SELECTING OYSTERS

Only three kinds are found in French fish markets: the Pacific oyster, the Atlantic and the European oyster. They are easily indentified as one or the other.

The Pacific oyster tends to be oval with a roughly ribbed shell. One half of the shell looks distinctly “hollowed out” or bellied, while the other looks rather flat like a lid. If the sign says “creuse” (which means “hollowed out”) it’s definitely a Pacific oyster.

On ehte East Coast, llok for Blue Point, Chesapeake, Kent Island, or Wellfleet oysters.

The European oyster looks rather flat and often (hardly always) somewhat round. The shell looks comparatively smooth. If the sign says “plate” (which means “flat”) it’s definitely a European oyster. If all else fails, the price tag will often tell the difference, as the European oyster will cost twice (or possibly three times) as much as the Pacific oyster.

SERVING OYSTERS

You need to first find someone to teach you how to open an oyster, after they are brushed but not rinsed as this kills the live oyster with chlorinated tap water.  It could be your fish monger or any person from the north of France will do.  Get yourself the best oyster knife you can find.  The Dexter New Haven Sani-Safe is our favorite, having broken several and tried many others.  There are several old French models which are better, but unless you have someone give one to you, don’t bother experimenting, just get the Dexter New Haven, which works better than 95% of what is out there.  Opening an oyster is not difficult and it is in the wrist-action.  It’s a fun start to any dinner party as guests gather in the kitchen and you get out a few oyster knives, some towels, give a brief demonstration and let them have at it–some will be excellent at it and others will fail miserably.  Either you seem to have an eye for it or you don’t.  You insert the blade in the hinge and twist, viola it opens–or it doesn’t.  You have to hit the right spot, which is nearly impossible to describe other than it is at the hinge, the weak point in the live oyster.  You then open while keeping all the juice in the lower half.  You wipe the blade to remove any grit, and you can slide under the muscle of the oyster, freeing it from the shell but leaving it beautifully undisturbed in the bottom the shell (some French will disagree with this final step, but it eases serving unless you serve with a seafood fork).

SERVICE

Serve oysters plain, on a bed of crushed ice, with wedges of lemon on the side.  I like to add a couple of drops of lemon juice to each oyster and 2-3 crumbles of French sea salt.  Others will disagree, stating that the juice should be removed and they should be allowed to re-juice themselves with a few minutes of waiting.  Serve with Champagne or Muscadet.

[ALTERNATE VERSION WITH NOBU’S JALAPENO SALSA]

For Jalapeño Salsa – Yields 1 3/4 cups (350 ml)

  • 2 finely chopped jalapeños
  • 1 1/4 cups (125 g) finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine and serve over the top of the fresh oysters in the half shell.