A River Repast

We gathered an all-star group of chefs and threw a seafood party featuring Rappahannock River Oysters. Get their recipes here!


There are many fine things to do in autumn, and eating seafood on the water is definitely one of them. Rappahannock River Oyster Co., based in Middlesex County, grows some distinctively tasty oysters that have become a favorite with restaurant chefs in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond—and so we thought it might be fun to get together with Travis and Ryan Croxton, who have been running RRO for the last decade, and throw a little seafood party featuring their bivalves and other great food prepared by talented cooks.

A good idea, if we say so ourselves. Chefs from D.C., McLean, Richmond, Virginia Beach and Roanoke—all friends of the Croxton men— made their way to Locklies Marina in Topping, where RRO is based, and there they prepared, for family, friends and fellow cooks, a small feast that included pork belly, roasted oysters with butter compote, oyster pan roast, raw oysters with mignonette sauce and clam ceviche. Yes, it was that good.

Doris The Crab Lady, a commercial crabber whom Ryan Croxton calls “a local legend,” prepared piles of steamed crabs, and even revealed a secret or two. She seasons only with Old Bay—“straight”—and Budweiser. “Not junk, but Budweiser,” she says. The crabs went quickly, as did all of the scrumptious seafood, not to mention more than a few bottles of Muscadet and, for dessert, a Virginia Peanut Pie that sent everyone into a state of mute satisfaction. And then we all watched the last rays of the day’s sun glance off the river that had sourced this feast—and asked each other when we could do it again.

APPLE MIGNONETTE SAUCE | Jeff Farmer, Executive Chef, Lucky Restaurant, Roanoke

2 cups champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 Ginger Gold apples (or any tart apple)
2 shallots
3 tablespoons mixed peppercorns
pinch of sea salt
zest of one lemon

In a mixing bowl combine Champagne Vinegar and whisk olive oil until emulsified.  Add minced shallots and finely diced apples. Zest in lemon.  Take peppercorns and coarsely chop in a spice grinder.  Sift the pepper, reserving only the larger pieces and add to mixing bowl.  Add a pinch of salt, bearing in mind you want your Mignonette to complement, not compete with the oysters.  Chill the Mignonette for two to four days before serving.  Serve on the side of raw oysters using only 1⁄2 to a 1⁄4 of a teaspoon per oyster. Serves 8.

COMFORT MIGNONETTE | Jason Alley, Chef & Partner, Troy Dewees, Executive Sous Chef, Comfort, Richmond, ComfortRestaurant.com

1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 piece of ginger, peeled, cut 3 in. long,
1⁄2 in. thick, and 11⁄2 in. wide
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, cut in half, and split
1 star anise pod
7 peppercorns
1⁄2 bottle of blanc de blanc champagne
2 shallots, minced
1⁄2 bunch of flat leaf parsley leaves, minced

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a heavy bottomed sauce pot, and whisk to combine.  Place the pot over medium high heat until it boils.  Boil for 3 minutes, remove from heat, and allow to cool.  This step can be done as much as 1 week in advance.  Keep very cold in the refrigerator until ready to use.

When ready to serve, place equal parts champagne and mignonette base in a bowl, and stir in the shallots and parsley.  Serve over ice cold Rappahannock River oysters on the half shell. Serves 8.

ROASTED OYSTERS WITH BUTTER COMPOTE | Christian Ianni, Executive Chef, Tony Marcello, Regional Chef,Mid Atlantic, McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant, Virginia Beach, McCormickandSchmicks.com

Place oysters on a hot grill and roast for approximately 4 minutes or until they pop open.  Remove the top shell and cut the oyster free from the shell cup. Place a small amount of the compound butter directly on top of the oyster and let the heat soften the butter. 

For the butter compote:
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1⁄4 cup paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon mesquite smoke flavor
1⁄2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1 lb unsalted butter


Chop the butter into uniform chunks using the dough scraper.

Using the whisk attachment, whip the butter in a mixer’s work bowl at medium speed until it softens and lightens in color, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Remove butter from bowl and spoon onto parchment paper or plastic wrap. Roll into a log, using the edge of a baking sheet to form a tight log. Chill for 2 hours before serving. Serves 8.

SIMPLE RAPPAHANNOCK CLAM CEVICHE | David Varley, Executive Chef, Bourbon Steak, Washington D.C., BourbonSteakDC.com

24 shucked topneck clams – reserve juice for another use
4 oz fresh hearts of palm, sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and sliced
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1 small knob of ginger peeled and julienned
1 jalapeño, peeled and minced
2 sprigs of Thai basil, leaves picked and torn
2 sprigs of cilantro, leaves picked and torn
1 oz nuoc clam dipping sauce (at Asian market)
1 tablespoon palm sugar (at Asian market)

Combine shucked clams with nuoc clam sauce and palm sugar and refrigerate while preparing the remaining garnish. When all prep is done, combine all and mix thoroughly. Season to taste with remaining clam juice and serve promptly in chilled bowls. Serves 4.

