This Zippy Green Apple and Yuzu Mignonette Makes the Ideal Oyster Topper
How to shuck and what to serve alongside raw oysters at home.
When Chef Luke Venner started out as a cook, one of the first stations he was put on was oysters. “It’s definitely intimidating,” he says. “You’re handed a piece of raw shellfish and a sharp oyster knife. That’s a big hill to climb.”
Though his career has taken him through a European-style apprenticeship, to jobs in Vail and Napa Valley, and roles as executive chef at BLT Fish Shack and BLT Steak in New York City, he’s come full circle and is once again serving oysters at Elm Restaurant in New Canaan, Connecticut.
“Now living so close to the ocean, my infatuation with oysters has really taken off,” he says. “I actually think they’re under-utilized. The first thing you think of is raw oysters on the halfshell. That’s certainly a mainstay on our menu, but we’ve done them broiled with a fennel crust, poached in butter with parsley oil, and on top of steamed halibut with herbs and white wine.”
Part of the fascination with oysters, of course, is just how many different varieties you can explore and how much terroir can influence flavor. Venner says he personally prefers East Coast oysters from “the cold, pristine waters” further up into Maine and Canada.
How to shuck oysters
The type of oyster can also affect how difficult it is to shuck. Venner has found that Beausoleil oysters from New Brunswick and Wellfleet oysters from Massachusetts are incredibly consistent and easy to work with.
“If you get really tiny ones, often you have to be a lot more delicate,” he explains. “Some of the Japanese varieties are oddly shaped or some East Coast ones have elongated shells, which tend to be brittle. Varieties that we find are the most resilient are medium oysters with a deep cup, sturdy shell, and good amount of surface area.”
As for technique, he advises to start with a stable, clean work area. Then, trifold a kitchen towel so it acts almost like an envelope, placing the oyster cup size down inside. Next, find the hinge where the bivalve connects and that’s where you want to insert your oyster knife.
“The mistake people make is to stab or cut the area,” he says. “But you can really hurt yourself if the knife slips or you can go right through the hinge and bludgeon the belly of the oyster. It’s more a twist of the wrist and, once you establish contact, gently twist and you’ll hear what sounds like a door lock opening.”
At that point, the oyster is open, so you take your knife around the edge to the widest part of the shell to loosen it—and the flat, top shell can be removed.
How to garnish your oysters
There are many creative ways to garnish and dress up raw oysters on the halfshell. Most people gravitate towards chilled cocktail sauce, maybe a couple of dashes of Crystal or Tabasco, or a bold mignonette. But, Venner advises, simplicity is key.
“For me personally, I love just a twist of lemon,” he says. “The classic French mignonette can be a little overpowering with a huge blast of red wine vinegar and chunky peppercorns. What we try to do at the restaurant is somewhere in between the two—using real nuanced ingredients to highlight the oyster but still add a bit of complex flavor.”
The mignonette that Elm serves alongside its signature raw oysters combines pressed apple juice, diced cucumbers, grated ginger, yuzu juice, and rice wine vinegar.
“I just wanted something kind of gentle,” Venner says. “Rice wine vinegar has less acidity and we tone that down even more with green apple juice. Yuzu adds a bit of brightness and the cucumbers pickle a bit in the sauce. It works really well.”
How to make the apple and yuzu mignonette
Venner explains that his recipes “are kind of like cocktails” with simple ratios that you don’t have to measure out perfectly. For this mignonette, you combine equal parts pressed apple juice to rice wine vinegar, a couple splashes of yuzu, grate a tiny bit of ginger with a microplane or cheese grater, and then very finely dice the cucumbers.
“This is great for entertaining because it works no matter when you make it,” he says. “It looks nice the first day because the cucumbers are this bright, vibrant green. But it will last for two weeks in the fridge, and the cucumbers start to turn into little pickles that pop in your mouth as you eat the oyster.”
The chef adds that serving raw oysters and a housemade mignonette isn’t something too complicated for an at-home dinner party and, more often than not, is a huge crowd pleaser.
“People are fascinated by oysters—the different names, places, shapes, and sizes,” he says. “They talk about them now like they’re coffee or wine. I see people trying them for the first time or ordering them as an entree. Oysters are more popular than ever.”