Classy seafood…at home

As I mentioned previously, Miss Mash recently had an epiphany and opened up her mind to one of the best kinds of food the world has to offer. I’ve got to say, the conditions were ideal.  I will get around to writing about this trip properly soon but for now, picture this…We’d just spent a superb week in Burgundy, been mesmerised by Dijon and Beaune, had taken in the sights of gorgeous vineyards and been flabbergasted by the sumptuous food and wine this region is so famous for. We then headed to Brittany for a week before a friend’s wedding which was a great opportunity for me to take Miss Mash to this fabulous region.  This part of France is dear to me as this is where my ancestral roots lie.  Brittany is probably the best (I’ve got to say that really) region of France to eat great, fresh seafood. And based on my uncle’s recommendation, I took Miss Mash to the Cafe des Sports de Ploubalay where she experienced her first ever “Plateau de Fruit de Mer” (seafood platter). On that day, with a bit of guidance, what was at first reluctance and suspicion became a boundless love for les huitres (oysters). They were fresh, tasted of the salty sea and made you feel like you had just returned from a great day’s fishing on a boat. We had oysters again the next day at the wedding and I had to stop her from stealing them for her neighbour’s plate when he was not looking!!

So once we were back in the good old North West I promised we would get some oysters from the local fishmonger and treat ourselves to a nice tea. Now, I’m going to share the “guidance” bit with you because I know many of you might not be keen on the stuff and I think it’s all to do with good process. Seriously, if you have been putting it off until now, give them another try.  The most important is to get a fresh batch. Speak to your fishmonger, ask them about their supply, how long does it take for it to find its way on to the shelves? Bear in mind that an extra day on the shelf will definitely impact on the taste. In this case, it was the first time I used this fishmonger (I’m quite new in the area) and personally, I thought the oysters were not that great. They were healthy enough but a bit milky and I doubt they were fished out the same morning. I’ll feedback to the fishmonger and see what they say. I’ll also try another one from a nearby village when I get the chance.

Anyway…now that you have your oysters, what’s next? Well, you’ve got to open them, right? Unfortunately this is not something your fishmonger will do for you…again: freshness is key and once they’re open, they really have to be consumed quickly. But really, it’s not that difficult:  I used a flat screwdriver, as recommended by the fishmonger but I know I need to get a special knife for it as it’s safer and a bit easier. Once open, discard the tops (if there is a bit of flesh on it I tend to scrape it back into the oyster) and lay the oysters on a tray. Don’t discard any sea water, it’s all part of the taste and adds to your imaginary travel to the coast.

To serve, I recommend a classic shallot vinaigrette or simply a squeeze of lemon together with sour dough bread with good quality mayonnaise.

I cannot stress enough on the quality of the mayonnaise here. Home-made is best if you can. Please none of that hellmans nonsense. And to wash it down, I recommend a glass of Muscadet Sevre et Maine or Picpoul de Pinet. If you do it in that order, the one oyster can send you off on a great voyage, if only just for a few minutes. Not all food can do that 😉

Let’s linger on the wine here as it’s a key ingredient. I had never tried picpoul de pinet before. I got a bottle from Naked Wines as part of a mixed case and was not too sure what to expect or what to drink it with. I did a bit of research and talked to my local wine merchant who said it’s quite saline and goes well with oysters (hint, hint!). It’s made in the Languedoc near Sete and Montpelier on the Mediterranean coast where there are a lot of oyster farms so I guess it made sense. Again I don’t know much about this grape; that’s the only time I’ve had it so I cannot really make any comparison. I’d say this wine was not particularly sophisticated: light, mineral, crisp with lemon and that “savoury” finish. It married very well with the oysters and I was pleased with that. I still think I had a better experience with the Muscadet though.

Next I cooked mussels Thai style. When it comes to cooking I’ll admit happily that I use BBC Good Food a lot. I always end up fiddling with the recipe though, I can’t just…conform. But I won’t claim any of my dishes as truly mine. Acclaimed DJs don’t necessarily play their own tunes but their skills lie in knowing what tune will get the dance floor on fire.

Mussels, again, super easy. Plenty of basic moules mariniere recipes out there, just give it a go, Google’s your friend. Mussels are readily available from any decent supermarket these days so there’s no excuse. They are generally fished or farmed fairly locally (you’re never that far from the sea in the UK), super healthy and super good. I used this particular recipe and it worked a brilliantly. Asian, spicy influence and seafood is not common in France and it added a little something to one of my favourite dishes.

The drink I initially chose to go with it is a strange one. At a recent beer festival, I picked up a bottle of Sake by Nogne-O. I have had Sake as a spirit after a meal at a Chinese restaurant, but a craft beer maker’s 16% abv sake….no idea what that was like. Nogne-O also happens to be one of my favourite brewers so I decided to give in to my curiosity. I thought… “an exotic drink with an exotic dish…” well, it’s make or break really. I’ve got to say Miss Mash and I were not convinced. It’s like drinking strong, boozy jasmine tea. I think we were just not ready for this and the strange, not so appealing, taste took over the food so we ended up reverting back to the Picpoul.

I am glad because although I have had oysters and mussels before, it was the first time I made them myself. It was not too difficult and it worked. The Picpul de Pinet worked well with the oysters, we had a go with the sake which did not quite cut it but overall, we had a great dinner and I will definitely do another version of it soon.

What about you? Does anyone know much about Sake? Maybe I tackled it the wrong way and I’m missing a trick? And have you cooked/prepared seafood differently before? Please let me know what you think.

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