Sunday, February 21, 2016

Oysters with Beer Mignonette

A mignonette is, by definition (assuming that one could define a mignonette), is a sauce consisting of three ingredients.  Those three ingredients are shallots, cracked black pepper and vinegar.  This definition is very basic; and, it is good.  Not excellent.  Not even very memorable.  Just good.  

The goodness of a mignonette may be the reason why many exercise their creativity to add ingredients to those three basic flavors.  I've done my part in the past.  I've made a Balsamic Mignonette, a Peach-Champagne Mignonette, and even a Mango-Habanero Mignonette.  Each effort was an attempt to add a couple of ingredients to the sauce.  The goal was to create flavors that would make a mignonette something memorable.  Sometimes, I succeeded.  Many times, I failed.  

My latest effort was to try something completely different.  If one were to add a liquid to a mignonette, it is usually a sparkling wine, like Champage, Cava or Prosecco.  If one could use wine in a mignonette, why could not someone use a beer.  I had a relatively light and tasty beer in the fridge -- New Belgium's Shift Pale Lager -- that could work.  As for the vinegar, I went with a sherry vinegar.  It was a tip of the hat to the fact that beers are often aged in barrels, including sherry casks.  The end result was a good effort at trying something new.  It could use a little refinement, but definitely a good start.

I can't end a mignonette recipe without talking about the oysters.  I used Choptank Oysters for this recipe.  Choptank Oysters are cultivated and harvested from the Choptank river, a Maryland river on the Eastern Shore that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.  The farming of these oysters represent one of many efforts to use sustainable methods of aqua-farming to restore this iconic shellfish to the Bay.  That is one reason why I bought them for this dish.

The other reason is the flavor of these oysters.  Choptank Oysters are sweet oysters.  The sweetness is most likely due to the fact that the Choptank river has only a moderate salinity.  A lower salinity means a oyster that is not very briny or salty. When it comes to a mignonette, the sweetness provides a great tableau for a mignonette.  The challenge is not to overwhelm that sweetness with other flavors.  While Choptank Oysters worked well with this recipe, any oyster will work as long as it is fresh.  

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

12 dozen Choptank oysters, shucked
1/2 cup of beer (preferably pilsner or lager)
1 teaspoon of pink peppercorns
1/2 shallot, minced
Sherry vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Pour the beer in a cup and let sit for 20 minutes to reduce carbonation.  Combine the shallots and peppercorns in a small bowl.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the beer and let the shallots sit in the beer for about 20 minutes.  Add a few dashes of sherry vinegar.  Stir well and pour into a ramekin.  Serve alongside the oysters.