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Feb 23, 2013 09:00 AM

Visiting Paris in May - will it still be oyster season?

Living in the Midwest, we don't get much occasion for yummy oysters. We are visiting in the middle of May - will it still be oyster season? If so, where are some good places to go for seafood and shellfish in the 5th, 6th and 7th? Thanks!

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    1. re: Parigi

      I was waiting for Parigi, Pti and Parnassien to reply before I offered my uninformed opinion/experience but since .330 have weighed in, here goes.
      I eat oysters here and elsewhere 12 months a year; on impulse - like avocados, if I want it/them I do it/them, seasonal or not - sorry to my bio, natural, locavore friends.
      From experience and the literature; I glean that it's correct that bivalves molt in summer times/climes and are less crisp, succulent, whatever, in non "R" months; (which religion I adhered to religiously, believing my uncle was correct in holding me to it, at the Oyster Bar in the 1940's) but, but, but, apparently those clever little devils down in Brittany and Normandy, with those cool chicken wire thingees out in the bays, have figured out how to breed, raise and cultivate them whatever month.
      So like my pal Parigi, I'd say "Go to it/them". But report back.
      Now where?
      That's the wrong question as my lawyer friends would say.
      Ask "which ones."
      Gillardeau ones from my local guy are super. He's just a guy, no big deal.
      But if you insist on the 5th, 6th and 7th, search for prior threads on oysters here or specifically Huitriere Regis
      And then which sort do you prefer? - creuses or plats, belons, fines de claires, speciales, - there's overlap and redundancy which Parigi, Pti and Parnassien will be quick to correct me on.
      And size? 00 to 5. Which/what?
      Now wouldn't you rather just stay in the Midwest and eat your fabulous beef than be forced to make these choices?
      My preference - Speciales Claires #2.

      1. re: John Talbott

        Nearly all commercial oysters are "triploid" oysters bred to be sterile and thus not spawn. The breeding helps them put on weight far more quickly and as they don't spawn they don't lose condition in the summer (the breeding season), fertile oysters can lose 70% of body mass and condition whilst spawning so no pleasant to eat. So basically no need for oyster seasons these days quite perfect to eat year round.

        And John your uncle was correct back in the day. The technique was only developed in Seatle in the early '80's (based on research from other aquaculture industries) and then further refined in other markets (and oyster species) so now is used in all/most commercial oyster markets around the world.

        1. re: John Talbott

          I just had the biggest oyster of my life including huge belons - a Bluepoint XL, along with 5 others, but whoops, it was at the Grand Central Oyster Bar.

          1. re: John Talbott

            I hope you wished GCT a happy 100th!

            I'll be in the City in a couple weeks, and definitely plan to hit the Oyster Bar (for raw oysters only, of course).

            I love Belons. They seem to have fallen out of favor with foodies, but they'll always be a favorite of mine.

      2. Just for information, there no longer is an oyster season since refrigeration was invented.
        The "r months" was a precaution based on the fact that unrefrigerated oysters could suffer during the warm months. That stopped being a risk long ago. Actually, some people (especially in the producing regions and including me) like oysters in the Summer. In Winter, they're limp, watery and too skinny. (However these days you can find perfectly fat oysters in Winter too.)

        1. Actually, there were/are more reasons for "Oyster Season" than lack of refrigeration. Oysters spawn in late Spring/Summer and are supposedly less desirable at that time.

          The main reason for the year round oyster season these days is that virtually all oysters are now farmed, so their cycles can be controlled.

          Yes, there should be yummy oysters available while you are in Paris.

          8 Replies
          1. re: ChefJune

            Interesting thread. I find them (at least East Coast U.S. & Gulf Coast varieties) more flavorful in the winter months - which really doesn't make sense these days, I know. That said, I plan on eating them in Paris in May because I can't NOT eat them in Paris. Yum.

            1. re: ChefJune

              People from the oyster producing regions (Charentes, Vendée) actually thinks oysters are best in late Spring and early Summer, at the spawning season, when they're "laiteuses". I totally agree with them.
              They also say the craving for "thin", watery oysters is a rather recent Parisian heresy, and I think they're spot on about that too. The taste for oysters has changed and oysters have changed too. So I'll still say that, historically, refrigeration is the main reason.

              1. re: Ptipois

                Not wishing to enter the lists again on this one; I'll just say that there's something magical about oysters at Christmas and ice cream in winter in Paris; we're not talking about Nantucket.

                1. re: Ptipois

                  Well the expression "only eat oysters if their is an R in t he month" was all about the spawning season not about refrigeration. Oysters in the northern hemisphere start spawning when the water temperature rises which generally starts in May to Jun and is over by August. Most consumers didn't like the milky look (laiteuses) the less plump, thin oysters and so the expression became lore.

                  Clearly tastes vary and people will enjoy spawning oysters (is the flavour more concentrated?) but I guess the mass market prefers the ordinary non-spawning variety. Thus the industry created sterile, non-spawning, oysters to satisfy year round demand. Some producers will use fertile oysters for various reasons from tradition to catering for niche markets, but I suspect the very large commercial producers will use the sterile triploids because they can be harvested all year round and they put on weight faster (so are more profitable).

                  And yes refrigeration helps, it gets product to market faster and reduces spoilage. However, it doesn't add much if it delivers a product that most mass market consumers won't want i.e. milky spawning oysters. It will be interesting to understand what percentage of Paris oysters in May to August are plump and clear versus milky and thin? From my memory I don't remember having many of the milky type, is it something you ask for specially?

                  VaPaula - oysters will grow at different rates at different temperatures, so it is logical that winter oysters may be better as they will be growing more slowly than in the summer. The same with much sea food with cold water product having better flavour than warm.

                  1. re: PhilD

                    Of course it was about refrigeration, and transportation time, right from the start. The milky argument is a red herring, since the tastes for oysters changed with time. They used to be preferred in their milky, fatty state (and still are in the producing regions).

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      Given this logic the old saying would be "only eat oysters if there ISN'T an R in the month" as that is when the spawning season is and thus when you say they are in their "preffered" milky state. Odd that so many of us have it wrong.

                      I would also add that the old French way of transporting oysters, wrapped in wet seaweed in small crates with lots of openings is quite effective primitive refrigeration. The latent heat of evaporation of the water from the seaweed cools the package. Keep the seaweed wet and it will keep the oysters cool.

                      1. re: Ptipois

                        Since ice was invented, keeping oysters chilled for transport hasn't been a problem. One hundred years ago, for example, oysters were harvested along the Southeast and Gulf coasts, iced down, put on trains and arrived at distant locations in the northeast and midwest the next morning.

                        1. re: carolinadawg

                          ...and mighty tasty little buggers, they are, too! ;)