The other evening, I was watching Channel 4’s Escape to the Chateau Christmas episode, where Dick and Angel decide to lay on a fully-French Christmas experience for some visiting friends. Dick was outraged to learn the French do not eat turkey or ham for their Christmas dinner. Instead, they usually have roast beef for a main course, bûche de noel for dessert and plenty of oysters to begin their festive celebrations.
The following scenes showed Dick with his son and father-in-law on the French coast, prying oysters off the rocks for their Christmas dinner.
Other cultures around the world enjoy celebratory oysters, as well, and Ireland produces some of the best. Bord Bia is taking time to promote Irish seafood this Christmas as a way to support local producers, but also as a way to enjoy something a bit different.
With so many business pivoting to online delivery services, is it any surprise that you can now get fresh, live oysters shipped directly to your door? A trip to the coast, while idyllic, is not necessary. I ordered a dozen oysters (€15) from Achill Oysters and they arrived at my door the following day.
You don’t need to use them right away – because they’re alive, if you keep them well-chilled, they will stay fresh for several days. I keep my oysters in a deep tray over ice; covered with a clean tea towel soaked in cold water. If I don’t use them the same day, I simply refresh the ice as needed until I’m ready to shuck.
Shucking oysters isn’t as scary or complicated as it sounds (see video for a complete tutorial). You only need a shucking knife (you can order one with your oysters, mine was €15) and a clean tea towel.
If oysters aren’t your thing and you still want a seafood fix, check out this beautiful recipe from Bord Bia for a hearty fish chowder.
300g haddock fillets, boned and skinned
150g smoked haddock fillets, boned and skinned (undyed, if possible)
200g Dublin Bay prawns
1½tbsp olive oil
Knob of butter
2 medium leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs, plus extra leaves to garnish
1 bay leaf
650g potatoes, peeled and diced into 2cm cubes
700ml fish or vegetable stock
½tsp chilli flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp crème fraîche
Chives, to garnish
Brown soda bread, to serve
1. Heat a tablespoon of the oil and a knob of butter in a large sauce pan over a medium heat and fry the leeks and garlic for about three minutes.
2. Add the thyme sprigs, bay leaf and potatoes and cook for another minute or two. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil.
3. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for eight-10 minutes until the potatoes are almost cooked. The liquid should thicken slightly.
4. Scatter in the chilli flakes and season with a little salt and black pepper.
5. Cut the fresh and smoked haddock into 3cm pieces. Season the haddock and prawns then add them to the sauce pan and gently press down into the broth so the fish is only just submerged.
6. Cover and simmer very gently for about five minutes or until the fish is cooked. You will know it is cooked when the haddock flakes easily. Timing will depend on the thickness of the fish.
7. To serve: Take the sauce pan off the heat and remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Still off the heat, spoon in the crème fraîche and gently swirl around in the broth until it looks creamy.
8. Add the chives and serve with brown soda bread.
*To see whether the seafood you consume has been sustainably sourced, see this article on sustainable seafood in Ireland and how consumers can make more informed choices.