My first experience with oysters was as a student in Paris in the 1980s. Oysters there are always served with ceremony: nestled in ice on a stand, a small bowl of shallot-vinegar sauce on the side, and brown bread and butter to eat along side them. I developed a taste for eating them with Champagne, but a nice Sancerre works well, as do lots of other white wines. Beer isn’t a common choice, but an eye wasn’t batted when a friend ordered one recently on New Year’s Eve 2016 at Le Dome where my husband and I celebrated with good friends. (See below.)
Oysters are almost always part of a plateau de fruits de mer, which can also include things like little sea snails called bigorneaux (see above) and their bigger cousins called bulots, clams, scallops and crustaceans like shrimp, crab, and, if you’re feeling royale, lobster.
In France, back in the ’80s, I learned to only eat oysters in months that ended in “r” or “bre,” so septembre, octobre, novembre, décembre, janvier, and février. That little rule, though, dates back to days before refrigeration. One too many wealthy gourmand died from indulging out of season, eliciting a royal edict, declared in 1759, that prohibited gathering oysters in France from April through October. Spring and summer was also when oysters reproduced, so it was best, anyway, to leave them alone so there’d be plenty for the colder months. Now, of course, we have refrigeration and we can raise oysters year-round. Which brings me to May of this year.
On a visit to Port St. Joe, Florida, I learned there’s another, equally fabulous way to eat oysters. Indian Pass Raw Bar, an institution in the region, serves enormous local oysters on plastic trays, accompanied by lemon wedges and Saltine crackers. And unless you want to drink a soda with them, you choose frosty, cold beer. Perfection! When you go (and you should! If not for the oysters, then for the empty, white sand beaches), make sure to get crab and corn, too!
Very different oyster experiences, both are wonderful!