Tuesday, February 24, 2009
For pedagogical reasons, I have been invited to prepare an English meal for about 100 people, in France. After much consideration I decided, before the usual second course of English cheeses, sweet wholemeal biscuits, celery and port, to prepare oysters in bacon with puréed potatoes.
It's a fundamentally simple dish when prepared for 4 or 5 people but quantitative expansion brings qualitative problems.
Oysters are removed from their shells, they and their liquor separated and kept to one side. The oysters will be wrapped in bacon, fixed with a toothpick…
…flash-grilled and served on a small mountain of purée, made with the oysters' liquor: mashed potatoes that taste of the sea. The bacon is crispy, but the oyster it protects is merely lukewarm.
Fortunately, a nearby restaurant is lending me its kitchen for three hours, and a team of twelve people will open the many, many oysters. Had the restaurant not offered this help, the enrobed oysters would have been cooked using a welding torch or small flame-thrower.
I have been conducting experiments at home, in the kitchen above, as to the mash, and it is these that I wanted to share with you, since it is not at all obvious what sort of purée should be used with oysters on the one hand and smoked bacon on the other.
Even to open my own dozen oysters provide a problem. I had no oyster knife, and Berliners are strangers to good sea food, so none were in the shops. I had to use, variously, a pair of scissors, an ordinary knife and a spoon. This worked, though the juices had to be sieved to remove bits of shell.
Then: there is no decent bacon in Berlin. Not under that name anyway. There is so-called "breakfast bacon" in the shops, but it is a thin, tasteless, miserable product, pumped up with water which oozes out as you try to fry it. However, there is the excellent smoked belly of pork called Speck, and this, in its lean version, is just like good old British smokey bacon.
So the oysters were opened, and their liquor kept in a wine glass…
…a large amount of potatoes was boiled, creamed with butter, salt, pepper and the oyster juices and kept warm whilst different flavours were added to 4 different parts of it, leaving one in its "original" condition.
I decided to try Parmesan cheese, caramelised onions, smoked chili and garlic, and French Provençale mustard, endeavouring to keep the different additives apart.
Most were disgusting. But the caramelised onions went best with the purée de pommes de terre aux huîtres, and it is that combination, served in industrial quantities, that will grease the lips of the terrified French.