Consider the oyster. That food writer extraordinaire M.F.K. Fisher devoted a book of this title to bivalve mollusks speaks to their undying appeal. Published in 1941, the book, full of Fisher’s wit, wisdom, and recipes, devotes an entire chapter to oysters’ reputation as an aphrodisiac. An astounding number of men, she says, “can tell of countless chaps whose powers have been increased nigh unto the billy goat’s, simply from eating raw cold oysters.”
Alas, she continues, such claims are “fond but false hopes.” Nonetheless, oysters’ sensual appeal cannot be denied. Tipping the pearly shell of a perfectly fresh, sea-plucked oyster to one’s lips to slip the chilled contents down the hatch, has been a special kind of ambrosia for thousands of years.
Eaten fresh, raw oysters need little adornment. Aphrodisiac or not, we’ve paired them with a Valentine’s pinking of frozen mignonette granita—a simple shaved ice made with a little red wine vinegar, peppercorns, salt, and a pinch of sugar.
For health safety, be sure to purchase oysters very fresh from a reliable source, looking for intact shells and no suspicious odors. Keep the oysters very cold and consume them within a day or two of purchase. When shucking, use clean tools and dedicated cutting boards not shared by other ready-to-eat foods.
• 10 fresh oysters in the shell
• 5 peppercorns
• 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 shallot, peel discarded, minced OR 1/2 small white onion, peeled and minced
• Pinch of sugar
Using a heavy knife or mortar and pestle, crush peppercorns to break skins. In a small cooking pot over medium heat, combine vinegar with minced shallot, peppercorns, salt, and sugar. Heat to boiling and simmer for 1 minute. Remove mixture from heat. Cool. Once room temperature, pour ingredients through a fine-mesh-strainer into a freezer safe container. Discard solids. Place container in freezer for one hour. Using the blade of a knife or tines of a fork, scrape the surface of the frozen mixture to make shavings. Return container to freezer and repeat the shaving process until you have a mound of frozen mignonette granita. Keep frozen while you shuck oysters. Using a clean kitchen towel, place oyster on clean surface. Fold towel partially over oyster, pressing down firmly with your left hand. With your right hand and an oyster shucking tool, pierce into the joint at the back of the mollusk and twist to pry open shell. Place the 1/2 oyster shell containing the oyster on a serving platter filled with crushed ice. Repeat with remaining oysters. Spoon a mound of the frozen mignonette onto each oyster. Sprinkle platter with fresh thyme. Serve.