Wednesday, October 05, 2005
How to eat oysters? It's best to eat them as soon after they leave the sea as possible, not more than two days is ideal. If bought fresh, they will keep for about a week in a cool place (between 5-15 degrees C). Put something heavy on top to dissuade them from opening. There are two types of oyster readily available in France: creuse (scooped) or plate (flat). The oysters in the photo above are 'creuse'. There is a different technique for opening each type. But first, you need to get youself a good knife.
I bought these oysters in the photo from the supermarket on Saturday, without really considering how I was going to open them. When it got to lunch time, I searched out my swiss army knife and started to attack them. It was much more difficult than I had anticipated and, by the time I'd finished the second one, the point of my knife had snapped off. On Sunday, when there was still half a box left to eat, I had to go out and buy a proper oyster knife, which is the one shown in the photo. Having one of these really makes life much easier. The point is strong and there is a support around the handle so that more pressure can be exerted on the shell.
It isn't easy to get an oyster open. The best thing is to take a tea cloth and fold it over a few times in the hand that is going to hold the oyster. This will, firstly, protect your hand from the knife in case it slips when you're struggling with the oyster and, secondly, stop the jagged oyster shell digging into your hand. Opening oysters is quite a strenuous business. If you ever have to open a few dozen of them, your shoulder muscles will know about it!
With a 'creuse' oyster you need to force the knife between the valves about halfway down the shell. Prise the shell open until the knife slides inside and then make a sweeping cut to sever the 'muscle' which holds the shells together. The shell will not open until the muscle is cut. The 'plate' oyster is opened by cutting into the hinged end of the shell or 'umbo' and then cutting the muscle as before. If the oyster doesn't need prising open, don't eat it: there's something wrong with it.
When you order oysters in a restaurant (or even when you buy them in a shop sometimes) you will have a choice of sizes from 1-5. The oysters above are size 3, which is a good size in my opinion. No. 1 oysters are the largest and command a premium price. Oysters are often served with a dish of finely sliced shallots in a sherry vinegar (definitiely not malt vinegar!) Crusty bread and white wine also go well.
Finally, how to eat the oyster? Drain off the first salt water which will be inside the shell, keeping the oyster fresh. Open the oysters an hour or so before you intend to eat them and just let them stand. A dozen is quite enough for one person. Pour a bit of the shallot and vinegar dressing over the oyster and then simply tip the contents of the shell into your mouth.