meta name="p:domain_verify" content="8b08da541f8a920e6 Marie Z Johnston: Oysters... I mean Huitres

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Oysters... I mean Huitres

Fines de Claires #4
Some people don't much care about the "R" month rule, but for me, oyster season begins mid October and lasts until March.

By the time the New Year arrives Oysters are everywhere in Paris; cafes serve them, fish mongers sell them and the growers have arrived in full force at the farmers markets.  Fines de Claires, Belons, Creuses and Omahas (just to name a few) are available in about 5 sizes for you enjoy out or to take home either opened on little tin platters or unopened if you know how.  With my oyster loving family in town, we decided to dive into the 'open it yourself' mode committing to two small wooden crates of about 4 dozen each which I stored on my snowy terrace.

Now (about 100 oysters later) seems like an excellent time to give a little lesson on how to crack these hard to get at delicacies. After all, by my count there are still 3 good months of oyster eating ahead of us.
Purchasing your oysters from a reliable merchant is important.  I happen to be rather fond of M. Marcel and his daughter Gwendolyn, they have an oyster farm on l'Isle d'Oleron about 250 kilometers from Paris. This is a family run operation serving Paris for more than 45 years.

Be sure to have the proper tools on hand (a reputable oyster vendor will also sell a great oyster knife) the top example on your right appears to be very safe, what with the hand guard, but the blade is too thick to easily pierce an oysters 'hinge'.  I much prefer the 2nd knife (12 Euros from M. Marcel) with it's narrow beveled blade that easily slips between the closed shells.
Washing the oysters is critical if you don't want a bunch of grit on the serving plate, your hands or in your mouth. This step is the main reason I don't like to ask the oyster vendor to shuck my oysters as they have no way of cleaning the exterior shells.

Use a cutting board that won't slide away (put a wet dishtowel beneath it) and a dry dishtowel to hold the oyster in place 'bowl' side down.  

Opening an oyster does not require putting your entire body weight behind the effort to get into the shell... actually, you should be able to practically ease the blade through the hinge without 'stabbing' the plump oyster within. Don't worry it takes  little practice.

Twist the knife blade to pry the two shells apart, then work your knife around the edges.

There are two 'feet' attaching the oyster to  the shell, a top one and a bottom one.  Slice the oyster away from the top foot as close to the shell as possible.  
Discard the top shell.  
Run the knife around the oyster and carefully slice through the bottom foot to free the oyster from it's shell. 
Try not spill out the juices but don't worry if you do as they tend to replenish within a few minutes once placed level on a platter.
Some people like to 'flip' the oyster upside down so the 'belly' faces up, giving a plump presentation. 

Personally, I like the way they look naturally.

You can use grated ice, coarse salt and seaweed (or live dangerously and rely on the shells themselves) to keep the shells level.  
Which ever method you choose, what is most important is to keep the oysters cold - because a tepid oyster just isn't as appetizing as a crisp, cold one.

Once you have filled a platter, pop it in the freezer (or in my case, on the terrace) for about 5 minutes then serve.

Now, when serving oysters, be sure to have plenty of that delicious dense black bread and sweet butter on hand, lemons (cut in quarters, seeds removed) and Mignonette sauce which is not only delicious, but simple to make:

Classic Mignonette Sauce:  For each 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar (or a blend of the two) add 1 tablespoon of minced shallot and 1/2 teaspoon of coarsely ground black or white pepper

That's pretty much it. No white wine, no boiling, nothing green to go funny in a day or two

I like to make 2 cups at a time and store it in the fridge. Mignonette keeps for up to a month and just gets better as the flavors mellow.  Plus, if you don't use it all up on oysters, add some olive oil for a great vinaigrette.

 Wishing you all a Happy New Year! 
Bonne Année a tous!
A bientot,


lapetitepoele said...

Thank you for this post, I love oysters but don't know much about them, and didn't know about mignonette sauce! I will definitely try it next time.
Why are some oysters a greenish colour btw?
Bonne Annee!

Zabie aka "Marie" said...

Good question!
Usually oysters are more grey blue or even a bit brownish in hue. Fines de Claires have a natural greenish tint which comes from a diet rich in the naturally occuring micro-algae called "Navicule bleue" ("Blue Navicula").
The waters of l'Isle d'Oleron (where M.Marcel cultivates) happens to be teeming with this algae and has a variety which is truly green called 'Vertes'. They are delicious but rarely available in Paris as the island locals prefer them above all others.