Holiday Oysters & Champagne
Do you have a Christmas Day tradition? After all the pre-Christmas family events, our usual Christmas day is easy and unstructured. During a visit to the Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle over Thanksgiving, we found our young adult children both liked oysters on the half shell. A new Christmas tradition is born: Oysters and Champagne! This would also be a great choice for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s day. Come to think of it, this would be a good choice for a Tuesday!
I usually do the oyster shucking honors, but with the whole family home I needed to enlist some aid. A couple minutes of instruction was all that was required to turn Peter and Casey into shucking experts. No teacher? Here’s a good video demo from Hog Island Oyster Company.
Nothing gives the impression of the sea quite like oysters. Cool, briny and fresh; they are always a treat. Today we have oysters from Hammersly Inlet on the Puget Sound.
Typical oyster accompaniments include lemon, mignonette sauce, or tobasco sauce. Since we had some leftover key limes, we added those to the mix. We also tried a couple of different mignonette sauces. One was a traditional one, and one was based on balsamic vinegar instead of the traditional red or white wine vinegars. With just one type of oyster, we could explore the effects of all the different choices.
Sparkling wines go great with oysters, a perfect light balance to the briny flavors. At the holidays, why not step up to real Champagne?
Marc Hebrart Champagne NV ($43 local wine shop)
Eye: Pretty golden color with fine bubbles.
Nose: Just a touch of yeastiness, not overwhelming, with apples and pears.
Mouth: Very crisp and refreshing, perfect accompaniment to the oysters. Loved it!
This Champagne is not one of the big name houses (Moet & Chandon, etc…). This is a “Grower Champagne”, the equivalent of an estate winery. The winemaker grows the grapes, makes the wine and finishes the final champagne. Grower Champagnes are only 4% of the U.S. market, but they are becoming popular as the wines are not made to a certain house style, but reflect the season and the vineyard. The big houses produce very nice Champagne, but they strive for a consistent house style above all else.
If you have never served oysters at home, you should give them a try – if you have a local seafood retailer who brings in truly fresh oysters! In Minneapolis, we trust Coastal Seafoods. Coastal always has a variety of East and West Coast oysters to choose from, and they are flown in 3 times a week.
Oyster Sauce Suggestions
You’ll need some condiments to serve with your oysters. One of my favorites is just a squeeze of lemon; it amplifies the flavors without hiding any of the oyster’s own flavor and texture. We also tried key limes, which were very nice as well. Some people like Tabasco sauce, or Tabasco-laced cocktail sauce. Lastly, mignonette sauce is another classic topping well worth including.
Traditional Mignonette Sauce
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup minced shallots
- pinch of sugar, to taste
- pinch of salt, to taste
- 1 tsp freshly ground white peppercorns
One note: I used homemade red wine vinegar which was quite intense; a bit much for my guests. Mignonette sauce is so piquant, I need to learn how to judge the right level of intensity! On this occasion, just a bit of sauce was plenty.
Balsamic Vinegar Mignonette Sauce
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (you don’t need 20 year aged, but go with a good quality one)
- 1/4 cup shallot, diced
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
The balsamic mignonette was a new one for us and was a real treat. It was both savory and sweet and was a nice alternative to the other toppings. I wouldn’t serve it as my only mignonette, but it was a great addition to the lineup.
If you’re going to shuck your own oysters, a couple of tools are handy.
- Rag towel to help hold the oyster securely – reduces the chance of slipping and injuring yourself with the oyster knife.
- Kevlar glove – alternative to the rag towel, helps you hold the oyster securely and provides protection against an errant oyster knife. $9 on Amazon.
- Oyster knife – not really a knife, it is more of a prying tool. Don’t try to use any of your ordinary kitchen knives under any circumstances! A basic oyster knife will run you about $10-15.
In the oyster knife category, I have a new favorite: a hook tip “New Haven” style oyster knife. The hook tip made it easier to find and get into the magic spot on the oyster shell to open it, then you flip it over and it will help slice the oyster foot from the shell without damaging the oyster.
Now get out there and get shucking!