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How to eat oysters like the French? Here’s how my initiation into this French gastronomic adventure transpired.
I have not traditionally been a seafood fan. But on one of my housesitting sojourns in France, I managed to fall for the classic Mussels and Fries (Moules et Frites). Don’t worry, I already loved fries but learned how to devour a steaming pot of mussels by watching the locals seated near me.
Oysters. It’s your turn. I ‘m living in a country that is known for its gastronomy and the French harvest and consume more oysters than any other country in the world.
But honestly…how to eat oysters like the French? I needed some tips. It was the thought of that slimy, raw creature slithering down my throat that has always stopped me from diving straight into a plate of oysters. Who is with me here?
And then, how to eat them gracefully? They’re messy. I can eat elegantly with a fork and knife but finger food is in another realm.
I was a complete beginner in both departments but ready for the challenge!
Heading off to the French shores of Normandy turned out to be my debut with oysters. My trial under fire.
Usually the French follow their oyster rule to avoid eating oysters that are too fat!
Eat oysters only in the months that end in “bre” – septembre, octobre, novembre and décembre.
I don’t know. I was right there by the sea. Oysters were calling to me. Perhaps as I become more of a connoisseur I can play by the subtle “bre” French rule.
Naturally, the ultimate way to eat oysters like the French is to situate yourself by the ocean. Continental France has over 3000 kilometres (2000 miles) of rocky and sandy shores with plenty of fresh catch. The salt air, the sea breeze and the sun beating down create the perfect setting for an oyster party! Pick a bit of coastline and dive in.
Sit at a seaside bistro or even better have the market vendor open the oyster shells, hand them to you on a platter accompanied by a crisp white Muscadet. Get comfy on the beach. Stare out to sea. Relish the gastronomic adventure.
But how does one even know where to start? You arrive in the oyster shack or the market and there are baskets and baskets of oysters. Isn’t an oyster just an oyster? Apparently not!
First of all, there are seven oyster growing regions in France including the Normandy coast, Brittany, Arcachon in Aquitaine and the Mediterranean.
1. Types of Oysters
There are two types of oysters – flat (Belon) and cupped. You can see the difference in the shells in the photo. The flat ones (huitres plates) are on the left. Apparently the Belon oysters have a strong mineral-like flavour with a hint of hazelnut. OK, Belon oysters hailing from the Belon River in Brittany, you are on the list for my next oyster-tasting adventure.
2. Choose The Number
Cupped oysters come in a variety of sizes and are numbered. The numbers range from 000 – 6. The smaller the number, the larger the oyster.
Number 2 was where I started. There’s a belief that the number you start with is the oyster you eat for the rest of your life. All right then number two. I guess we are hooked for life!
3. How Many Oysters To Order
Oysters are usually served by the half-dozen per person. So order accordingly. I have to admit something. As I ventured into the divine world of oyster savouring, I not so graciously devoured nine!
4. How To Open A French Oyster
You’ll need two essential items here. An oyster knife and something to hold the oyster with such as a tea towel.
With a steady hand, pry the shell open. Sound easy? Watch this video from Maison Guillardeau, a famous oyster farm that has been around for over one hundred years, to learn all the tips and tricks to become an expert!
Now there are two camps here about the juices inside: either try to keep as much of the tasty juices inside the shell or dump the seawater out.
Leave the oysters on a platter for about thirty minutes and more seawater magically appears. This second round of seawater, hailing from the oyster itself, is even more delicious and less salty than the original.
Any bits of oyster stuck to the shell about to be discarded can be savoured by the shucker!
5. Accompaniments For Eating Oysters Like the French
Arrange these beauties on a platter.
Suggested ways to eat your oysters:
- lemon wedges
- hot sauce
- white wine vinegar with chopped shallot
Figure out your personal preference. Maybe eating an oyster plain is perfect for you. Maybe it’s with a couple of drops of lemon juice. Or a little drizzle of the white wine vinegar and shallot.
Pair your oyster extravaganza with something that suits the occasion. An Apérol spritz, a cold Chablis, Muscadet or rosé wine will enhance the flavours of the oysters. But since you are eating oysters like the French after all, how about a deluxe pairing with Champagne?
6. How To Elegantly Eat Your Oyster
I’m not 100% sure that these two words (elegant and oyster) belong in the same sentence.
Have an oyster fork (or just a small fork) to loosen the oyster from its shell. If you don’t have a small fork, use your finger or a small knife.
Tip the oyster shell towards your mouth and drink the seawater.
The oyster will probably slide along with the water into your mouth.
For the full marvellous experience, chew the oyster. Savour the texture and the flavour.
Clearly, eating oysters elegantly and in public takes a bit of practice!
After my initiation, I keep diving into the oyster scene. Every time I love those briny molluscs a bit more. I’m still working on my chic style.
Once dipping your toe into the briny world of oysters, one finds there is a rich ancient history, they’re full of nutrients, there are a variety of ways to dish them up and all those amino acids reportedly act as an aphrodisiac. I’ll let you be the judge on that last one!
More Travel Info…
If you are travelling in Normandy, here are all my posts to help you plan your trip. This article, 19 Wonderful Things To Do in Normandy is a great overview. You might also like detailed articles on Bayeux and its famous tapestry, visiting the D-Day Beaches, Mont-Saint-Michel, Giverny, Deauville and Trouville-sur-Mer, Honfleur and Etretat.
Where are you in the oyster fan club? In or out? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,
Oh my I love oysters just not natural. lol…too slimy…I have not eaten them in France perhaps next time I should. However snails I have eaten so many while visiting France.
Alison Browne says
Oh, yes I like snails too but now I have had way more oysters than snails! Give oysters a try with a squirt of lemon… you just never know. You might love them!
My (French) husband loves oysters but I’m not a fan at all! Loved your description though and well done for getting so into them!
Alison Browne says
Thank you! Yes.. I surprised myself. I have now had oysters four times and am still shocked that I love them!!
Susan Pazera says
I’m not a huge oyster fan, but my husband is and he loves this post! And I think you’ve given me an incentive to try them again, once we’re able to get back to France 🙂 Thank you the step-by-step info .
Alison Browne says
Oh, I am so glad that this has given you the inspiration to give oysters another try. You might just find yourself loving them!