Weir Cooking in the City: Oysters with Champagne Mignonette

Serves: 6

I don't think there's a better first course than a platter of icy cold, freshly shucked oysters. I remember when I was growing up in Massachusetts, the only oysters available were big fat ones called Blue Point. But now there are so many other varieties available--Kumamoto, Hog Island, Quilcene, Belon, Wellfleet, Malpeque, Olympia, Apalachicola, to name just a few. No matter what variety, I love to serve them with a glass of something bubbly. The best accompaniment for oysters in my estimation is a pungent little sauce called mignonette made with champagne or sparkling wine that is mixed with champagne vinegar, chopped shallots, and freshly cracked black pepper. I was first introduced to mignonette years ago while traveling in France. Then, when I worked at Chez Panisse, I used to have to open dozens of oysters and make this sauce daily. Serve oysters on a bed of rock salt with fresh rye bread slathered with sweet butter.

• 2 dozen fresh oysters in the shell
• 1/2 cup champagne or sparkling wine
• 2 to 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
• 1 shallot, minced
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 6 lemon wedges as a garnish
• Sprigs of flat-leaf Italian parsley as a garnish

Clean and shuck oysters:
Fresh oysters should be tightly closed and smell briny and salty, like the sea. Use them as quickly as possible, preferably the same day. (If you are storing them, keep them in a bowl or mesh bag in the refrigerator, loosely covered with a moistened kitchen towel, for up to 24 hours.)

To clean oysters, using a good stiff brush, wash and brush them under the coldest water that runs from your tap.

To shuck oysters, hold the oyster in a folded kitchen towel and then slip a sturdy, short oyster knife (which has a strong, pointed blade and a shield to protect your hand) into the hinge end, pop the top open, and run the knife along the edge until the top comes off (discard the top shell). Then cut the tendon that holds the oyster to the shell. To finish, flip the oyster in the shell to show its smooth underside.

Place the open oysters in a single layer, on a bed of rock salt.

Make the champagne mignonette:
In a small bowl, whisk together the champagne, champagne vinegar, and shallots. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place in a small bowl and serve it alongside the oysters. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.

Wine suggestion: Champagne or Sauvignon Blanc

Recipe ©2004 Joanne Weir from Weir Cooking in the City, reprinted by permission.