…i like them naked {especially on my birthday}…

2010/11/27 § 2 Comments

The title is in reference, of course, to how one likes his oysters.  Does one like them naked, straight out of a half-shell?  With a dash of wine vinegar-and-shallot mignonette ?  With grated horseradish and cocktail sauce?  With a drop of lemon and tabasco?  Or with something else?

I grew up in a seaside town bound by other small towns with oyster beds. We used to drive to the nearby towns and stop by one of the many  oyster shacks lining the streets.  We get the oysters shucked right there and measured by the glassful or take home entire sacks of the rocky seashells.  The shucked oysters were usually eaten with grated green mangoes and rock salt or with local vinegar and chopped shallots.  When we bring home the sacks, my cousins and I try to outdo one another in finding oysters from the many secret pockets of the rather unsightly rock shells.  These we slurp with its brine straight out of the shell.

As I begin to travel out of my small town and into the big world, I discovered many different kinds of oysters and many different ways of consuming them.  In the city, I had fresh oysters with dollops of cocktail sauce and other condiments. They just didn’t have as much flavor as I’m used to in the province.  Having been weaned on fresh and straight-out-of-the-bed oysters, I found myself more partial to baked concoctions ala rockefeller ou avec du fromage et l’ail at city restaurants.

And because I practically grew up at my best friend’s house, with her parents repeatedly saying that “the best oysters are in Paris and the best mussels are in Brussels,”  my best friend [D] and I, understandably, had an even deeper fascination for oysters. {The mussel story will be in another post}.   And for Paris.  Not having the means then to go there, we made do with eating Hongkong (where D once lived) out of oysters whenever I came to visit.  At that time, our favorite were  these giant, cupped, creamy, rich Pacific ones that we zeroed in and spent our carefully saved money on.  Even when one piece of those oysters used to cost the equivalent of  several days’ lunch… we kept eating…unmindful of the subsequent weeks of diet  (or starvation) those extravagant splurges enforced.

After several years, I finally reached Paris and vowed not to leave without having tasted a plateful of its famed oysters.  And my…I never realized there were so many to choose from!   Which ones were I supposed to try?!  There were fines, speciales, fines de claire, speciales de claire, belon, and some numbered as N0, N1, N2, N3, N4, N5.   Ooh la la.  Well, I tried each of them at some point and of course loved the sweet, salty and delicate speciales de claire and the incomparable Belon.  Ah…the Belon.  Magnificent.  Firm.  Strong.    I couldn’t get enough.

I found myself alone, in Paris, on my birthday, one year.  What better way to treat myself on a cold night than with a plateful of  fines de claire and belons? Needless to say, all these were slurped off their shell in their naked glory.  Savoured, slowly.  Not even solitude could take away the resulting pleasure.  Or rather, I should say that the oysters were fitting company for  an auspicious day.  Ah…but even ordinary days, in far-flung places as Luxembourg and Biarritz, where I’ve been caught alone for a day or two, were made extraordinary by  plates of  fines de claires and belons ringed with seaweeds and lying on a bed of crushed ice.  I would sit happily in a restaurant by the old town square or in an alley leading to the sea and enjoy these pleasurable companions.

In Chicago, I discovered  kumamotos.  It  was another birthday, with friends this time, at MK.  Perhaps I veer towards oysters on special days because it never fails to give me a taste of my childhood, my sea, my town, my family and my dining adventures with D.  All beautiful thoughts.  Apt for a beautiful day.   The kumamotos were tiny, sweet, refined and the brine just a touch salty. Another one of those that didn’t need to be dressed to taste amazing.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had kumamotos as good as those at MK again.  And my fresh oyster adventures here in the US have not quite been as satisfying as those in Europe.   However, some oyster preparations I’ve had here were utterly divine.  Take for example the “oysters and pearls” at Per Se.  These were Island Creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar lying on a bed of pearl tapioca sabayon.  I would certainly trade my oysters au naturel for this suave, stylish and stunningly luxe dish.  Sometimes.   So with the different oyster preparations at Sushi of Gari’s omakase.  The contrasting texture and flavours are  simply exquisite.  So yes.   Sometimes.   I like them polished.  Elegant.  And dressed to kill.

However, raw and rugged oysters in its salty brine is its own heaven.   That breed dreams and cravings and memories.  And since another birthday is coming up….oysters are on my mind.  Naked….if possible.


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§ 2 Responses to …i like them naked {especially on my birthday}…

  • Wow, I didn’t know there was some sort of local style (grated green mangoes and rock salt or with local vinegar and chopped shallots). One day you’ll come visit and try Sydney Rock Oysters. My Sydney Seafood School version is with salmon roe, olive oil and lemon.

    • Wow, I would love to try that Winnie! As for the grated green mango and rock salt – I just grew up eating it that way. They wash out the brine sometimes so oyster flavor is diluted. With the vinegar and shallot, it becomes like a cechive (kilawin).

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