Favorite French Christmas Treats: Oysters
Granted, oysters are an acquired taste. Your first encounter with an oyster may seem more like meeting up with an extraterrestrial, but more often than not, these slippery, squishy crustaceans have a way of becoming a treat that may delight you to no end.
In France, Christmas and New Year’s Eve wouldn’t be the same without a plate of oysters on the menu. They make a great first course – served up just the way they come out of the shell – or accompanied with a and red wine vinegar and chopped shallots sauce.
Oysters at Peak Season
Normally the ideal time to eat seafood such as oysters and scallops (or Coquilles St Jacques) is during the winter months (or any of the months ending in ‘ER’). Given the fact that these are pricey treats – if you’re going to splurge for one meal, make it a holiday meal with family, good friends, or that one favorite person you’d like to impress.
For some of us Paris is the favorite place to eat oysters – and there are a few oyster bars in town that deserve their reputation for serving up oysters that taste as fresh as if you’d hopped on the TGV for the seashore towns where these beauties are farmed.
My favorite spot for oysters is the Brasserie Le Dome Montparnasse at 189 Blvd. Montparnasse. Yes, this is a pricey spot to enjoy a plate of oysters but also the ideal restaurant to get into the holiday spirit.
Choosing your oyster
Oysters are called ‘huitres’ in French – and leave it to the French to turn oyster selection into a science. The most commonly served species – the Japanese variety appears practically paper-thin in its shell. Splash a little shallot vinaigrette on one of these babies and you can actually watch the critter start to shrink before your eyes.
The flat oyster or ‘Belon’ oyster is more rare these days – but you can still order it at Parisian oyster bars (if you don’t mind the elevated price). The Belon oyster is said to be the same oyster eaten by Romans – and they knew a thing or two about hedonistic pleasures.
And if you thought all you’d have to do is choose between ‘huitres creuses’ and ‘Belon oysters’ here’s just a little more to think about. Oysters are graded according to size, but also to the amount of time they’ve been left to meditate in ‘clear water’. So here are the gradations – ranging from 1-5, 1 being the biggest oyster and 5 being the least expensive.
Then you have ‘Fine Oysters’ which are not quite so fine as ‘Special’ Oysters which are not quite so special as Belon oysters – so now, if you’re totally confused, it’s time to break out a nice bottle of dry white wine.
Here’s a sampling of the listing you may find on an oyster bar menu:
* huîtres fines
* huîtres spéciales
* huîtres fines de claire: These oysters have been in refined in ‘clear water’ for one month.
* huîtres spéciales de claire: Refined for four to five months
And read this article.
Oysters as Aphrodisiacs
You may have heard these rumors. Oysters contain a number of minerals and vitamins such as zinc, Vitamin E and B Vitamins, also Potassium and Calcium, but whether or not oysters have aphrodisiac properties may depend on how much wine you drink alongside. My hunch is that most of this hype is simply power of suggestion.
I have seen at least one friend consume three dozen oysters in one sitting – and remain her perfectly normally promiscuous self. In a word, eating oysters probably just makes a little bit more of who you are.
Eating Oysters in Paris
Parisgirl recommends “Le Brasserie du Dome Montparnasse” – for special occasions!
108 Blvd. Montparnasse, 75014
Here are a few other oyster bars in the neighborhood:
Bars a Huitres (which has several outlets) Montparnasse, St. Germain-des-Pres and Bastille
(It’s located just across the street from Le Dome at the Blvd. du Montparnasse/Blvd. Raspail intersection)
Also in St. Germain des Pres:
3 rue de Montfaucon, Paris, 75006
Price 10€-30€ for a dozen oysters ($13.40-$40.25)
The other option is to pick up your oysters at the Rue Montorgueil market or Rue Mouffetard – and enjoy at home/hostel/ or hotel!
Bachelor’s Oyster Dinner