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Grilled apricot salad with jamon and Manchego

Here we've scorched apricots on the grill and served them with torn jamon, shaved Manchego and peppery rocket leaves. Think of it as a twist on the good old melon-prosciutto routine. The mixture would also be great served on charred sourdough.

Farro recipes

Farro can be used in almost any dish, from a robust salad to accompany hearty beer-glazed beef short ribs to a new take on risotto with mushrooms, leek and parmesan. Here are 14 ways with this versatile grain.

2017 Australian Hotel Awards: The Finalists

This year's finalists across 11 different categories include established and new hotels, all with particular areas of excellence. Stay tuned to find out which hotels will take the top spots when they're announced at a ceremony at QT Melbourne on Wednesday 24 May, and published in our 2017 Australian Hotel Guide, on sale Thursday 25 May.

Chorizo recipes

Where would Spanish cuisine be without the chorizo? This versatile smallgood lends its big flavours to South American stews, soups, and salads, not to mention the ultimate hot dog. Let the sizzling begin.

Hunter Valley NSW travel guide

Our guide to the best of the region.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

Pea and ham soup

Aløft

There's nothing new about Nordic interiors - blond timbers, concrete surfaces, warm, mid-century charm without the twee - and thank heavens for that. It's a style that augments the beauty of everything around it, in this case, gorgeous Hobart harbour, which makes up one whole wall. What is new here, however, is the food - by veterans of Garagistes, which once dazzled diners down the road, Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Gordon Ramsay worldwide. There's a strong Asian bent, but with Tasmanian ingredients. In fact, the kitchen's love of the local verges on obsessive - coconut milk in an aromatic fish curry is replaced with Tasmanian-grown fig leaf simmered in cream to mimic the flavour. Other standouts include a gutsy red-braised lamb with gai lan and chewy cassia spaetzle, pigs' ears zingy with Sichuan pepper and a fresh, springy berry dessert. While the food is sourced locally, the generous wine list spans the planet. 

How to enjoy oysters

Picture, if you will, the St-Antoine farmers’ market on the bank of the Saône in the middle of winter. It’s 9.30 in the morning, the mercury nudging a crisp three degrees. It’s New Year’s Day, and most of Lyon is closed for the public holiday, but it’s still a Sunday, so the market goes ahead, and so does the longstanding tradition of the morning visit to the oyster stalls.

A white marquee on the footpath houses five metres of trestle tables groaning with the small oyster boxes the French call bourriche. Monsieur Yannick, a producer, has set up his dégustation sur place for the day, opening oysters for the Lyonnaise faithful. A drinks cabin nearby coordinates wines and coffee for the oyster brunchees. Couples stroll in, order la douzaine and settle into the gaggle of plastic chairs and tables nearby. Dogs are leashed to the tables and retire for an hour’s oyster break. For 15 euros we slurp our way through a platter of number-threes with a glass of picpoul, the vin de rigueur for oysters anywhere south of La Rochelle.

Through Australian eyes, what do we see? Ordinary citizens embracing a brisk cold morning to promenade, meet friends, brunch on freshly opened oysters with a glass of wine at half-past nine in the AM. There are no food officers, no booze police, no running water. Just fresh luscious oysters, part of a Sunday cultural ritual – something you can trust. A French community food tradition where accessible oysters find an appreciative clientele.

Four days later, and we’re in Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, the market in Lyon’s third arrondissement. Standing around the oyster bar of Chez Léon are several trios of trench-coated businessmen, briefcases at their feet, sharing plates of oysters. Business is under discussion in between slurps of oysters. Morning meetings not over coffee, but over oysters from the Mediterranean, Quiberon, Brittany, Normandy, even Ireland.

I am genuinely surprised at Léon’s first question. “Do you like a full oyster, or not so full?” The question explodes our local myth that only full oysters are valid currency. Many French people, it seems, prefer a half-full oyster. It prompts an intriguing question for armchair experts: if most oysters in France are sold during the Christmas winter, and most in Australia are sold during the Christmas summer, can both be right? Or is the festive season itself the commercial driver? And what does that suggest about the conventional market wisdom of “oyster condition”? A furphy perhaps?

During the Yuletide month, the commercial role of oysters reaches its peak on France’s retail floors. Stacks of little wooden oyster boxes cram the aisles, as emblematic here as eggs at Easter, and promotional banners extoll one region’s oysters over another, and one brand over another. The scene is the same from the deluxe Parisian food-halls of Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marché to ordinary urban supermarkets across France. The French home-cook, stocking up for the traditional fête de Noël feast, is spoilt for choice.

It’s a very different story back in Down Under. While in France anyone can readily purchase fresh un-opened oysters to shuck themselves at home, a lament we hear consistently during the oyster workshops we hold in Australia is that consumers still have trouble sourcing un-opened oysters. And this directly influences the other difference between oyster lovers in France and their Antipodean counterparts: our inability to shuck oysters ourselves. And why would we, when we almost never get the chance to practise? The long-term effect is that the pre-shuck culture becomes self-perpetuating, as people lose the skills and knowledge of oyster shucking. 

In France, learning to shuck an oyster is de rigueur – a little like learning how to properly pull a cork from a bottle – and key to true oyster enjoyment. The realest oyster you can taste is one you’ve opened yourself, and it’s a pleasure I’d guess 80 per cent of us have never had the chance to enjoy. So pick up your knives, mes amis, embrace winter’s oyster bounty as our French friends do, and get a taste of what you’ve been missing.

ILLUSTRATION ANTONIA PESENTI

This article is from the July 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

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