Champagne et Huîtres Chez Richard
Many people who visit Paris, anticipate enjoying French oysters in a restaurant. The oysters of France are legendary. If you shuck oysters, part of the enjoyment is opening the oyster yourself. Eating oysters shucked by other people eliminates half the experience. If you can also bring your own beverage matching skills to bear, you can add to the pleasure.
THE SHUCKING TOOLS Being an oyster shucker in a foreign country can be a frustrating experience. Airlines forbid transporting the knives and purchasing a nice oyster knife that you intend to discard is time consuming and costly. What you need is a viable plan "B." Over the years, I have experimented with various knife alternatives. A small surgical "blunt nosed" scissors works very well and costs about $10. Sometimes you can even make it through a TSA metal detector with one. Perhaps most importantly, the method must be safe. Stabbing yourself in a foreign language is a challenge at best.
Julia Child is famous for her preference for using a can opener to open oysters. The can opener definitely does work and is super safe. Somehow, as an American in Paris you can relieve yourself of a little of the shucker purist pressure if Julia Child says it is O.K. You still will need a "knife" to sever the adductor muscles.
I was hoping to enjoy champagne and oysters in Paris and shuck my own oysters. The hotel room included a refrigerator, a sink, towels, and 2 wine glasses. I carefully preserved my plastic butter knife from my flight. So all I needed was to find a nice "can" opener. I found a perfect one at a local super market for less than three bucks (see photo at right).
THE CHAMPAGNE A bottle of Mumm's Cordon Rouge Champagne can be found at any wine store in Paris. It has nostalgic value because we have toured the Mumm's caves in Rheims, and I know the taste - it is available in the U.S. at a moderate price. Plus, you don't need a corkscrew to open the bottle.
THE OYSTERS My daily research canvassing various fish mongers, and restaurants gave me very good information about what oysters were peaking in taste. I was looking for a dozen good size Marennes.
One observation concerned me. I found that the boxes of oysters in Spring were often displayed in the open air without ice or seaweed to keep them moist (see photo at right). The outdoor temperature was a tad above 40 F. In the U.S., when I buy oysters, I prefer them in ice or refrigerated. Selecting oysters from a box outside with no ice, risks a bout of vibrio. Buying oysters displayed with no apparent means of moistening them risks buying a dehydrated oyster. I saw several dehydrated oysters being shucked at lesser quality oyster bars.
Besides visible ice, there are two solutions employed by French oyster vendors to handle the temperature problem. One is to use a refrigerated stainless steel bin. The oysters are emptied from their wood boxes into the bin. You can test the temperature with your hand. The other is to cover a layer of ice with a towel and place the oysters on top. It looks like the oysters are not refrigerated, but they actually are.
You do need to be within rapid walking distance of your hotel so that the oysters you purchase will stay cold during transport. A cold bottle of champagne in the same bag with the oysters helps.
THE OYSTER PLATES: Paris is full of antique shops. If you keep an eye out for them you can find an oyster plate or two for a reasonable price. Oyster plates make great souvenirs and you can wrap them in clothing in your baggage. I found these for six dollars a piece.
Paris is special for many reasons. Shucking your own French oysters and sipping champagne in private - Formidable! (FOR ME DOB!). ED.
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