WHEN I was a kid, my first choice as a starter for Christmas was always salmon and foie gras, leaving the grown-ups dealing with this viscous and unflavoured thing that they called oyster.
Things were pretty easy: children on one side on the table with the easy stuff and adults on the other side chatting and laughing while slurping up this mollusk.
Time passes, the family grows up and seats slowly move to the other side of the table, getting closer to the oyster plate while salmon and foie gras get harder to reach.
Still being unmarried gives you the privilege to enjoy both and pick at the kids’ plates while still filling your glass with wine. I have tried oysters, numerous times, but I just couldn’t see the point. See, my palate needs crunchiness, chunkiness, strong flavours and …well…oysters are not the most appropriate dish for that.
When I got the luck to attend one of the now legendary Dine with Dos Hermanos dinners which took place at Bentley’s, I decided to give this seafood a second chance. Because what is the point of going to an oyster bar if it’s to not try the beast? I was positively surprised and after a few ones, I was starting to understand all the buzz around it.
A few months later, a plate of 24 native Oyster from Falmouth Bay were standing in front of @dewilded and me as the starter of our extravagant meal at Racine. The occasion was so rare that it had to be enjoyed. And I loved it. The oyster was meaty, fresh and not too salty.
A real pleasure but I felt the need to improve my knowledge about this new taste for my palate, to learn more about the shell that everybody brings out for the big occasions. I needed to understand.
I was contacted a few weeks ago by Donald, the manager of Le Bouchon Breton, to attend one of their oyster Master classes. Their noble idea is to give people a good first understanding of the different oysters available and to define the type of oyster they like the most. Perfect timing!
A table, a knife, and a towel in front of me, I was ready!
First, a few things about oysters:
There are 2 types of oysters:
– The Crassostrea gigas, also known as the Pacific or Japanese oyster has the shape of a rock. They are grown in the outflow of mariculture ponds and farmers feed them with blue seaweed to give them a nutty taste.
– The Ostrea Edulis, also called the European flat oyster or Colchester native oyster the flat ones. The season starts in September and runs until December. This species used to dominate the European oyster production but disease, pollution, and overfishing have sharply reduced the harvest.
Today the Crassostrea gigas account for more than 75 percent of Europe’s oyster production.
– The appreciation of an oyster depends on three components: its salinity, its texture and its sweetness. Once you have opened an oyster, it is very important to smell it. It will immediately tell you if it’s good to be consumed….trust me. The smell can be VERY strong…
We sampled different oysters through the class. Please pardon my beginner’s description about each of them, I’m learning here!
Jersey: Known to be in the cleaniest water in Europe. It is a class A oyster, which means that you can eat it as it’s fished
Creuse de Normandie: Not too salty with a good fleshiness
Maldon: This one still had a strong salty taste but the flesh was good and meaty
Dorset: Very meaty with a sweet aftertaste
Special bretonne: A full sea oyster with strong saltiness and a nutty flavour
After a few oysters, the palate starts feeling an overdose of salt and to refresh it, it is important to get the acidity provided by the traditional vinegar and shallot dressing. But it should only be eaten between oysters and not together.
Cancale: Very nice sweet aftertaste that comes on very strongly
Belon Plate: A sweet oyster without a strong salty taste
Loch Ryan: A wonderful meaty texture with a good sweetness but yet still quite salty.
The masterclass ended with a cooking demonstration by our teacher who cooked a Rockefeller oyster, with watercress or spinach, cream and butter cooked with shallots and topped with cheese and breadcrumbs. Un délice !
If you fancy more in-depth information (and descriptions!) about oysters, I highly recommend Ostrea Edulis, a blog written by Patrick Carpenter, a real oyster foodie!
I will leave you with the words of Caesar, who during a stay in Brittany declared:
The only thing I love about this country it’s oysters.
It was the first thing ever said about it.
Oyster Rockefeller – Served 2
25g of minced shallots
50g of blanch spinach
50 ml of Ricard
50 ml of creme fraiche
25g of grated cheese (Best would be Comte, or Gruyere
but also work well with Cheddar)
20g of bread crumbs
Melt the butter in a small frying pan.
Fry the shallots until softened.
Add salt and pepper.
Add the spinach and cook until wilted.
When ready, flambe with Ricard.
Add the cream and cooked until it’s reduced.
Open the oyster shells with a shucker. Discard the top and loosen each oyster from the base of its shell.
Place a teaspoon of the spinach mixture onto each half oyster shell to cover the oyster, add the cheese and bread crumbs and place a small lump of butter on top of each.
Place the oysters onto a baking tray and transfer to the grill to cook until golden-brown.
Le Bouchon Breton
Old spitalfield market
8 Horners square
London E1 6EW
0800 019 1704