Saturday, January 5, 2013

Huitres. Oysters. Huitres II: How Fresh Oysters in France are Sold by Weight

 from
Behind the French Menu
by
Bryan G, Newman


  
An oyster celebration in Brittany accompanied by sparkling Brittany cider.
Photograph courtesy of the Baie de Morlaix Tourisme
        
When walking into a seafood restaurant with oysters in mind a French diner's foremost concern is certainly not the quantity.  For oyster lovers the type of oyster, its edible weight along with its origins and the length of time and the way the oyster is fattened are much more important than quantity. For taste an oyster is very much what it eats.


Fortunately French law and practice requires fresh oysters to be offered by weight, a practice, that is rarely, if ever, seen outside of France.  Frenchmen and women consume more oysters per capita than any other country, and so they know that the weight will affect their wallets.
   
   
A view from a oyster farm in the bay of Canacle, Brittany.
Photograph by courtesy of gelinh,
   
For many of the famous oyster names along with the grades that reflect the method and time given to them see my post: Ordering, Eating, and Enjoying Oysters in France I.
  
  
This post includes France’s two separate oyster weight tables; the first is for the smooth shelled huître plates, also called the huître vert, the European oyster: (German – auster), (Italian - ostrica), (Spanish – ostra, ostión).
          

    
   
Six European oysters
Photograph courtesy of Ulterior Epicure    
        
The second table is for the crinkly shelled huître creuse, the Japanese oyster, sometimes called the Pacific oyster: (German - Pazifische auster), (Italian - ostrica concave, Giapponese), (Spanish -ostión Japonés).
     
                              
    
Bouzigue Japanese Oysters
Photograph courtesy of  linniekin
   
With the weights noted on all the menus offering fresh oysters, a diner will not be served a dozen extremely small oysters unless he or she ordered them. Importantly, unlike other food classifications the grades for oyster weights are not set in stone, they are adjusted every few years in accordance with the actual changes in farmed sizes.
   
   
Oysters from a farm in Marennes-Oléron stored under water, they will be collected later in the day for distribution.
Photograph courtesy of jacqueline.poggi.
                     
Tableau classification des Huîtres Plates.
The weight table for the smooth shelled European Oyster.
            
The weight list for the European oyster is divided into two parts. The first part includes the oysters seen in most seafood restaurants or at the fishmongers, the second part includes very large oysters that are on far fewer menus:
   

Number 5.
Net weight 30 -45 grams.  These are smallest oysters sold, however, when they come from a famous growing area they will be called papillons, butterflies and then they will be on seafood restaurant menus.  Oysters sold as papillons lay claim to intense tastes while oysters of a similar size but with less unique histories are only sold for home consumption.
    
Number 4.
         Net weight 46 -55. On the menu in small restaurants.
    
Number 3.
Net weight 56 -65 grams.  The smallest size offered in most seafood restaurants.
   
Number 2.
Net weight 66-75 gram. This size along with size 3 will be in offered in most seafood restaurants.
   
Number 1.
Net weight 76 grams. The largest size offered in most seafood restaurant, and they will not be inexpensive.
     
The two menu listings below show how in a very few words oyster offerings give the cognoscenti a detailed explanation of the joys that await the them:
     
6 Plates de Belon N°2 Cadoret 6 Plates, European oysters, from Belon in Bretagne, Brittany with Cadoret  being one of the most highly rated oyster farms among the many in the area. The size 2 indicates net weight per oyster in the list above; oysters are one of the most easily digested foods and this will be a portion of 400 grams and considered an entrée, an appetizer.. When enjoying oysters in Brittany there is no need order Champagne or a Chablis or Muscadet white wine, though if ordered any of those wines will do their part extremely well. Consider trying Brittany’s oysters with one of the finest ciders in France a sparkling, brut, dry, Bretagne Bouche AOC cider which will come in a Champagne style bottle. See my post: The Magnificent Ciders of France, all the French you Need to Know.
     
6 Huîtres Plates de Zélande No 2 - 6 European oysters from Zeland in Belgium.  An oyster’s origin affects its taste and many French seafood restaurants reach outside France, and offer oysters from England, Ireland, Spain, Belgium and elsewhere to satisfy their oysters lover’s demands for different tastes. Apart from oysters from other countries many menus offer tasting platters containing France’s two types of oysters in different sizes from different parts of France.  Enjoy!  
   
An oyster farm shack selling their produce, 
Photograph by courtesy of Lezzles
        
   The second part of  the weight classification table for the largest and most expensive Huîtres Plate, the European Oysters.
    
Number 0.
Net weight 86 – 95 grams. A platter of 6 of these is over 500 grams 1.1lbs.
        
Number 00.
Net weight 96 to 105 grams. This size is used to impress, for example, at an official banquet for visiting Presidents.
      
Number 000.
Net weight 106 – 125 grams. These oysters make it to only a few menus, and when they do they are usually sold by the piece.
        
