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
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.
|Court Bouillon (poaching liquid)|
|dry white wine||•||•|
|reserved oyster liquor (from the shucked oysters)||•||•|
|tarragon wine vinegar||•||•|
|fresh tarragon, minced*||•||•|
|reduced Court Bouillon (above)||•||•|
|unsalted butter, cut into
|OPTIONAL: beluga caviar||•|
|OPTIONAL: dried seaweed for garnish||•||•||•|
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
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.
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).
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.
Raise the heat and bring the poaching liquid to a boil. Boil rapidly until reduced to
If the court bouillon reduction has cooled, reheat it over the lowest possible heat until almost simmering. Add the
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
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.
© 1992 Rose Levy Beranbaum. All rights reserved.