Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saturday Special

The Knife

The Food

The Seasoning

The Wine

I resisted temptation yesterday ... and promptly rewarded myself.  I went to my usual cafe for a cup of Joe and my Saturday newspaper.  The daily lunch special at the cafe was a veal schnitzel with fried potatoes and mixed salad for EUR 16.  I came very close to ordering it, but I knew that good food was available at home.  So, to reward myself for my self-discipline, I went to the Kleinmarkthalle and bought oysters.  Last year, during two vacations in France, I ate more oysters than in the ten years prior to that combined.  You can get oysters in Frankfurt, but they don't really play a role here the way they do in France, or even the US.  If you order a "raw" plate in Cannes or Paris, with a mixture of seafood, you most likely will receive basic oysters.  The generic term is "creuse" for the pacific oyster that is most common.  The oysters are relatively flat.  Often, they are referred to as "fines".  You don't even need to chew them to get them down, just slurp, and down they go, with a pleasant saline flavor.  This fall in Paris, I had one of those "raw" platters, and the oysters were just fine but a bit small for my taste, as they had been in Cannes.  Then we ate at a neat little restaurant near our hotel in the 15th.  The co-owner had been a chef at Michelin-level restaurants, and the attention to detail was great.  They had a special of six "Perle Blanche" Oysters that we shared to start our three-course meal.  The Perles Blanches were bigger than the fines and they had a real crunch when you bit into them.  I later read a bit more about them.  They grow along the North Sea and Atlantic coast between Normandy and Charente-Maritime and are refined in refinement basins near the coast (called "claires") by providing them with a less saline -- and more specialized -- feeding environment.  Often you will see "fines de claires" sold in France and Germany that indicate the extra "affinage" for which the French are so famous, not just with oysters. 

Back before Mardi Gras, I made a batch of Oysters Rockefeller during a spate of nostalgia for New Orleans.  I went to one of the big supermarkets in town and bought twelve Fines de Claires.  I then went to the department store above and bought an oyster knife.  The knife cost more than the oysters did.  It is more of an oyster breaker than a knife (see pic above).  I watched several different videos online about opening oysters and adapted the French approach of going in near the muscle on the side of the oyster, as opposed to the hinge, where many Americans start.  I stabbed myself once, even though I held the oysters in a towel, drawing a fair bit of blood but not needing stitches or medical attention.  I now wear a glove and continue to hold the oysters in a towel.  I carry my scar proudly.  The Oysters Rockefeller came out well enough, but I was disappointed again by the small size of the fines de claires oysters.  I also resolved that generally, oysters should be eaten raw, not baked.

Yesterday, after my cafe visit, I went to the French seafood store upstairs at the Kleinmarkthalle and ordered six of their most expensive oysters to take home.  The bill was EUR 15.00, less than my schnitzel meal would have been.  These were "Pousse en Claire" oysters at EUR 2.50 a piece.  Pousse en Claire oysters grow entirely in the refinement basins in Marennes-Oléron, on the Atlantic Coast northwest of Bordeaux.  They turned out to be quite large.  It took me several bites to get the oysters reduced to the point at which swallowing was comfortable.  They had the same fresh crunch of the Perles Blanches that we had in Paris, but the juice and taste were hardly saline at all.  Frau Bloggerboy really liked them.  I had one of mine with lemon juice and the other two with a mild, green jalapeno hot sauce in honor of my southern upbringing.  The next time, I will drop down one notch on the price scale and get the Speciales en Claires, also from Marennes-Oléron, which, similarly to the Perles Blanches, are grown in the ocean and then refined in refinement basins before shipping.  I'm hoping for a bit more salinity but with oyster size similar at least to the Perles Blanches that we had in Paris.  That would be perfect.

To wash down our oysters we had a bottle of Chablis 1er Cru, a 2006 Montée de Tonnerre from Jean-Marc Brocard.  Chablis is the quintessential wine for oysters.  This wine was pretty good, if a tad past its prime.  The appetizer, together with a salad, turned out to be our evening meal.  I was full.  (OK, I had a bag of microwave popcorn later that evening to go with the film that we rented, long after the fine taste of the oysters had vanished.)  If you don't mind the extra work in the kitchen, your money goes a lot further with the fresh oysters and good wine from the market.  The Chablis also does not cost more than EUR 15 a bottle.  In a restaurant we would have spent EUR 35 to EUR 50 for the same bottle. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A luscious, opulent, ripe fruit

In her Prime

Camille Paglia says it all:  "Elizabeth Taylor has been a colossal pagan goddess to me since I was 11 or 12. I was so lucky to have seen her at her height. And my sensibility as a culture critic and as a feminist was deeply formed by her. In the U.S. in the 1950s, blondes were the ultimate Aryan ideal. Perky blondes like Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee ruled the roost! And then there was Elizabeth Taylor with that gorgeous, brunette, ethnic look. She looked Jewish, Italian, Spanish, even Moorish! She was truly transcultural -- it was a radical resistance to the dominance of the blond sorority queens and cheerleaders. And then her open sexuality in that puritanical period! It was so daring."

Foto:  Wiki Commons