Number 0000.
Net weight over 126 grams each. This is the last number on this list; however, I think that is all there is to it. I have never seen these heavy weights on a menu,
        
Huître Plate  N° 000 de la Baie de Cancale - La pièce.  These large European oysters come from the Bay of Canacle, a bay that is itself within the Bay of Mont Saint Michel that is set across the border of Normandy and Brittany. The many large size oysters grown in the farms of the Bay of Canacle are put down to its unusually high tides.  These tides bring in large amounts of plankton upon which the oysters feed, and also expose the growing oysters to the sun every day.  These oysters will have been raised for 3 to 4 years and weigh approximately 110 grams, 4 ounces, each;  so it will  not be surprising that they are sold by the piece. For more about Mont Saint Michel and the other unique molluscs that are farmed there see my post: Ordering mussels in France.
           
C'est une huître à chair ferme , qui nécessite 3 à 4 années d'élevage, qui se ma
Tableau classification de Huître Creuse Japonais.
The weight table for the crinkly shelled Japanese Oysters:
    
The sizes of the Huître Creuse Japonais, the Japanese  oyster, were originally indicated by names along with letters and numbers that described their size.  For clarity that has now been converted to a numbered list using the numbers 0 through 5 in a similar manner to the format use for the European oyster:
   
Number 5:
Unshelled weight: 30 -45 grams; available at the fish monger's for home consumption.
     
Number  4:
Unshelled weight: 46 - 65 grams; the smallest size seen on most sea food restaurant menus
    
         Number 3 :
Unshelled weight: 66 -85 ; the most popular size seen on most seafood restaurant menus.
     
Number 2:
Unshelled weight: 86 - 110 grams.
      
Number 1:
Unshelled weight: 111 - 149 grams.
   
Number: 0
Unshelled weight: Over 150 grams. These oyster giants may well exist, though I have yet to see a restaurant where they were on the menu.
    
 A menu offering the Japanese oysters may read:
    
6 Huîtres Creuses Fine Claire No 2 Marennes-Oléron -  The crinkly shelled Japanese oysters. The words fine claire indicates that the oysters were fattened for at least one month and the size 2 Japanese oysters have a net weight of 86 – 110 grams each; the serving offered here is about 600 grams, 1.2lbs. The oysters noted above come from the highly rated Marennes-Oléron fattening grounds in the region of Poitou-Charente
   
6 Huîtres Creuses N°3 – 6  Japanese oysters weighing 66 -85 grams each; a portion will be about 450 grams, 16 ounces. The oysters noted here are sold without their origin being noted on the menu; to me that indicates they are quite possibility Bouzigue oysters from the Mediterranean.  The Bouzigues are much appreciated in the South of France, but traditional North South French rivalries often keeps their origin off the menus  when they are served in the North of France.
   
A French Christmas celebration in Brittany,
oysters and crabs fill the table.
Photograph by courtesy of Margot Mood
       
For the enjoyment of their customers many seafood restaurants offer a tasting platters that include both types of French oysters with different sizes, growing area and fattening times:
    
Le Plateau des Abers: 3 creuses fines n°3, 3 creuses spéciales n°2, 3 plates n°4, 3 plates n°2. - A platter of oysters from the area of Aber in Bretagne: 3 Japanese oysters, size 3, each weighing 66-85 grams, the qualification fine is the lowest fattening grade; 3 Japanese oysters, size 2, each weighing 86 - 110 grams,  the qualification spéciale indicates the second fattening grade; 3 European Oysters size 4, each weighing 46-55 grams, these are the smallest size European oysters seen in a restaurant; 3 European oysters, size 2, each weighing 66 -75 grams.
    
Some menus offer seafood platters that include a variety of oysters:
   
2 Spéciales “ Tarbouriech ” n°2, 2 Spéciales “ Gillardeau ” n°3, 2 Huîtres Fines “ P.M Barrau ” n°2, 1 langoustine, 2 grosses crevettes roses, palourdes, clam, crevettes grises, bigorneaux - 2 Tarbouriech oysters from the unique oyster farm owned by Florent Tarbouriech and located in the Etang lagoon on the Mediterranean coast near the fishing port of Sète.  These oysters are raised above the water almost daily thereby mimicking the tides which are considered a decisive factor in the taste of Atlantic oysters. In the Mediterranean tides are practically illusory. Florent Tarbouriech patented his system using solar panels to power the motors that raise the oysters. The classification spéciales indicates oysters of the second fattening rating; 2  Spéciale Gillardeau oysters, the Gillardeau  oysters come from the family owned Gillardeau oyster farm that has been farming oysters in the famous fattening grounds of Marennes-Oléron for over 100 years;  2  Fine P.M. Barrau oysters come from the family farm of Barrau and like the Gillardeau oyster farm are based in the Marennes-Oléron  fattening grounds. This platter also comes with 1 Dublin Bay Prawn, the crustacean that is the real scampi; 2 large pink shrimps; French clams; one Cherry Stone clam; sand shrimps and winkles.
        
For more on one of the popular clams on French seafood menus see my post: The Amande de Mer, the Sea Almond.
  
For more about the shrimps and prawns see my post: Shrimps and Prawns among the Crustaceans on Your French Menu.
    
What is left when the party is over.
Photograph courtesy of Epaul.
     
Bryan G. Newman
    
Behind the French Menu.
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