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Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I wasn't much help in the oyster beds. Watching the speed and efficiency with which Frédéric was working on the maintenance projects, racing through the narrow window between tides, I tried to lend a hand. But each time I volunteered, it was apparent that it wasn't worth the trouble to teach me when he could do the job ten times faster. So I was free to play.

François showed me how to find couteaux ("knives") hiding underground. A couteau is a bivalve mollusk that looks just like a pearl handled knife - hence the name. I saw some back in April at a market in Paris but didn't know what they were.

The first step is to identify the distinctive shape of the air hole that they leave in the sand - it's rectangular rather than round. Once you find a likely hole, you sprinkle little bit of rock salt into the hole, followed by a few drops of sea water. You are tricking the couteau into thinking that the tide has come back in! Next, the couteau gives a telltale "souffle" or blow - that shows you that indeed, you've found one. Patience is required as first the couteau sends out a tentative, soft "foot". Moments later, the knife shell appears. Then you grab it! But gently! You can feel it struggling to escape underground and if you pull too hard or too quickly, it can break off. Finally, you ease it out of the ground and go off in search of the next one.

And then? Bring them home, allow them to disgorge in water for about an hour (to get rid of the sand). Then heat them in the skillet (in the shell) - briefly - just until they open. Take them out of their shells, cut into small pieces, and saute quickly in olive oil with garlic and parsley. Don't cook them too long or they become rubbery. Serve as an appetizer accompanied by a white Graves. Yummmm! Delicious!!

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