OPULENT OYSTERS WITH CHAMPAGNE TARRAGON MIGNONETTE
Love at first taste just may sum up my first encounter with an oyster. Courage inspired by a glass of Veuve Clicquot prepped me for the succulent, briny, smooth taste of the mollusk that landed on my tongue. Decadent and delicate, these creatures are surprisingly versatile. Beer and bubbly seem to marry equally with them. Eating bivalves in restaurants is a treat, but twice as many may be shucked at home for the same price and any gathering the better for it. LEARN TO SHUCK and surprise yourself and your guests with a simple, over-the-top treat fit for both peasants and kings.
In the 1800's, nearly all oysters were harvested in the wild. Today, virtually all oysters are farmed. Like fine wine, terroir--the peculiarities of a place such as geology, climate and marine life--effects taste. Oysters taste like the water in which they are grown. Expect ocean oysters to taste saltier than oysters harvested in bays. Oysters eaten in Boston taste brinier than those eaten in Seattle, and French oysters grown in Brittany are less briny than the Portuguese oysters served in most French bistros and restaurants. Similarly, the mineral levels of the water the oysters are grown in, and the species of algae eaten by oysters, will affect taste too. With only five species of oysters in the world, go ahead try them all!
The three easiest kinds of oysters to find are Atlantic, Pacific, and Kumamoto. Atlantic ocean oysters are more savory and less sweet than their creamy and fruity flavored Pacific and tiny honeydew sweet Kumamoto cousins. First time oyster eaters may want to seek out the small little shell cups of the Japanese Kumamoto oyster cultivated from Puget Sound, Washington to Humboldt, California to Baja, Mexico.
During the Gold Rush of 1849, the only native species to the Pacific Northwest, the Olympia Oyster, was nearly wiped out. Prized for its diminutive size delivering a punch of intense, metallic taste, these purple fleshed oysters are making a comeback. Once only found in the wild, new farming technology and demand are inspiring growers to add these little guys to their hatchery smorgasbord.
Perhaps the world's most prized oyster, France's Belon Oyster, is the most difficult to find. Grown in the Belon River in Brittany, France, they have been nearly wiped out by epidemic on several occasions. They are now cultivated around the world including a farm on the Maine coast in the U.S. This pungent tasting oyster (imagine sucking on a copper penny), may be better for the oyster connoisseur than the oyster virgin.
Nota bene: It may seem odd, but perhaps the freshest, highest quality oysters arrive FedEx overnight and have been only two to three days out of the water. A LIST OF OYSTER GROWERS THAT SHIP OVERNIGHT. Shuck oysters as close to serving time as possible and refrain from tipping them as the liquor of the oyster may be lost.
18 oysters, any variety
4 tablespoons champagne vinegar
3 tablespoons shallot, finely minced
4 teaspoons tarragon, finely minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of sugar
1. Shuck oysters no more than an hour or two ahead of time. Store shucked oysters on a bed of ice in the refrigerator..
2. Stir together the vinegar, shallot, tarragon, sugar, and a few fine grinds of black pepper. Let stand for at least 30 minutes.
3. Pass the mignonette at the table with a small spoon.
Serves 4 to 6