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Oysters and Pearls
Makes 8 Servings
*16 meaty oysters, such as Bagaduce or other variety
*1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
*1 3/4 cup milk
*1 1/4 cup heavy cream
*1/4 cup creme fraiche
*4 egg yolks
*1/4 cup reserved oyster juice (from above)
*3 tbls. dry white vermouth
*Remaining reserved oyster juice
*1 1/2 tbls. minced shallot
*1 1/2 tbls. white wine vinegar
*1/2 cup butter, cut into 8 pieces
*1 tbls. minced chives
*1 to 2 oz. Beluga caviar
1This recipe uses the oysters as well as their juices. When selecting oysters, choose the ones with the thickest shells; they will have the most juice. Timing is important in the completion of the dish. The cooking should be one continuous process, so have the cream whipped, the double boiler hot and the remaining ingredients ready.
2Soak the tapioca in 1 cup of the milk for one hour, setting it in a warm place to speed up the rehydration of the pearls.
3SHUCKING THE OYSTERS: Hold an oyster on a towel (to protect your hand) with the rounded side down. Lean the wider end of the oyster against the table for support. Push an oyster knife under the hinge at the narrow end of the shell. Don't jam it in or you risk damaging the oyster.
4You will hear a "pop", then twist the knife to loosen the shell. Keeping the knife between the top and bottom shell, run the blade along the right side to cut the muscle. This will release the top shell, which can be removed. Slide the knife under the meat to detach the second muscle holding the oyster in place. Reserve the oyster and all its juice in a bowl. Repeat with the remaining oysters.
5Trim away the muscle and the outer ruffled edge of the oysters and place the trimmings in a saucepan. Reserve the whole trimmed oysters and strain the oyster juice into a separate bowl. You should have about 1/2 cup of juice.
6COOKING THE TAPIOCA: Strain the softened tapioca into a strainer and discard the milk. Rinse the tapioca under running water, then place it in a heavy pot.
7In a bowl, whip 1/2 cup of the cream just until it holds its shape; reserve in the refrigerator.
8Pour the remaining 3/4 cup of milk and the 3/4 cup of cream over the oyster trimmings. Bring to a simmer, then strain the infused liquid over the tapioca. Discard the trimmings.
9Cook the tapioca over medium heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it has thickened and leaves a trail when a spoon is pulled through it. Continue to cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the tapioca is fully cooked, has no resistance in the center and is translucent. The mixture will be sticky and if you lift some on the spoon and let it fall, some should still cling to the spoon. Remove the pot from the heat but keep it in a warm place.
10FOR THE SABAYON: Whisk the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of the oyster juice in a metal bowl set over a pan of hot water or a bowl-shaped double boiler. Whisk vigorously over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes to incorporate as much air as possible.
11The finished sabayon will have thickened and lightened, the foam will have subsided and the sabayon will hold a ribbon when it falls from the whisk. If the mixture begins to break, remove it from the heat and whisk quickly off the heat for a moment to recombine.
12Stir the hot sabayon into the tapioca along with a generous amount of black pepper. Mix in the creme fraiche and the whipped cream. Season lightly with salt remembering that the oyster and caviar garnish will both be salty.
13Immediately, spoon 1/4 cup tapioca into 8 4-inch by 5-inch gratin dishes (each with a 3 to 4 ounce capacity). If done correctly, the tapioca should be a creamy pale yellow and the tapioca pearls should be suspended and not sinking in the mixture.
14Refrigerate for up to a few hours before serving.
15TO COMPLETE: Combine the vermouth, remaining oyster juice, shallot and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and reduce until most of the liquid is gone but the onions are still glazed and not dry. Whisk in the butter piece by piece, adding a new piece when the previous one is almost melted (as you would for beurre monte).
16Add the reserved oysters to the sauce to warm. Place the tapiocas on a sheet tray and into a 350F degree oven for 4 to 5 minutes or until they just begin to souffle. Arrange 2 oysters and some of the sauce over each gratin, sprinkle with chives and garnish the top with a quenelle of caviar; serve immediately.
  • To begin a meal at the French Laundry, you may find a tiny bowl placed before you filled with tapioca custard - large pearl tapioca that brings back memories of childhood. Floating in that custard is a plump oyster and on top of this is a carefully shaped quenelle of Beluga caviar. It is a dish called Oysters and Pearls, a signature French Laundry dish. Zany and delicious.

Recipes courtesy of Chef Thomas Keller from The French Laundry Cookbook published by Workman Publishing, 2003