Oysters on the Half Shell
I know, I know, it's much too late for New Years Eve fancy food, but here's my oyster post anyway. When we spent January and Febrary, 2003 in Paris, I realized that oysters are not considered as chic or schmancy as they are where I come from. Winter is their season, and you can find them in the most average of resuaurants all over Paris. They are, after all a national product in France, so maybe that's why. Even though Gabriel is from Geneva, he grew up eating them in the cold months and they remain a personal favorite. If you can find them at the supermarket and you have a very sturdy knife (or, dare I dream? an oyster schucker?), give them a try.
If you have the luxury of choosing these guys at the store, pick the heaviest ones since those will be chock-full of the liquor (basically just salt water, I think) and so will be plump and juicy. You might want to crush some ice and lay it out on a platter to keep the oysters chilled and to hold the bottom shells straight so they won't lose the liquor before you serve them. You will see that of the two shells, one is flatter and the other more concave, like a bowl. Make sure to hold the oyster with the concave shell down so as not to loose that precious liquor.
Then find the part of the oyster with the "foot" (pictured here). That's the part of the oyster where the meat is attached to the shell. If you open the oyster there, you will be well on your way to easy serving and eating. If you pry open the oyster elsewhere, you could be in for some difficulties. The good thing is that oyster shells are often curved and the foot is found at the instep, or the inner curve. Hold the oyster with a clean but disposable rag. Pictured here, you see a section of an old pair of jeans, nice and sturdy to protect your hands. Take a very sturdy, broad-bladed knife (or if you're lucky, an oyster schucker as pictured above) and place it at the instep and insert. Slide the blade back and forth to sever the foot. Then twist the blade to begin prying the oyster open. All this is done slowly and carefully so you don't spill that liquor. (If you haven't guessed by now, it's ALL about the liquor.) This can take some practice to do well without getting tiny bits of shell in your oyster. If do you get bits of shell, though they are easy to see so you can just clean them out with a bit of paper towel. Arrange on a platter with crushed ice and serve with lemon wedges (my favorite) or tabasco.
After all that work, you're almost there! To eat, you need to separate the foot from the meat. This is easily done with any knife, just scrape around the cyllindrical foot and the meat will come free. Then, squeeze the lemon or sprinkle the tabasco and down the hatch! So fresh and delicious, they taste like the sea. Bon apetit!