JP Mc Mahon is a champion of Irish food, and I love his take on oysters; swallowing them whole is a waste of a life, theirs, and instead they "should be chewed, gently and with great affection".
This sounds like something Ernest Hemmingway might have said in 'A Moveable Feast', written during his early career in Paris. He describes sitting in a cafe looking out at 'the first cold rains of winter' and having his spirits raised, as is so often the case, by a simple meal. "As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans."
Looking out at the cold rains of the Irish winter, I feel certain that our wonderful native oysters and some crisp white wine will have the same effect. Oysters are, according to Sylvie Courselle from Château Thieuley, 'on the table all December', and are washed down with their crisp and delicious Château Thieuley Bordeaux Blanc. Of course while many purists prefer to eat their oysters 'au naturel' with maybe a squeeze of lemon or dash of tabasco, this rich and flavourful dish from Jess Murphy of Kai might also warm the cockles of a December-chilled heart.
Oyster gratin by Jess Murphy
Serves: 4 | Cooking Time: 25 mins | Course: Side Dish | Cuisine: Irish
1 dozen oysters
1 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
2 bay leaves
100ml dry white wine
200ml double cream
100g Pecorino Romano, finely grated
100g panko bread crumbs
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
Fine sea salt
Coarse black pepper
Starting with the sauce, in a saucepan, melt the butter on a medium heat. Add the garlic, shallots and bay leaves. Sauté for two to three minutes until the shallots have softened. Pour in the white wine and cook for a further two minutes. Now add the double cream and simmer for another five minutes on a low heat. Keep an eye on it, it can bubble over quite quickly.
For the crumb, mix together the pecorino, panko and parsley. Season with salt and a generous pinch of black pepper.
Open the oysters using an oyster knife and a protective glove or a very thick tea towel. Hold the tea towel in your hand, cupping the oyster in the tea towel – this will protect you if the knife slips. Once open gently bring the knife along between the oyster meat and the shell to dislodge. This makes for more elegant eating.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. On a baking tray, arrange the oysters evenly around the tray. Spoon the cream sauce on to each oyster, being as generous as you like. Sprinkle the wild garlic crumb on top. Carefully place in the oven for 10-12 minutes until browned and bubbling.
Serve straight away with crusty bread and wedges of lemon if you like.