“Tis the season for oysters, though an oyster lover will try to convince you that ’tis always oyster season. That person – in my opinion – is blinded by passion (not such a bad thing).
The Truth About Oysters
For the truth about oysters is that they are better during the winter, the famed months with “R” in their name. The reason has to do with water temperature. When the water is cold, the oyster is cold, and its flesh is firm and taught, almost crisp. As the water warms, around about May in the northern hemisphere, the oyster relaxes, lets off some steam, and begins to consider multiplying. Not to be too scientific, but the female oyster will release spawn into the water, which is fertilized by the male. As the oyster “prepares” the spawn it (she) becomes flaccid and milky. Some people like the oyster at this stage; it is not what I prefer. So I recommend oysters in months with “R” for the best gustatory experience.
The French serve oysters with abandon during their season, almost always on the halfshell. They are shucked before your eyes to assure freshness, and brought to your table on a glinting tray piled with ice and covered in seaweed, to keep them chilly. Along with them comes sauce mignonette, perhaps a half a lemon, some rye bread and some salted butter.
The Oyster Ritual
The ritual calls for slathering a slice of rye bread with butter, spooning a bit of sauce mignonette into an oyster, tipping it into your mouth, and following it with a bite of buttered break.
I offer you two versions of sauce mignonette with a plea: try a “naked” unadorned oyster first, to become acquainted with its pure sea flavor. Then, have some fun!