Although I personally prefer eating raw oysters plain or with a squeeze of lemon, it’s impossible to ignore the allure of a perfect mignonette. I serve the recipe, made with a simple mixture of shallots and good Champagne vinegar and a grinding of black pepper, in a shallow bowl so guests can add as much as they’d like to each oyster.
Watch shuckers. When they open a Northwest oyster, they start at the hinge end, prying the oyster open with what looks like almost zero effort. Then they cut the oyster’s muscle from its shell, turning the flesh over and revealing the oyster’s smooth, plump side. In France, it’s usually done differently. Instead of the hinge end, they shuck the oyster from the side, where the muscle attaches. Then they release the fleshy part of the muscle from the oyster’s top shell, leaving the firm part of the muscle attached to the bottom shell to prove the creature is still alive. I love that tradition because it means that after you eat the muscle, you can use the flat side of a fork to scrape the scallop-like attachment from the shell, then drink the oyster’s liquor separately. Although I hew to American convention at my restaurants (including serving oysters ice-cold, per health department standards, instead of just cool, as in France), I like how visceral and drawn out the experience is in France.
Of course, I do have my favorite oysters. In the Pacific Northwest, I love Hama Hamas, Blue Pools, Emerald Acres Treasure Coves, Taylor Shellfish Totten Virginicas, and Hog Island Sweetwaters.–Renee Erickson and Jess Thomson
LC Oyster Novice Note
Oyster novice? Then the mignonette and the shucking instructions above and below are exactly what you need. Well, that and a proper oyster knife. And fresh, local oysters. And good friends and a bottle of bubbly. That’s it. Swear.
Special Equipment: Towel; heavy-duty glove; oyster knife
Raw Oysters with Champagne Vinegar Mignonette Recipe
- Quick Glance
- 5 M
- 5 M
- Serves 8
- For the mignonette
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 cup Champagne vinegar
- Freshly ground black or pink pepper (optional)
- For the oysters
- 2 dozen fresh local oysters, chilled and well rinsed (stored in the refrigerator, cupped side down, on a plate covered with a damp towel)
- 1 medium lemon, cut into wedges
- Make the mignonette
- 1. In a serving bowl, stir together the shallots and vinegar. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve or up to 2 days.
- Shuck the oysters
- 2. Just before serving, you need to shuck the oysters. To open an oyster using the typical American technique, the hinge method, start with a soft, clean towel in your left hand. Hold the cupped part of the oyster in the palm of your hand on top of the towel, with the hinge (pointed) end toward your wrist. (You can put a heavy-duty glove on the hand holding the oyster if you’re shucking a lot of oysters or feel accident-prone.)
- 3. Using your right hand, insert the point of the knife into the hinge of the oyster, pressing gently on the hinge until you feel it pop open. (Some people say you press the oyster onto the knife instead of the knife into the oyster; in either case, placement is more important than pressure. This process should not cause you to break a sweat.)
- 4. Wipe the knife clean on the towel. With the oyster just partway open, slip the knife’s blade into the shell. Carefully follow the right side of the top shell with the knife to cut the oyster muscle free, then remove the top shell.
- 5. Wipe the knife again, then carefully cut the muscle off the bottom shell, taking care to reserve as much of the oyster’s natural liquor as possible. (If you prefer, use the knife to turn the oyster over in the bottom shell.) Remove any sneaky shell pieces that may be wandering around in the liquor. Arrange the oysters on a platter.
- Serve and slurp
- 6. Serve the raw oysters immediately alongside the mignonette, which you’ve dusted with pepper to taste. Also set out a bowl of lemon wedges. Slurp to your heart’s content.
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