Eric Akis: Entertaining on the half shell

Sparkling wine adds zest to oysters served up two ways during the festive season: one raw, one baked

Eric Akis

Oysters and Champagne, or other fine sparkling wines, have long been served at special occasions such as Christmas or New Year’s Eve.

The wine’s refreshing bubbles and mineral tastes marry splendidly with briny oysters, and enjoying the two together always feels decadent and celebratory, because it is.

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Beyond sipping that wine while enjoying oysters, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that you can also flavour them with it. And I’ve done that in both of today’s recipes.

One sees chilled, shucked, raw oysters left on the half shell and served with mignonette sauce. The latter is a classic, French-style, tangy condiment for oysters that’s usually made with wine vinegar, minced shallots and cracked black pepper.

There are variations on how it’s made and my twist was to mix in sparkling wine and chopped tarragon. Both further brightened the taste of the mignonette sauce and the oysters it was spooned on.

My second recipe incorporates sparkling wine into a creamy shrimp sauce that I spooned over oysters in the half shell. The oysters were then topped with a bit of Parmesan cheese and panko and baked until light golden, piping hot and delicious.

You’ll find in-the-shell oysters for sale at seafood stores and some supermarkets. When testing my raw oyster recipe, I used a small B.C. oyster called “Sea Angel” that I purchased in Victoria at Finest at Sea, 27 Erie St.

For my baked-oyster recipe, I used small to medium-sized P.E.I. malpeque oysters, which I bought at the Market on Yates, 903 Yates St. But any small oyster will work in either recipe, both of which can be expanded.

When buying oysters, opt for those that have damage-free hard shells that tightly close. I usually buy a few more oysters than I need, just in case I mess up when shucking some of them. If you need to store oysters a day or two, remove them from the store packaging.

Set oysters cupped-side-down in a sided container, top with a damp kitchen towel and keep refrigerated until ready to shuck.

Oysters with Sparkling Wine Mignonette Sauce

Raw oysters topped with a tangy sauce spiked with bubbly wine.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: 4 to 6 appetizer servings (4 to 6 small oysters each)

1/3 cup white wine or Champagne vinegar (see Note)

4 tsp brut sparkling wine

1 1/2 Tbsp finely chopped shallots

1 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon

• coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

24 well-chilled, small, shucked oysters, left on the half

• crushed ice

• lemon slices and small tarragon sprigs, for garnish (optional)

Place vinegar, sparkling wine, shallots, tarragon and pepper in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate this mignonette until ready to serve. It can be made hours before needed.

Spread some crushed ice on a serving platter. Set the oysters, shucked-side-up, on top of the ice. Garnish with lemon slices and tarragon sprigs, if using. Serve the oysters with the mignonette, for spooning on top of them.

Note: Champagne vinegar is not widely sold in Greater Victoria, but I’ve seen it for sale at Ottavio Italian Bakery and Delicatessen, 2272 Oak Bay Ave., and Deep Cove Market, 10940 W. Saanich Rd.

Baked Oysters with Shrimp, Sparkling Wine and Cream

Oysters, shucked, topped and baked with a sumptuous shrimp mixture, rich with sparkling wine. Serve the oysters as an appetizer, or make a meal by serving them with crusty bread and a salad, or with rice pilaf and steamed asparagus.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Makes: Six to eight appetizer servings (three to four oysters each), or three to four main-course servings (six to eight oysters each)

1/2 cup brut sparkling wine

1 tsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp finely chopped shallot

1 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon

1 cup whipping cream

• white pepper, to taste

175 grams small cooked shrimp, patted dry, then chopped into small pieces

24 small to medium, shucked oysters, left on the half shell

3 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the dried powder type)

3 Tbsp panko (see Note)

• coarse salt (optional)

• lemon slices and small tarragon sprigs, for garnish (optional)

Place wine, garlic, shallots and tarragon in a small pot and set over medium to medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the wine to about 2 Tbsp. Pour in the cream, bring to a simmer and simmer until it thickens slightly, about two to three minutes. Remove pot from heat, then stir in the shrimp and pepper (the oysters, cheese and shrimp will add a salty taste).

Preheat oven to 425 F. If desired, to help the oysters sit level, spread 1/4 inch or so of coarse salt on a large baking sheet or roasting pan. Set the oysters, shucked-side-up, in the pan, nestling them into the salt, if you use it. Divide and mound some of the creamy shrimp mixture on each oyster.

Sprinkle each oyster with Parmesan cheese and panko. Bake oysters 12 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Garnish with lemon slices and tarragon sprigs, if using, then serve.

Note: Panko are coarse Japanese-style breadcrumbs sold at most supermarkets.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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