Marco Pierre White overthrows the lobster in a dish named after the 11th month of the French Revolutionary Calendar.
Marco Pierre White: Rock oyster thermidor
I'm going revolutionary this weekend. Not only am I picking a dish named after the 11th month of the French Revolutionary Calendar, but I am transforming it. Instead of the classic lobster thermidor it's oyster thermidor.
Thermidor, which comes from the Greek word thermos, meaning heat, was the second month of the summer quarter, starting July 19 or 20 and ending August 17 or 18 during the 12 years the calendar was used by the French government from 1793 to 1805. Some say the dish lobster thermidor was named by Napoleon, but a more accepted theory is that it was created in 1894 at Marie's, a restaurant close to the Comédie-Française, which was staging a play called Thermidor.
So why have I gone for oysters here and not lobster? First because I love oysters. They are like kissing the sea. I know a lot of people, especially women, find the idea of eating oysters repulsive. Jonathan Swift said: "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster," and I agree. Who on earth first checked out an oyster and thought it would be a good idea to swallow it whole? The thought of eating that live slimy thing just doesn't appeal to most people. Of course in my recipe here, it will be a dead slimy thing.
In the 19th century, oysters were cheap and mainly eaten by the working classes. But their ever-increasing popularity has made them scarce, causing prices to rise dramatically and elevating the oyster to an expensive delicacy. Maybe it had something to do with the mystery surrounding this strange little seafood, among other things the belief that it is an aphrodisiac.
Aphrodisiac or not, the oyster is one of the most versatile molluscs; you can eat it raw or cooked, deep-fried or in soup, baked, steamed or grilled. In my recipe they are shucked, which just means removed from their shell, but still kept cold (and alive) for as long as possible before cooking.
If all this hasn't helped you to develop a taste for oysters, read that brilliant childhood poem by Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter. And thank heaven you weren't born an oyster... bon appétit and vive la révolution!
Make it yourself
24 rock oysters, shucked
Reserved oyster liquid
100ml non-alcoholic white wine
200ml whipping cream
2 tbsp English mustard powder
200ml hollandaise sauce
150ml whipping cream, half whipped 3 egg yolks, beaten
75g Gruyère or Emmental cheese, grated
Salt and white pepper to taste
1. Shuck the oysters using an oyster knife. Pour the oyster liquid into a small pot and remove and reserve the oyster meat. Rinse the oyster shells under running water to remove any bits of shell. Preheat broiler.
2. In another pot reduce the wine and whipping cream by half, then whisk in the English mustard. The hotter you like it, the more mustard you add.
3. To finish the sauce fold, one by one, the hollandaise, the next batch of whipping cream and the egg yolks into the reduced mustard cream.
4. Bring the oyster liquid to a simmer and add the oyster meat. Lightly poach the oysters for 45 seconds, then remove.
5. Arrange the shells on a baking tray and add the poached oyster meat to them. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the top and sprinkle with the cheese. Broil a minute or two under a hot grill until the sauce begins to turn golden brown.