I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (1964), Chapter 1: A Good Café on the Place St.-Michel, p.6.
In the first chapter of Hemingway’s memoir A Movable Feast (1964) the writer describes sitting down in a “good café” on a “wild, cold, blowing day” in Paris. Hemingway describes feeling “empty and both sad and happy” after writing a story in his notebook and orders a half-dozen of oysters and a half-carafe of dry white wine to cheer himself up. In the citation above he describes perfectly how great food (and drink. He did down two glasses of whiskey prior.) can inspire and instantly lift one’s spirits no matter how gloomy or empty a day might be – a sentiment I completely agree with.
While oysters are usually considered to be a decadent delicacy – something you might have at a good café in Paris with a good French wine on the side – my first experience with raw oysters wasn’t in some fancy restaurant, nor at a good French café. Rather, the first time I ate a raw oyster was from a little cart on the side of a city-canal at an annual fair (revolving around the Dutch Gin-like drink ‘jenever’ rather than shellfish) on a gloomy September day (a gloominess not unlike the one present in Hemingway’s initial description of Paris) in my hometown in The Netherlands – a Hemingwayesque situation to some degree, I suppose.
I was a bit intimidated and only ordered two of them (what a fool), one regular Creuse and one Zeeuwse platte (a small flat oyster from the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands). I was either going to ‘love them or hate them’ and I wasn’t going to buy a half-dozen and risk ending up gagging in public from what some people would describe as ‘slurping snot from a rock’ (also me, in a previous post on oysters and literature). A tad apprehensive, I lifted the freshly shucked half-shell to my mouth, slurped, chewed…and was amazed – ‘love them’, it was.
Now, I generally agree with most purists whom claim that oysters are best when eaten raw with no dressing except perhaps a few drops of lemon – they are a rare treat for most of us after all and they should be enjoyed in all of their own bare briny glory. However, being a purist can also be a bit boring and it is nice to add a little color and extra flavor to your platter of oysters from time to time (or to eat them cooked) – for eating oysters should never be a gloomy occasion.
For my post today, I had some small round Zeeuwse platte oysters (Zeeland flat oyster), which have an almost sweet, delicate flavor and surprisingly firm texture (firm for an oyster that is), which goes amazingly well with the bright, tart and sweet raspberry mignonette, but you can use any type of oyster for this ‘recipe’. Should be enjoyed with some nice dry white wine on the side, of course.
Raw Oysters with Raspberry Mignonette
- 12 fresh raw oysters
- 65ml red wine vinegar
- 1 small shallot
- 70g fresh raspberries
- Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- Few chive sprigs, for garnish
- For the mignonette: Add all but 3 - 4 raspberries (depending on the size) to a bowl and mash with a fork. Very finely mince the shallot and add to the bowl with the raspberry puree together with the red wine vinegar and freshly cracked pepper. Mix all ingredients well and let the mignonette sit for 30 minutes to let the flavors combine.
- When ready to serve: shuck the oysters and place them back in the rounded side of the shell. Arrange oysters on a platter (you can use crushed ice, coarse sea salt, or seaweed to stabilize the oysters, if necessary). Slice the remaining 3 - 4 raspberries in thirds (or slivers, if the raspberries are very big). Add about ½ teaspoon (or more to taste) of the raspberry mignonette to each oyster on the half shell and place a piece of fresh raspberry and a chive sprig on top to garnish.