Category Archives: oysters

Shucking Oysters: Mighty Aphrodite Granita

Air chilled September has arrived to the East coast with the oyster season fanfare first in Montreal  and now in the New York City. If you’re an oyster geek or just an exploring amateur,  it’s time to learn a few new things about the little bivalve and the best ways to enjoy it. For those who can’t go to the Big Apple or line up for the new celebrity chefs’ oyster creations, there’s plenty to catch up with: dozens of fresh oyster varieties have just arrived into all major groceries and are now available for the price of a lollipop per pop. So if the shucking oyster party is your thing (which you can still enjoy outdoors as the current street temperature provides the best timing to serve and taste the oysters), it’s time to experiment with the new oyster condiments.

The New York Oyster Week founder Kevin Joseph has just declared a war on the traditional cocktail sauce from seventies (it’s about time someone bans that dreary creation out loud) and strongly encourages that people start using some freshly ground condiments like horseradish to bring the best out the fresh oyster. And here is when I pitch in with my latest granita, little icy Sicilian dessert that was first made with the snow from the Mount Etna.

Specifically, my new favorite, which I called Mighty Aphrodite Granita – a Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint Granita. Don’t get me wrong, I still love classic Mignonette sauce  like any other person, and totally agree with Nigel Slater that ‘nothing quite takes the salty, iodine tang off a good oyster like the shallot vinegar, Tabasco and lemon.’ But there’s something I’ve discovered about granitas: they can make a really creative condiment (a little step up from just a generic lemon) that would not only complement the taste of the oyster, but would also make a perfect palate cleanser or an entremet between sampling different kind of oysters, so your palate’s capacity will be enhanced to actually catch the difference between say Malpeque from Kumamoto, or Raspberry Point, or many other varieties (check  Montreal’s La Mer for the local stock).

Granitas are very easy to make: the icy texture can be reached without any special equipment (like the one required for sorbet) – all you need is fork, tray and freezer. They make a stunning presentation. The melt fast, so your oyster will not be compromised with too much ice. And then there’s something else: there’s no particular proportion – you can customize your own granitas with your own amounts and preferred ingredients to reach the sweetness-sourness-saltiness balance according to your needs.

Julia Child mentioned in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking that the French Royal Court preferred to pair the oysters with Sauternes, the famous sweet wine of the Bordeaux region. This inspired me to make a sweet, slightly acidic granita with a splash of dessert wine, sugar, lemon juice and the refreshing touch of ginger, cucumber and mint. The result was outstanding. And guess what, if you don’t have any botrytis wine at hand, you can successfully replace wine with a dash of champagne or rice vinegar. Or just omit the alcohol completely and your granita will still taste heavenly and will make a fun and clever condiment or an entremet.  And don’t forget to use some liquid leftovers to wet the rim of the shot glasses before dipping it in a lemon, celery or your choice of salt mixture for any chilled booze you would like to serve with your oysters (from sake to tequila to Guinness).  

As much as I’m for letting the imagination go experimenting with citrus granitas, a word of a personal warning: stay away from experimenting with soya or ponzu sauce granitas – they are too overpowering and completely kill the taste of the oysters. I made some on our last Valentine and they both ended up in a trash leaving us to a humble simili-caviar condiment only, but then of course the good ol’ mignonette arrived to help in a jiffy. 

Back to our feature Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint granita: three -five minutes work, an hour in a freezer, basically all the job is about forming ice crystals with the fork every 15-30 minutes depending on the quantity you make. You can serve as a little refreshing adult digestive or dessert as well. Believe me, I wouldn’t waste my time on writing this if it wasn’t absolutely delectable condiment, dessert re-fresher and a palate cleanser. 

