Oyster tartar in an oyster water aspic on a bed of blanched scallion, bottarga chips and squid ink tile
I have been loving oysters since, as a child I spent my summer vacations in Arcachon (South of Bordeaux) first, then in the Oléron island (North of Bordeaux), the most famous spots for oyster farming in France. In France, my only way to eat oysters was raw, with just a few drops of lemon, bread and butter, and a glass of Muscadet or Entre-deux-Mers... if not directly on the rocks for those wild oysters I used to forage at low tide (this is now rightly forbidden to avoid the destruction of those foreshore areas). With this background, I was disappointed by the American oysters that I found less tasty, less iodine-flavored and less salty, as if they are abundantly rinsed in fresh water (that might be the case). So, something unimaginable for me till then, I started to “cook” oysters, such as those oysters gratinéed with sabayon of Loire crémant rosé ot those oysters in their water aspic with watercress. Well, not really and not always to cook them, like this tartar here, but at least to prepare them in a more sophisticated way. That said, don’t misunderstand me, I am absolutely not ready for the Rockefeller oysters… Oysters do not deserve this!
For this original and delicious recipe, I borrowed ideas from different recipes:
Levels of difficulty
§ 12 oysters (here Atlantic Wellfleet)
§ 1 bunch of fresh scallions, thinly chopped including at least 50% of the green parts
§ 30 g of coarse sea salt
§ ¼ cup of AP flour
§ ¼ cup of neutral oil (grape, canola…)
§ 1/8 cup of squid ink
§ ¼ cup of dry white wine
§ ½ lemon juice
§ 2 pinches of agar agar
§ ½ sheet of gold gelatin, previously soaked for 5 minutes in cold water
§ 15/20 g of bottarga, cut in small chips
§ 1 lime (only for its rind)
§ Pepper or piment d’Espelette
1. First thing to do is to recuperate the oyster water. To optimize the quantity of water (it will be used for the oyster tartar and for the squid ink tile) obtained from a dozen of oysters (for 2 servings), make sure to shuck the oysters above a dish, without a towel, in order not to lose any single drop of this iodine-flavored elixir during the opening phase. Recuperate the water inside the oysters and rinse them in salted water (30g of coarse sea salt to replicate the natural sea water salinity), and let the oysters rest half an hour during which they regenerated water. Strain the water to eliminate some possible pieces of shell and let the water rest 5 minutes so that the traces of dirt, sand or mud fall on the bottom. Thus, you may be able to recuperate around 5/8 cup of precious oyster water.
2. To make the squid ink tiles, mix the flour, the oil, around 50% of your oyster water and the squid ink together, to obtain a liquid with a texture similar to that of a crêpe batter. Cook the tile exactly like you would do with small crêpes, spreading a little quantity of batter in a slightly oiled and medium hot crepe skillet. It's just a bit longer than normal crepes, the time for the water to evaporate and for the tiles to cure. Remove delicately the cured tile with a spatula and reserve them on paper towels.
3. Blanch the chopped scallions in boiling water, cool them down in iced water, strain and pat them dry.
4. Chop the oysters roughly, i.e. 2 or 3 pieces maximum per oyster (medium size), as you want to keep texture.
5. Pour the remaining 50% of the oyster water and the wine in a saucepan, add the agar agar, mix the whole vigorously, and put to boiling. Let boil for 30 seconds, put out of the burner, and let cool down briefly before adding the gelatin and mixing it. Let cool down. If the liquid starts to cure before you are ready, you can always put it back briefly on the burner (but no boiling as the gelatin would lose its capacities).
6. Place the scallions in a ring, add the chopped oysters, season with pepper or Espelette (don’t salt as the oyster, the oyster water and the squid ink are salty), and pour slowly the curing liquid to cement the wall. You can place a weight (plate…) on the ring to keep the liquid inside the ring.
7. Place the bottarga chips around the tartar… or as you feel it, stud 1 or 2 big segments of tile in the tartar, and spread some trims all around the plate
8. To savor with a glass of Muscadet