I must admit that I usually take my oysters as nature intended. I like them raw in the half shell. A squeeze of lemon and a little turn of the pepper mill (black pepper, of course) and perhaps a little brown bread and butter. I am afraid that when I go out to restaurants I often choose oysters. I like the fact that the chef has not been able to be “creative” with them. I like their clean saline purity. I like their taste of the sea. I like, in short, everything about them that just might put other people off.
Having declared my interest, I can concede two important points. One, some people are never going to eat uncooked oysters. Two, oysters are excellent when cooked. I have served poached oysters in a beef consommé, fried them in batter with a Thai dressing and I have also fried them in piquantly seasoned flour before putting them in a roll with mayonnaise as a kind of po’boy (Louisiana sandwich).
However, most often I revert to my classical roots and poach them in their own juice if only because the sauce thus produced is as silky and saline as a sauce can possibly be. There is a danger of an oyster shortage: having gone from cheap to expensive and back to (relatively) cheap again, we’ll be sorry when they cost £50 a half dozen.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Poached oysters with shrimps and cucumber
Three or four of these oysters will make a good starter but they could be passed around with teaspoons as a little party snack.
12 rock oysters
75g unsalted butter
50ml dry white wine
25ml white wine vinegar
½ tsp milled black pepper
1 dsp double cream or crème fraîche
1 dsp chopped chives
100g shrimps (very small prawns)
● Open the oysters. This is done by inserting an oyster knife into the gap between the top and bottom shell just to one side of the back, deeper part of the oyster. It is then a simple question of “waggling” the knife to ease the hinge open. Slide the knife along the roof of the oyster shell and remove the top shell. Now slide the knife under the oyster to cut away the abductor muscle and lift the oyster out of its shell. The oysters should be kept in their own juice, preferably after it has been strained. Wash the oyster shells in cold water and arrange on a heatproof serving dish.
● Peel the cucumber and cut it into lengths of 8cm-10cm. Using a knife, or a mandolin, cut the cucumber into long slices around the central seedy stem, which can then be discarded. Cut these slices into long thin julienne strips. Melt a teaspoon of butter in a frying pan and quickly cook the cucumber strips until they soften a little. Distribute the cucumber in the shells and allow to cool.
● Chop the cold butter into small pieces. Peel and finely chop the shallot and place in a saucepan with the white wine, vinegar and pepper. Simmer on a medium heat for 15 minutes, reducing the liquid until it is a syrupy liquor. Whisk in the cream or crème fraîche and bring to the boil before gradually adding the butter, whisking it vigorously. Do not boil. Remove from the heat as soon as all the butter has been used.
● Warm the cucumber and shells for five minutes in a moderate oven. In a frying pan, bring the oyster juice to the boil. Add the oysters and simmer just long enough for them to stiffen. Remove from the heat, placing an oyster in each shell on top of the cucumber. Keep warm while you reduce the oyster liquor and whisk into the sauce.
● Toss the shrimps lightly in the frying pan to warm them and scatter over the oysters. Coat the ensemble with the sauce and scatter with chives.