With 150,000 tonnes of oysters produced annually, and with nearly 90% of such production being consumed within France alone, oysters remain a strong staple of French cuisine. Dating back centuries, oysters have been one of the most commonly consumed delicacies in France. Today, oysters in France are sourced from a variety of regions, producing a diverse array of of flavors and textures. While they are enjoyed all year long, they are especially common around the holiday season, with around half of the annual production being consumed during this time of the year.
In French, oysters are called huitres. Along with this, just as “terroir” is used to refer to the specific characteristics a wine has in relation to the region it is produced, the distinct flavor and texture of an oyster is sometimes referred to as “merroir,” and is decided by the special traits of the water and environment in which it is raised, such as water temperature, salinity, algae, mineral composition.
Since oysters are such an essential aspect of French cuisine, let’s explore some tips surrounding oysters, as well as share aspects about their unique existence in France.
First, we should quickly review the “proper” way to consume oysters, since it has been a point of confusion for many people unfamiliar with the dining experience. Even though there is not truly a “right” way to eat anything, here are a few tips that oyster connoisseurs consider to be the best way to consume oysters.
- Always begin any food experience with senses such as sight and smell. The size and shape of oysters can quickly hint at the meatiness and texture of the oyster, while an oysters smell is essential to experiencing the complete flavor profile. Along with this, the smell can quickly tell you if an oyster is bad or not.
- Using a small fork, loosen the oyster from its shell, and slurp it down from the wider end of the shell. In this way, the liquid the oyster sits in will also be consumed, which adds a lot to the flavor.
- Chew it a few times before swallowing in order to release all the flavors and enjoy the unique texture.
- While oysters can definitely be enjoyed as they are, lemon juice, cocktail sauce, and mignonette sauce are all very common garnishes.
Since oysters can oftentimes be an expensive meal to enjoy at a restaurant, a cheaper way to still be able to enjoy these delicacies is buying them directly from a reputable seafood vendor and shucking them yourself. However, shucking oysters can be a difficult skill to master without any prior knowledge, so here are some tips to help you get started:
- Make sure to get the proper equipment, specifically an oyster knife. Along with this, you will want to make sure to use a towel or shucking glove to protect your hand, as well as a flat surface.
- Placing the knife at the hinge of the shell, use a twisting motion to pry the shell open.
- Slide the knife across the top shell to release the oyster, and then remove the top of the shell.
- You will want to make sure to remove any grit or shell residue that lands on the oyster, and then you’ll be ready to enjoy it!
Other Important Tips:
- Since many of the names can be unfamiliar, you can always describe the types of flavors and textures that you like, and your server will usually be able to help find a kind you will enjoy.
- It’s always a good idea to try a few different types of oysters at a time, in order to better experience the subtle differences in flavors and textures. Along with this, having two of each variety is also important in noticing these nuances.
- Common beverage pairings include white wines, hoppy beers, and sake.
- While many people tend to enjoy oysters without any garnish, small additions of acidity from lemons and vinegar-based sauces can add new dimensions of flavor to an oyster, just be careful not to use a sauce or seasoning that will overpower the oyster’s natural flavor.
Oysters in France
The two main species of oysters enjoyed in France are the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), or “Creuse,” and the European oyster (Ostrea edulis), also known as “Plate” and flat oysters. While the majority of oysters produced in France today are Creuse oysters, Plate oysters are still highly sought after for their unique flavor, but are much more expensive.
While oysters are consumed all across France, there are seven distinct regions that produce them, including Normandy, North-Brittany, South-Brittany, West-Central, Marennes-Oléron, Arcachon, and the Mediterranean.
Among the many things that French cuisine is known for, their production and consumption of oysters is a popular tradition dating back centuries. Thus, while all these tips can be applied to eating oysters anywhere, if you are a true seafood lover, France’s oyster market is the perfect place to begin your exploration and experience of these delicious delicacies.