Love oysters? Hate them? Too scared to try them? Oysters are one of the most decisive foods, mostly due to their texture. Some hate the slimy muscle, some cannot get enough! I personally love muscles because of how salty they are. Although they generally taste similar, each oyster has a very unique taste and texture based on where it is grown, how it is grown, and other climatic factors.
There are seven distinct growing regions: Normandy, North-Brittany, South-Brittany, West-Central, Marennes-Oléron, Arcachon, and the Mediterranean. Although some of these areas are far more famous than others, they all produce excellent oysters! The best known French oyster cultivation areas are Cancale, Marennes-Oléron, and Arcachon.
Gorgeous Oyster Platters
I often get lost when looking at the oyster menu, they all seem the same! I have compiled a few helpful hints to help you navigate eating French oysters both at home or at a restaurant!
Plates and Creuses
There are two types of oysters that are produced in France. Plates are more difficult to grow, flatter in shape, and are produced in small quantities. Creuses have a convex shell and are less expensive because of the larger number that are produced.
Plates are slightly metallic and are definitely for the more experienced oyster-eaters. Because they are much more expensive than creuses, I would try out the creuses first before diving into the more intense tasting plates! The creuses are easy, fresh, and refreshing. The creuses are raised in salty deep waters and then moved to shallower beds to mature.
Want to learn more about the specific types of oysters that are grown in France? Check out this guide that goes into detail about the specific oyster types and tastes!
You should be focusing on trying around 3-5 different types of oysters at a time. Ordering too few will not allow you to compare and contrast the differing flavors. Ordering too many will overwhelm your plate! Try a little bit of everything by comparing apples to apples AND apples to oranges. It’s interesting to taste oysters from the same region (or the same kind) to really compare the nuances! Oysters need to be shucked correctly, so make sure they look intact and healthy when they are served to you. If you are doing this at home here is a guide to be sure you are doing it right.
Tools for Shucking At Home
Nope, you do NOT just throw your head back and swallow it whole. Here’s a step-by-step guide to correctly eating your oyster.
SEE: Feast with your eyes! Study the shell, shape, color.
SMELL: It should smell sea-breezy and sweet (not fishy)
SIP: Sip the oyster liquor (fancy name for the oyster juices) to get a sense of the salinity.
SLURP: Shimmy the oyster meat loose, tilt the flat edge of the shell to your lips, and slurp! Don’t discard the oyster liquor (faux pas).
SAVOR: Chew a few times to get the full-body taste; notice the progression from the nose (salty) to the body (sweet/flavors) to finish (lingering aroma).
SHELL: Flip the shell over to signify you have eaten it and admire the shell!
You are also free to add some accoutrements such as a little lemon, freshly ground pepper, ponzu, green onion, creme fraiche, caviar, cocktail sauce, or horseradish. But, because the oysters are bite-sized, a little goes a long way. You want the oyster to be the main dish, not just the vehicle of the sauces!
Here’s my favorite part: the wine! The classic pairing with oysters is yummy light-bodied, crisp, dry white wines and chilled chardonnay-based champagnes. If you are feeling like mixing it up, a martini will make you feel extra fancy but saki also brings out the taste of the oysters. To fully evaluate a pairing, take a sip of your drink of choice, chew the oyster, and then take another sip of your drink. Let the flavors combine and decide whether the two are synergistic, neutral, or combative. The drink should help bring out the flavors of the oysters or bring out new ones!
And that’s it! You are now an official French oyster connoisseur. Let me know what your favorite types of oysters are in the comments below or on Instagram @ouiplease!
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