One nice slurp of a briny devilish oyster followed by the tiny spoon of this pristine pure-tasting granita will pair and separate both gracefully (‘with a bite of the buttered brown bread to follow to stimulate the papilles… and then of course, a fine mouthful a white wine’, as recommended by legendary M.F.K. Fisher). You will only wish to continue tasting that dance and at some point might actually start feeling one step closer to a mighty Aphrodite (with, obviously, cucumber green hair and a piece of ginger in her hand for this recipe), the Greek goddess of love, who sprang from the sea on an oyster shell. And then the myth of the little aphrodisiac was born… Which ultimately brings me to Jay Rayner’s advice to ‘never date a man with no taste for oysters’ from The Guardian’s article ‘If You Don’t Like Oysters,You Will Never Be a Grown-Up’, but that’s another story…

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‘Mighty Aphrodite’ Lemon Ginger Mint Cucumber Granita
Ingredients:
½ cup (125 ml) water
1 juice & few peels of a lemon
1 inch fresh ginger, sliced
3 tbsp (45 ml) granulated sugar (put more if desired)
1 small splash of dessert white wine (Sauternes at best, but cheaper dessert wines, or champagne, or rice vinegar can sub) (optional)
2 spring fresh mint
1 small cucumber, grated or liquefied
24 freshly shucked raw oysters on the half shell
Pinch of salt
Instructions:
Place water in a small pan with granulated sugar, ginger and lemon peel /juice. Heat gently to medium-high and lower the temperature. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes, remove from heat, add a splash of wine mint leaves, mix and set aside to cool down. Strain the liquid through a sieve. Grate cucumber with skin on the zester or liquefy it in the blender with a bit of syrup. Sieve if desired and pour into the rest of the syrup.
Freeze for one hour or until mixture is frozen around the edges in a shallow container or plate.
Draw the ice from the edges towards the center with a fork. Return to freezer. Repeat this process about 3-4 times, every 15-20 minutes, or until all mixture is formed of ice crystals. Serve immediately as condiment or entremet, or keep in the air tight container in the freezer until ready to use for up to one week.  When ready to serve, spoon the granita into wine goblets, shot or martini glasses.

Shucking Oysters: Sauce Mignonette

Oyster season has officially arrived and its the best time to go, get and taste those little aphrodisiacs without spending an extra buck on a raw bar. Provided of course you have a skilful volunteer or are brave enough yourself to shuck them.

The way to eat them? As you probably know, there is no right way: you just slurp them raw with your favourite accoutrement, such as lemon, cocktail sauce, salt, pepper or, our all-time favourite, sauce mignonette, which takes just few minutes to prepare. Please find below the recipe of this easy sauce to help you to have your next oyster party the most satisfying experience.

Les Mangeurs d’Huitres, 1825, via Wikimedia Commons
Since opening oysters takes quite a skill, here are some tips to follow before shucking to make the process easier. Experiment and choose what you like:
  • Place the oysters in the freezer for ten to fifteen minutes
  • Put oysters in white vinegar water for a few seconds
  • Bake for 1 minute in conventional oven at 300F
  • Steam oysters for a few seconds
And for those who take the oyster knife in their hands for a first time, here is a good video on shucking oysters from Serious Eats you might want to check before you proceed.

Back to our oyster sauce, which is a simple and classic staple of a French cuisine. The name stems from French mignonette or poivre mignonette: cracked peppercorns used for au poivre preparations. Thus, mignonette sauce which involved this ingredient, plus vinegar and shallots became a sauce used for oysters.

Good luck for your shuck session and I hope you will enjoy your oysters with mignonette like we do. Here are our two most preferred versions this little sauce:

1. Red Onion Mignonette

1/2 red onion finely chopped
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped black peppercorn
salt to taste
Combine all ingredients and chill. Serve with chilled oysters on the half shell. Don’t forget to make the oyster loose in the shell before serving.

2. Lemon Mignonette

1 large shallot, finely chopped or minced
1/2 cup of red wine vinegar
juice from 1 lemon
splash of balsamic vinegar
pinch of black pepper

Mix the ingredients together and let it rest for 20-30 minutes before serving.

PS: The addition of a good bottle of Rosé, such as this Listel Rosé Grain de Gris with its subtle layers of fresh peach, apricot and strawberry flavors is definitely cause for celebration when paired with oyster delicacy :

 Bon Appétit!