It wouldn’t be the holidays in Paris without oysters. When the temperatures start to drop, oyster stands start popping up all over the city, in front of brasseries, wine bars and grocery stores. It’s easy to pick up a dozen fresh French oysters, crack them open and simply enjoy their briny nuances with a glass of white wine, but the holidays call for something a little more special, I think. Something champagne worthy.
Enter the sabayon. This classic French sauce, similar to Italian zabaglione, is most often seen as a sweet concoction, but its frothy opulence works just as well in savory applications. Here, it’s used to glaze the oysters, protecting them from overcooking under the heat of the broiler, and adding an ethereal counterpoint to the meaty morsel underneath. Minced shallots and cracked black pepper add depth and a fresh bite.
For this dish, I used fines de claires, one of the most common French oysters, but you can use any type that strikes your fancy. Do choose oysters of medium size, though—remember that in oyster parlance, the smaller the number, the larger the oyster—Nos. 3 and 4 are a good place to start.
Shucking oysters isn’t difficult, but it does take a little practice. Fortunately, since this recipe calls for them to be covered in sauce, they don’t have to be pretty. In other words, this one is perfect for honing your skills.
Serves 4 as a first course, or 6 to 12 as an hors d’oeuvre.
one dozen oysters, No. 3 or 4 in size
1 pound (500 grams) rock salt
¼ cup (60 ml) dry white wine or champagne
2 egg yolks
1 shallot, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Shuck the oysters. Place the meat in a strainer or colander over a bowl to catch the liquid. Discard the flat top shells, but rinse and save the deeper bottom ones.
2. Strain the oyster liquid into a small saucepan and add the wine. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by about half. Fill a broiler-proof dish—large enough to hold all the oyster shells—with rock salt. Nestle the reserved shells into the salt. Place an oyster into each shell. Sprinkle each oyster with a little minced shallot and black pepper.
3. Preheat the broiler while you prepare the sabayon: in a double boiler or a metal bowl placed over a saucepan, whisk the egg yolks over barely simmering water. Slowly drizzle in the wine-oyster reduction, and continue whisking until the sauce thickens and lightens in both color and texture. (This can take up to 10 minutes, so be patient.) Spoon the sabayon over the oysters in their shells and broil until the sauce begins to brown on top and the oysters are heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve hot.
How to shuck an oyster
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Camille Malmquist is an American pastry chef living and working in Paris. In her spare time, she cooks and bakes at home (believe it or not), as well as tackles the difficult task of trying out as many restaurants and bakeries as possible, then she blogs about her food and travel adventures at Croque-Camille.