Peel the cucumber and use a vegetable peeler to shave the flesh into long paper-thin strips, stopping when you get down to the seeds. Put the cucumber in a sieve over a bowl, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain for 2–3 hours. Rinse and dry thoroughly in a clean tea-towel. Meanwhile, soften the gelatine in half of the champagne, and then heat gently until it dissolves. Pour into a bowl. Prize open the oysters, and strain the juices into the bowl of champagne and gelatine. Stir in the remaining champagne and season lightly with pepper. Put in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Loosen the oysters from their shells, and put in a bowl. Scrub the oyster shells to use as containers. Arrange coarse sea salt on a platter, decorate with seaweed if you have been able to get some from your fishmonger, and arrange the oyster shells in it, as level as possible. Put a few shreds of cucumber in each shell, and place an oyster on top. By now the jelly should have begun to set. Spoon some on top of each oyster and garnish with some fresh herbs, if you wish, before serving.
If you need to refrigerate the oysters until required, try not to do so for longer than 30 minutes or so, as the briny flavour and scent is quite fleeting.
You can just use water with a pinch of sea salt in it instead of the champagne, and call the dish Oysters in Seawater Jelly.
You could also allow the oysters to set in the jelly in small moulds or ramekins, with 2–3 oysters in each. Serve by turning out on to plates and spooning a little crème fraîche mixed with a few finely chopped shallots or chives on top.
© 1995 Frances Bissell. All rights reserved.