Native British oysters are the flat ones that cost a lot. They are best eaten raw and are found only in the winter months. Rock oysters are cheaper and more readily available, whatever the season. They aren’t as thrilling to eat raw, however, and need a little help to taste interesting.
Champ is an Irish potato dish, consisting of mashed potato beaten with lots of milk and butter then chopped spring onion. It serves a dual purpose here, acting as a starchy contrast to the oysters and butter sauce, and as docking device into which the shells may be fastened.
Shuck the oysters and keep them in a bowl for later. Scrub the shells and boil them in plenty of water until thoroughly cleaned.
To make the champ, peel and boil the potatoes until tender. Drain and mash them, then beat in the milk, butter and spring onions. Season with plenty of salt and pepper.
For the sauce, boil the wine and shallot together in a saucepan. When the volume of liquid has reduced by half, whisk in the butter, piece by piece, so that it thickens into a sauce. Season with the chives, lemon juice and some salt.
Place a dollop of champ in the centre of each serving plate. Push 4 hot shells into the champ on each plate, then slip an oyster into each shell. Top with the sauce and caviar, if using.
© 2000 Shaun Hill. All rights reserved.