Crème de la crème and CrémantThe word gratin in French refers to a cooking technique consisting in applying a strong source of heat on the surface of a dish so that it forms a crust. Hard cheeses (Gruyère, Cheddar, Comté... and also some more questionable origin cheeses) are often used to make gratin due to their melting and grilling properties resulting in those crispy layers on top of pasta or vegetables. But soft cheeses could be used too, as they often bring stronger flavors, such as goat cheeses for instance. That said, it is possible to gratiné a dish without using cheese. This is, for instance, the case of the gratin dauphinois, essentially made of potatoes and milk, and surely not cheese (this would be an heresy) or the quiche lorraine featuring eggs and crème fraîche (but again, no cheese, a crime!)
From the rich crust on top of a dish, the term gratin has gained another meaning, i.e. the best, the top or, to use an expression much more used in English than in French, the crème de la crème... So, cream, milk, cheese... a gratin always (?) seems to induce the use of milk by-products...
However, there is no milk, cream or cheese in those gratinéed oysters... but there is Crémant. Yes, Crémant comes from crème, same etymology, the accent being just inverted for a question of vowel after the "m"... Okay, I will spare you those linguistic considerations that even French people have difficulties to follow... But, as you would rightly tell me, there is no such thing as cream or milk in Crémant wines. And you would continue telling me that Crémant are sparkling wines produced pursuant to the Champenoise method. And you would be right again. Crémant wines, either from Burgundy, Alsace, Loire Valley... are, so to say, cheap Champagne, although a good Crémant is generally better than a bad Champagne. The name Crémant come from the fact that, although they follow the Champenoise method, the process is slightly different and they are less bubbly and/or their bubbles are tiniest, which confers them a creamy texture so to say. So, of course, no cream or milk in the Crémant wines, just a play on words!
To make those oysters:
(for 8 oysters)
- 8 oysters... as would have said Monsieur de la Palice (the inventor of the Lapalissades)
- 2 egg yolks
- the equivalent of 2 tbsp. of Crémant
- salmon roes, green onions or chives
- pepper or piment d'Espelette
- place the oyster in a 170 F oven to simply warm them up (but not to cook them)
Recipe:Preparation of the oysters
- shuck the oysters
- remove the water but keep it preciously in a cup or other container
- if need be, rinse the oyster in a bowl of salted water, similar to sea water (i.e. 35 g of sea salt / liter)
- cut the adductor muscle to detach the oyster from the lower shell
- place the oysters on an oven dish, using some sea salt to stabilize them.
- Mix the two yolks, the two tablespoons of Crémant and the oyster water, and pour the mix in a recipient placed above (and not into) boiling water (aka as bain-marie!). Whip several minutes till reaching the targeted foamy texture. In fact, when you will start to see the bottom of the recipient while whisking, that will be it
- Add the piment d'Espelette and mix it delicately
- Keep it out of the burner (but not too long, otherwise it will dry: if so add the necessary quantity of Crémant or other liquidi, and whisk again till obtaining this foamy texture)
- Instead of bain-marie, you can also "mount" your sabayon in a pan, at low temperature. In this case, the tip to avoid overcooking the sabayon... and calling it an omelette, is to regularly check with your hand the temperature under the pan. You should be able to keep your hand on the bottom. If it is too hot, put the pan out of the burner, the time for it to cool down.
- You can also, and obviously, replace the Crémant by Champagne, Gava, Prosecco, or the dry white wine (a Muscadet for instance) which you will pair your dish with...
- Pour the equivalent of 2 tbsp. of sabayon (depending on the shell sizes) on the oyster so that to cover the whole shell
- Pass the oyster under the broil at 500 F for 2 to 4 minutes; this depends in fact of how you like your oysters, quasi-raw or cooked, and your sabayon, aerial or well gratinéed. I tried both ways, and I personally prefer the shorter time. But I am an unconditional lover of raw oyster, and just eating a warm oyster is a huge deviation from my oyster philosophy (don't tell about Rockefeller oysters!). The pictures attached will give you an idea.
- Place the oysters on each plate, using again some sea salt to stabilize them
- Spread a few salmon roes, or capers, pomegranate seeds... and chopped chives or green onions on top of the sabayon