VIRGINIA PEANUT PIE | David Guas, Chef/Owner, Damgoodsweet Consulting Group, Mclean, Damgoodsweet.com

For the cream cheese crust:
1⁄2 cup cream cheese, chilled
11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup butter, unsalted chilled and cubed
1⁄2 teaspoon salt, kosher
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
6 tablespoons water, ice cold


Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor and add the chilled cubed butter, then the cream cheese torn into small grape size pieces. Pulse 5 to 6 times. The butter and cream cheese should form into crumbly pea-sized balls. Place the mixture into a mixing bowl with high sides. Add the vinegar and water, and using a fork, slowly stir the ingredients together until all of the liquid is absorbed (it will still look dry and crumbly). Using your hands, slowly and gently work the formed dough (picking up the dry crumbly mix) until it all comes together.

Flatten the dough out slightly and wrap in plastic, then chill in refrigerator for 1 hour. Begin making the filling (see below).


2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
2⁄3 cup light corn syrup
2⁄3 cup light brown sugar
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 teaspoon salt, kosher
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 shakes of hot sauce
1 stick unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1⁄2 cups of Virginia Peanuts, extra large, lightly salted


Whisk the eggs and the egg yolks together in a large bowl and set aside. Place the syrup, sugar, cream, cayenne, hot sauce and salt in a medium saucepan. Add the butter and melt over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, continue to cook the mixture until it is hot but not bubbling, about 1 minute. Whisk the sugar mixture into the eggs and yolks a little at a time, just until the bottom of the bowl is warm to the touch, and then add the remaining sugar mixture. Stir in the vanilla and set aside.

On a floured work surface, roll out the chilled dough until it is large enough to cover a 9- inch pie pan. Place the pie dough into the pie pan and using a pair of scissors, trim away the excess dough from the edges. Using your thumb and index finger, begin crimping the dough all the way around the edges. Add the peanuts and then pour in the filling. Place in the center of the pre-heated oven. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Crust should be golden brown and filling should be set (slightly puffy in the center) before removing. Allow the pie to rest for at least 1 hour before cutting into it. Serves 8.

PORK BELLY | Jeff Farmer, Executive Chef, Lucky Restaurant, Roanoke

5 lb slab pork belly, skin off (grass-fed is best)
1 lb kosher salt
1⁄2 lb organic unrefined cane sugar
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
Optional: 2 oz pink salt

Pat dry the pork and trim the slab so the sides are even. Mix the dry ingredients together and then use mixture to pack all sides of the pork belly. Put the pork belly in a large Ziploc bag and set in the refrigerator. Turn the bag every other day making sure the salt mixture has time to penetrate the entire piece of meat. Normally this will take a week, but if after seven days the pork is not very firm to the touch continue to cure for several more days.

Once the pork belly has finished curing, rinse it under cold water to remove the excess salt. Cut off a small piece and fry it as you would any other store-bought bacon. If it is too salty, let it soak in cold water for several hours. After this, smoke the pork under very slow heat for up to five hours using apple wood to add flavor; this cuts down on the final cooking time. Cut the pork belly into 11⁄2 inch cubes and spread evenly on a thick sheet pan. Cook on the grill at a very low temperature. Cooking time will vary depending on your grill. When the pork belly is ready the fat will be extremely tender: if you can slice through it with a spatula or tongs it is ready. Turn up the heat just enough to crisp on the outside, and serve. Serves 8.

BARCAT OYSTER PAN ROAST | RJ Cooper III, Che, The Kid Can Cook LLC and Rogue 24, Washington D.C. (Rogue 24 opening winter 2011)

36 Barcat oysters, liquor reserved
1 cup sweet onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons garlic, finely minced
1⁄2 cup Virginia white table wine
1 pint heavy cream
1⁄2 cup country ham, finely julienned
1⁄2 cup scallions, green part only, finely sliced
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
cayenne pepper to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil
8 slices of toasted white bread, crust removed

In a heavy bottom sauce pan, over medium heat, add the oil, country ham, onions and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes, add the wine and oyster liquor and reduce by half. Turn the heat down to low, add the oysters and poach just until the edges curl. Remove the oysters. Add the cream and reduce the liquid by half. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Whisk, then add the green onions, oysters, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Adjust seasonings and serve in a bowl over toasted white bread. Serves 8

This story was originally published on October 10, 2010.

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