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One French word: fruits de mer, a French recipe: huîtres gratinées à la crème et aux épinards


  • Fruits de mer = seafood (literally fruits of the sea), pronounced froo-ee de mayr (you don’t say the -ts in fruits)

Masculine plural noun : les fruits de mer (un fruit, le fruit)

Christmas plateau, 2010

Plateau de fruits de mer

I live by the sea and seafood is very important and abundant here. There are oyster beds all around the coastline. Le Guilvinec, a fishing port just south of me, is the major langoustine port in France, langoustines being in Italian a scampi, in Ireland  Dublin bay prawn, in other words a tiny lobster the size of a large prawn (you can see a couple, pale pink, at about 7 o’clock on the above seafood platter). Delicate and delicious, when not overcooked, with home made mayonnaise. Breton lobsters are famously excellent and here we say they are better than any others. At low tide you can prod around for all sorts of shellfish: palourdes (a small clam), coques (cockles), tellines (don’t know what these are in English but here is a photo of a dish I did last summer after gathering them myself). Winkles, whelks, small grey shrimp, larger pink shrimp, crab, you name it, we have it all here.

Tellines

Tellines à l’ail et au persil

Restaurants serve sumptuous seafood platters that, with a bottle of chilled white wine, offer a unique eating experience which can last an hour or more. I’m passionate about seafood as you can see.

Today, my recipe is for huîtres gratinées à la crème et aux épinards (oysters grilled with cream and spinach) which I had for my supper a couple of nights ago.

Grilled oysters

Huîtres gratinées à la crème et aux épinards

You will need per person:

  • 6 medium sized oysters if you are doing a starter, 12 medium sized oysters for a main course.
  • A large bag of baby spinach leaves
  • A pot of thick cream
  • 1kg of coarse sea salt
  • Grated gruyère cheese (be careful of the quality of your cheese, don’t use any old thing, it will spoil the flavour of your dish completely)
  • Salt, freshly ground pepper
  • Brown bread and salted butter

 

Preparation:

  1. Open the oysters, detach from the shell, pour the water off into one bowl, drop the oyster into a second bowl. Keep the bottom half of the shell. (NOTE: if opening oysters really bugs you, or if you don’t know how to do it, pop them whole on a foil and salt covered baking tray into a very hot oven for about 5-10 minutes; they’ll open up by themselves. But don’t leave them too long or the sea water will dry out and you’ll end up with frazzled little bits of leather. Take them out of the oven, and taking care not to scald yourself, pour the water into one bowl and remove the oyster to the other bowl. Oysters just opened in the oven like this and eaten as such poached in sea water are an excellent simple dish.)
  2. Wash the spinach (épinards) and remove tough stems. Shake off excess water, put into a saucepan over high heat with a very little salt, cover, cook for a minute or two; drain well, squeezing out all the moisture.
  3. Open your bottle of white wine and have a glass (un verre) while you are preparing the oysters.
  4. Strain the oyster water (and any more they will have made while waiting) into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Poach the oysters for thirty seconds once the water has come back to the simmer. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon.
  5. Turn your oven (le four) on to the grill position (i.e. very hot).
  6. Place a sheet of aluminium foil on a baking sheet and spread 1kg of coarse sea salt in a thick layer. Settle the half oyster shells into the salt so that they do not tip or move during cooking. In each half shell put some spinach, an oyster, cover with a teaspoonful of cream. Add freshly ground pepper. Top with a teaspoonful of grated cheese (fromage rapé).
  7. Pop under the grill for as long as it takes to brown the cheese. It should be golden, not burnt, so don’t answer the phone at this stage.
  8. Transfer the shells, which will be very hot, to individual plates or simply help yourselves from the salt covered tray.
  9. Enjoy with brown bread and butter and another glass of white wine.

The salt can be kept and reused just as salt.

If you don’t like the idea of oysters or have never eaten one, this is a very good way to reconcile yourself to them, or to start trying them. Cooked oysters are firm and taste of the sea, they are not alive so you don’t have to worry about that, and these mouthfuls are so delicious that you are really depriving yourself if you don’t have a go.

Bon appétit.

Another word about vocabulary:

There are two interesting words in the text above to which I should like to draw your attention. The first is épinards. Very often, in English, the initial é of a word has been changed to an s (épinards=spinach, épine=spine for instance). It doesn’t always work but may help in guessing the meaning. The second is huître. The circumflex (little hat) over the i usually denotes a lost s (huître=oyster, château=castle, épître=epistle, écarlate=scarlet). Take your dictionary and see if you can find any more.

About OneFrenchWord

I was a professional linguist and have been a life-long foodie. I am now lucky enough to be retired and free to roam the beaches around my home at the tip of the Finistère (Brittany, France). Writing is occupying a larger place in my life, with this blog and a children's book in preparation. I shall feel much happier calling myself a writer when I have published a book. And so posts on OneFrenchWord will be published first as an e-book, my ambition being to see a glossy volume on French language and cuisine in print some day. So keep reading, and snap up the book when it appears!

4 responses »

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your detailed description of how to cook this dish. Much better than most cookbooks. They often leave out essential facts like “it should be golden, not burnt so don’t answer the phone at this stage” — a great way to start my day!!!

    Reply
  2. As fresh oysters are always in short supply, horribly expensive and not very good quality in Minnesota, I have decided to forego the huîtres and will compensate with deux verre.
    À votre santé!

    Reply
    • I am so lucky to live by the sea (by design, I opted to retire up here), but even here, oysters have tripled the last four years. When I arrived you could buy small oysters for under 3€ a dozen (4$). Now they are 8€. It is due to climate change, warming, and a disease that is attacking baby oysters.
      I’m going on to more “ordinary” things tomorrow.
      In the mean time, yours is a good solution, just to double the number of glasses of wine! and imagining you have a few oysters to go with it! Oops, am I going to get in trouble with the no alcohol brigade again?

      Reply

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