The Best Ingredient for Enjoying Oysters Is Snow
Dive into those oysters like Jacques Cousteau pursuing a narwhal, like Don Draper searching for his soul. Eat them unencumbered by thought. Eat them outside in the snow.
Photograph by David Malosh for 'The Essential Oyster'.
Recently a reporter doing a story about my new book, The Essential Oyster, asked me to name my favorite accompaniment with oysters. I answered instantly and honestly: "Snow." She chuckled for a moment, then stopped when she realized I was serious. I could hear her silent confusion over the phone. I don't know if she'd expected me to say "Muscadet" or "mignonette," but this wasn't it.
So I explained. You know when you're at an oyster bar, I said, and your oysters arrive tucked into a bed of crushed ice that keeps them cold and upright? Well, think about how sweet that would be with snow! It's like floating the shells in icy cotton candy.
She sounded unconvinced and asked if I did that a lot. Yes, I said, all the time. In fact, if I don't have snow for my oysters, I feel like something's missing and I wonder if it's even worth doing. You see, I live in Vermont, which is kind of a sucky state for oysters but is a great one for snow. I get around the "sucky oyster state" thing by having boxes of oysters shipped to my door. (Nota bene: Oysters ship really well; here's a list of reputable suppliers.) But out here in the sticks, shaved ice is hard to come by, so at a New Year's Eve party I was hosting a few years back, I paused mid-shuck, casting about for some substrate to keep my halfshells level, when I suddenly glanced outside at the wonderful piles of fluffy white frozenness. The world was my icepack! I raced outside, mounded snow onto my platters (if you do it just write you can actually do tiers of oysters), and I've been using snow ever since.
Dept. of Serendipity: If you handed me a calendar and asked me to point to a date when oysters are at their peak, I'd point to...like...right...now. As in, December. Thanksgiving to New Year's, if you want to be generous. Oysters are highly seasonal, and we are right in that sweet spot where they are fucking insane. This is true for virtually all oysters, from Galveston to Gaul. France, which produces 100,000 tons of oysters per year (seven times that of the US), scarfs half of them (one kilo for every homme, femme, and enfant) during the Christmas holidays alone. They know that when water temperatures plunge, oysters prepare for winter hibernation like little bears, gorging themselves on plankton until they are roly-poly balls of buttery love. By late winter, they'll have burned off a lot of that love... so why wait?
December is stony bliss. Natty shells on a crisp field of nothingness. Oysters so cold they crinkle. And something deliciously alien in your glass.
I eat oysters year-round, but December is stony bliss. The aesthetics are awesome. Natty shells on a crisp field of nothingness. Oysters so cold they crinkle. And something deliciously alien in your glass. Here's a Midwinter haiku:
Around five o'clock
Fine ice crystals coalesce
In my martini.
That's the spirit you're looking for. It's December, it's cold, you're drinking like a fish anyway, so don't fight it. Embrace the cold, the aqueous, the mineral. Be the fish. Dive into those oysters and that gin-clear coupe like Jacques Cousteau pursuing a narwhal, like Don Draper searching for his soul. Eat them unencumbered by thought. Eat them outside, lined up through the woods like morse code, bare trees swaying. Eat them because it's snowing and it is going to snow and it's evening all afternoon. Eat them as the light fades and a stony sangfroid settles in your belly, because this is how it has always been under the sea on a long winter's night.
This article first appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2016.