24largeoysterswith deep half-shells, scrubbed thoroughly
1teaspoonoilvegetable or canola
1thick-slicebacon(2 oz. total) cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5sprigsthymetied in a bundle with kitchen twine
2mediumshallotschopped (1/4 cup)
1/2stalkcelerycut into 1/4-inch dice (1/4 cup)
1smallcarrotpeeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (1/4 cup)
1/2smallYukon Gold potatopeeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (1/4 cup)
1/4teaspoonchipotle hot saucesuch as Chipotle Tabasco brand
1/4teaspoonblack pepperfreshly ground
Rock saltfor plating
chiveschopped, for garnish
Prepare a bed of crumpled aluminum foil on a rimmed baking sheet for the oysters to nest in so they won't tip over as they roast.
Shuck the oysters and use your oyster knife to separate the oysters from the shells, leaving them in their half-shells. Arrange them in the crumpled foil, side by side. Cover loosely with damp paper towels and refrigerate (up to a few hours in advance).
When you are ready to cook the oysters, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line a plate with several layers of paper towels.
Heat the oil in a small saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the bacon and cook for about 3 minutes or until its fat is rendered and the pieces are lightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to the lined plate. Reserve the bacon fat from the pan for another use, or discard it.
Combine the heavy cream, thyme sprig bundle, bay leaf and chopped garlic in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, until the cream has reduced to a total of 1 1/2 cups.
Stir in the cooked bacon, shallots, celery, carrots, potatoes, chipotle hot sauce and black pepper; cook for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft, to form a chowder. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Reduce the heat to low to keep the chowder warm.
Spread a layer of the rock salt about 1 inch thick on each of 6 individual plates. (The salt will anchor the roasted oysters the way the foil did on the baking sheet.)
Remove the paper towels from the oysters, transfer the baking sheet to the lowest oven rack and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until the oysters' juices are bubbling and the edges of the oysters begin to curl.
Use a dish towel (the shells will be hot) to transfer 4 oysters to each plate. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the chowder onto each oyster. (Depending on the size of your oysters, there might be some chowder left over.)
Garnish with the chopped chives; serve immediately. Discard the rock salt on the plates after the meal.
Taste one of the oysters that you will be using to check the salinity level, then adjust the salt in this chowder accordingly. The idea is to spoon in concentrated chowder and let it meld with the oyster's liquor. Remember that the seasoning of the cream mixture should be assertive, because it will be diluted when it mixes with the liquor of the oysters.Make Ahead: The cream-and-vegetable mixture can be refrigerated a day in advance and reheated. The oysters can be opened a few hours before you plan to use them. Set them in the foil bed as described in the recipe, loosely cover them with damp paper towels and refrigerate until ready to roast.Photo Credit: Bill O'Leary/Washington Post