield is doling out the first round of steamed half shells as a kind of briny amuse-bouche alongside Johnnycakes with Leeks and Collard Greens, a Grilled Root Vegetables with Charred Scallion Aioli, and a variety of mignonettes (Hot Pepper Vinegar and Meyer Lemon-Ginger Mignonette Sauce.)
At sunset, everyone gathers in Solomon's dockside gazebo, helping themselves to steaming bowls of Oyster Stew and an Orange-Buttermilk Trifle made with two types of oranges. Popping a bottle of bubbly, Satterfield concedes that today was "far nicer than the oyster roasts of my youth. It was magical," he says, raising a toast. "Here's to new traditions."