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oysters anyone?


Robb Walsh
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I'm a Texas food writer who has written extensively about France.

I'll be visiting Brittany next week researching oysters.

Mainly, I'm interested in belons and fin de claires.

Anybody have any advice on the subject?

Anybody in the area interested in having a glass of wine?

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Hi Robb. We had a nice meal at Le Chalut in St. Malo. I ordered the claires as a first course in the €49 menu. They serve both kinds and a la carte les claires were 18€ more than the other ones. I wasn't sure why. It would be interesting to do an experiment and tell them you want an all seafood menu, and see what they bring you in place of the fois gras as an amuse. My big regret when we went to St. Malo / Mt. St. Michel was that we didn't go to eat oysters instead of wrestling through souvenier alley at Mt. St. Michel.

Please share what you learn about oysters with us, Robb!

:rolleyes:

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Robb - I guess if you've written extensively about France you won't be in need of too much guidance but hopefully you won't mind a few observations.

It may be beyond your agenda and the time you have but you might be able to add a trip to France's most intensive oyster production area. This is in the Etang de Thau on the Mediterranean cost between Sete and Agde, centred more or less on Bouzigues.

The oysters are harvested aound the year from a vast network of oyster "tables". These are metal frames with cables suspended in the water - as far as I can make out the cables are "seeded" with immature oysters which are then taken in as they grow to full size. There is even an oyster museum (unvisited) in the area where I'm told all is explained.

Prices whether from the growers or in the simple local restaurants and bars are a fraction of what you pay in Brussels or Paris. Much time can be usefully wasted sitting at the edge of the water with a large plateau and a bottle of chilled Picpoul de Pinet - no matter how many oysters and bottles of wine the company gets through, its difficult to spend more than €20 per head.

Elsewhere on the site I picked up your mention of eating oysters in another of my favourite places - Moran's of the Weir near Galway. This is when I first started eating oysters around the time when Moses was still a boy and I never miss a chance to get back there.

Economics doesn't always play a part in yielding to the urge to eat oysters but I have some curiosity about how the business side works. The same large plateau when ordered in Paris 16 obviously reflects distribution and storage costs, higher rents etc and you will pay the price you expect.

What I have yet to figure out is why somewhere like Moran's, which is located almost on top of the oyster beds, is considerably more expensive than its French equivalent. Is is that the costs involved in harvesting and purifying native oysters are considerably higher than the "table" system mentioned above? Is this system not suited to the production of "natives" but only for Pacific types?

I presume I'm not alone in thinking the natives taste better but are they more difficult to harvest?

Robb, the notion of joining you for a glass of wine sounds great but it looks like you're in the wrong corners of Europe for this. Enjoy your trip anyway and I'd love to hear the results.

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I have friends who live not far from Bouzigues. It may be seasonal and I may have been there at the wrong time of year, but I've not found the Mediterranean oysters comparable to those of the north. I've also not found oysters today as flavorful as those I remember from many years ago and I'm told the oyster beds in Brittany are just recovered from the disasters to which they've been subjected. I've also not pursued oysters in Brittany the way we did some thirty or forty years ago. I suspect the fact that we've been there in the summer more recently has had a lot to do with it, as has the appearance of fine cooking in Brittany. In the sixties, I don't think there were places as fine as Roellinger's restaurant in Cancale, or if there were, they had not yet captured my attention. The dollar was strong, mussels were cheap and oysters reasonable enough.

Roellinger recommends Michel Daniel as supplier of oysters in Cancale. Michel Daniel has a retail shop at Chez Mazo, 37 quai Kennedy, 35260 Cancale. I don't know that it has facilities for eating oysters on the spot, but I imagine Michel or one of his sons Sébastien or Tony, could advise as they sell to restaurants including Roellinger's.

I read your article on Gulf oysters with great interest. I was particularly taken with your comparisons between Gulf oysters and those from northern waters in the states. I will be interested in reading what you have to say about the oysters in Brittany. I trust you'll keep us up to date and maybe post a few immediate reactions here.

Keep an eye out for that other specialty, well actually one of many other Breton specialties, andouille.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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We had wonderful Belons in Belon at Chez Jacky's and also the best grilled lobster I have ever tasted. They rarely grill them here in New England and when they do they are too dry.

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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I just remembered two things.

1) Our first trip to Brittany, we went for a walk at low tide. An uncle of my husband noted all of the edibles clinging to the rocks. We promptly went out and bought knives and spent the rest of our 2 weeks prying the oysters from the rocks and eating them on the spot. We were very enthusiastic about it and must have eaten hundreds. My husband's grandmother said that she hadn't seen so many on the rocks in many years. They surmised that they must have come from nearby beds. It was wonderful, in any case.

2) There is apparently a difference between the oysters which are grown in beds and the ones that they harvest wild, according to one oyster vendor we spoke to. She said that the farmed ones don't have as much flavor. I don't know why. Could it be their diets? Maybe she was just trying to sell us the higher priced ones. We do note that when we have a chance to taste several varieties, they always have different qualities, sizes, colors, shapes, clarity, flavors.

I've never found a pearl. :sad:

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Good morning Robb,

Are you just writing about huîtres from Brittany? For plates from Belon I'd also second cigalechanta's recommended Chez Jacky as well as the Huîtrières du Château de Belon right on the Port du Belon, a good place to both learn about and sample these delicious beauts. You might also wish to head further south to the Charente-Maritime and the tiny unprepossessing town of Marennes. Here there is an artisan industry based around the ancient shallow beds that are washed twice daily by the salty tide. These are the claires, disused salt pans rich in a green algae that gives the resulting fines de claires their exceptional green tinge and very particular lemony, iodine finish, and deep, lingering flavour. Of course it's a matter of taste, but for me, fines de claires de Marennes can almost match, for sheer sensuous pleasure, the richness and depth of flavour of natives plates from Belon.

Marc

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  • 2 weeks later...

We are spending two nights outside of Cancale at Roellinger's Chateau Richeux in the middle of December. Unfortunately our trip has been moved by work commitments, so we're missing eating at Relais Gourmand. Le Coquillage was great when we went in September, so we'll eat there again, but does anyone know if the restaurants in Cancale are open around Dec. 15?

We are carless this time, depending on the bus between Cancale and St. Malo to amuse ourselves.

lalala

I have a relatively uninteresting life unless you like travel and food. Read more about it here.

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does anyone know if the restaurants in Cancale are open around Dec. 15?

The Michelin guide only lists a half dozen of the restaurants in Cancale, but two are closed from the middle or end of November until the beginning of February and three more are closed from mid November until the 17th or 18th of December. I don't where, or if, the locals eat other than at Roellinger's, but there must be places to get oysters. You won't starve. Good luck

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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