Oysters and Beurre Blanc in Puff Pastry Shells

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Makes:

    12 pieces

    (serves: 4 to 6 as a first course)

Appears in

I first ate oysters in beurre blanc at L’Archestrate, a former 3-star Parisian restaurant, and decided it was one of the most exciting and inspired flavor combinations I had ever tasted. When I returned to New York I worked for days to create a recipe with a presentation worthy of its flavor to teach in my hors d’oeuvre class. I discovered that the secret to plump flavorful oysters is not to cook them but merely to heat them essentially in their own liquor. I also discovered that the most delicious, silky, buttery yet astonishingly lilting beurre blanc can be made by reducing this flavorful liquid and then whisking in the butter.

The perfect container for all this melting loveliness is crisp, tender, flaky puff pastry shells, fashioned on the oyster shells. Making them is easy and fun and they can be prepared up to three days ahead. The puff pastry shells have the further advantage of transforming the oysters into finger food. A more simple but also attractive presentation is to serve the oysters in their own shells.

Over the years, I collected oyster shells whenever I would find ones with beautiful shapes. At oyster bars, I would ask for a “doggie bag” for my shells and, once home, would scrub them well. In the summer, I set them out in the garden for a month so the sun would bleach them and tiny insects would crawl into the outer crevices and clean up any oceanic debris that couldn’t be reached with my brush. (It reminded me of Psyche befriending the insects and animals to accomplish the impossible tasks imposed by Venus, Cupid’s mother, to make her worthy of receiving her wings and immortality.)

I so adore this recipe I reproduced it for my Aunt Ruth one year when visiting her in Florida. Ruth has almost every kitchen gadget available but she did not have pie weights to keep the center of the puff pastry from rising. It was then that I came up with the idea of using coins instead. Although it was an odd sight to see money baking in the oven, the coins worked even better than the pie weights as they were heavier and fewer were needed. (Copper pennies, in fact, are less expensive than aluminum pie weights and better conductors of heat.)

There is enough beurre blanc here for twenty-four oysters, should you want to double the recipe, or the extra can be served on the side. This recipe can be prepared before the company arrives as it is intended to be served at room temperature. It makes a dazzling New Year’s Eve midnight supper.

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Preheat the oven to: 425°F.
Baking time: 20 to 25 minutes
INGREDIENTS MEASURE WEIGHT
volume ounces grams
12 oysters, shucked (reserve liquor and shells)
1 recipe Puff Pastry (must be made with butter) 20 ounces 567 grams
Court Bouillon (poaching liquid)
dry white wine 1 liquid cup
reserved oyster liquor (from the shucked oysters) about liquid cup
tarragon wine vinegar 2 tablespoons
shallots, minced 2 tablespoons 0.25 ounce 9 grams
fresh tarragon, minced* teaspoons
Beurre Blanc
reduced Court Bouillon (above) 2 tablespoons
cold water 1 tablespoon
unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces, softened 8 tablespoons (1 stick) 4 ounces 113 grams
OPTIONAL: beluga caviar 1 ounce (or more if desired) 28 grams
OPTIONAL: dried seaweed for garnish

* or ¼ teaspoon dried tarragon.

Method

Pastry Shells

Scrub the concave bottom halves of the oyster shells well, using scouring powder and a stiff brush on the outside of the shell. (Once scrubbed clean, the shells can be reused indefinitely and can be washed in the dishwasher.)

On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a rectangle measuring 14 inches by 20 inches and about inch thick. Cut 16 rectangular pieces (cut lengthwise into quarters and then crosswise into quarters) measuring inches by 5 inches (this is the correct size for oyster shells measuring inches by 4 inches at their widest points). You will need only 12 pieces; the remaining 4 can be frozen (well wrapped) for future use. Roll each piece so that it is a little under inch thick. Use a fork to prick the pastry well all over.

Spray the inside of the oyster shells with nonstick vegetable shortening and press the puff pastry rectangles into the shells, being careful not to puncture the pastry as you near the point of the shell. With a sharp knife or scissors, trim off excess pastry. Place the prepared shells on a baking sheet, using crumbled pieces of foil where needed to prop the shells so that they are level (they must not tilt to the side or the pastry will not rise evenly and the pennies will spill out). Cover with plastic wrap (preferably Saran brand) and chill for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

To bake, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cut 12 rectangles of foil just slightly larger than the size of the pastry rectangles. Remove the plastic wrap from the pastry-covered shells and prick the pastry again with a fork. Press the foil rectangles into the pastry shells and fill with pennies or other coins (metal pie weights are not heavy enough and will pop out as the pastry rises). Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the pastry is set. Remove the foil with the weights and carefully unmold the pastry from the oyster shells. If not enough weights were used and the shells have risen in the centers, push them down gently to form the center impressions. Return the pastry shells, upside down, to the baking sheet and continue baking for about 5 minutes or just until golden and the centers, when turned right side up, appear to be cooked through, with no wet-looking pastry. Cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Poached Oysters

In a heavy medium-size saucepan, combine all the ingredients for the court bouillon and bring it to a boil. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, then lower the heat to just below simmering and add the oysters. Poach gently for 2 to 3 minutes or just until the oysters swell. It is important not to overcook them. With a slotted spoon, remove the oysters to a bowl. They can sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving, but cover them once they cool.

Broth Reduction

Raise the heat and bring the poaching liquid to a boil. Boil rapidly until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 20 to 30 minutes. The liquid will be thickened and slightly sticky. Set aside until ready to make the beurre blanc.

Beurre Blanc

If the court bouillon reduction has cooled, reheat it over the lowest possible heat until almost simmering. Add the 1 tablespoon of cold water, whisking rapidly. Remove the pan entirely from the heat and whisk in the first piece of the butter. Return the pan to the heat for just a few seconds, whisking rapidly. Remove it again and continue whisking until the butter has completely emulsified and no whole pieces remain. Add the next piece of butter, whisking rapidly. Continue in this way until all the butter is incorporated.

Return to the heat for 15 seconds, whisking rapidly. The sauce should be the consistency of heavy cream. Remove it immediately to a small bowl, preferably glass or ceramic, which will hold the heat. The beurre blanc can be held, covered, at room temperature for up to 2 hours or in a thermos for up to 6 hours. It will thicken slightly as it cools. (You will have cup sauce.)

Final Assembly

Arrange the pastry shells on oyster or serving plates, using dried seaweed if desired to keep the shells level. If the oysters are large, cut them in half before arranging them in the shells. Spoon a full teaspoon of the sauce over each oyster. If desired, place a small dollop of caviar toward the rounded tip. Pass the extra sauce. (I went whole hog and added lots of caviar in this picture because of New Year’s, but the oysters are just as good without the luxurious caviar overlay.)

*Ask your fish monger for seaweed. To remove any moisture that would soften the pastry, allow the seaweed to dry on paper towels for several hours.

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