If you visit our house on any major holiday (or sometimes just Friday nights), there’s a decent chance you’ll find a big platter of oysters with various toppings. Fresh oysters is one of our favorite appetizers and serving them with a homemade mignonette sauce is classic, easy, and always a hit.
Once you get the hang of shucking oysters (or if you happen to know a good fishmonger who will shuck for you) this is a great holiday appetizers and would be perfect for New Year’s this year!
Let’s dive in and learn the ins-and-outs of mignonette sauce and learn some of my favorite tips for oyster shucking!
What is Mignonette Sauce?
If I’m going through the trouble of buying and shucking fresh oysters, the last thing I want to do is put too much stuff on them. The oysters are fantastic on their own after all so why spend a lot of time and energy with toppings?
That said, one of my favorite toppings for raw oysters is a classic shallot vinegar sauce called mignonette. It really just has a few ingredients.
For me, the most important ingredient for mignonette sauce is fresh shallots and they must be very finely diced.
I use a good sharp knife for this, peeling the shallot, and then slicing it vertically and horizontally to make a grid. Then I dice them as finely as possible.
If you worry about your knife skills, you can also dice them in a mini food processor which will make quick work of the shallot. I use one large shallot for a batch of sauce which makes plenty of mignonette sauce for 2-3 dozen oysters.
Once the shallots are minced, combine them with the other ingredients and let the sauce sit for at least fifteen minutes. Overnight in an airtight container would be even better though so the flavors can really meld.
I like to use rice vinegar and a splash of either red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar along with a big pinch of salt, sugar, and black pepper.
Some people prefer to leave out the sugar for this recipe, but it comes down to personal taste in my opinion and I think a tiny pinch of sugar helps balance the flavors.
Mignonette sauce is meant to be simple and the acidity and sweetness from the shallot just brings out the delicious saltiness and sweetness of fresh oysters.
Mignonette sauce alternatives
While the sauce is meant to be simple, there are plenty of substitutions you can make to make it your own.
The easiest substitution would be a different vinegar. You can use white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, or sherry vinegar to give the sauce slightly different flavor profiles.
While you can add other ingredients like fresh herbs or garlic, be careful not to add too much or it will overpower the oysters.
For the shallots, I wouldn’t substitute them personally as they are sweet and perfect for the sauce. If you happen to be out of shallots though, you can substitute very finely diced sweet onion or red onion, but it won’t be the same as fresh shallot.
Tips for purchasing and storing oysters
Buy your oysters from a trusted source. This should go without saying.
Oysters should be living when you buy them so be sure to discard any dead ones or ones with huge chunks in the shells.
Personally, I usually buy my oysters (here in Denver) from Whole Foods which has a good shellfish counter and I know rotates their oysters very regularly. They also have $1 oysters on Fridays which is a pretty good deal!
Not a fan of oysters? That’s okay. Try my perfect steamed shrimp for a different special holiday appetizer!
I like to plan to shuck my oysters and eat them within a day of buying them.
Store the oysters on ice in the fridge and make sure they have access to fresh air. If you put them in a sealed container (or plastic bag) make sure to leave the top of the bag open or they will die.
Crunch Time Tips for shucking oysters
Shucking oysters is a finnicky process and one that most people do not want to deal with.
I get it. But if you take the time to try it out, you’ll learn it quickly and then you can enjoy oysters whenever you want assuming you have access to them.
I’ve handled raw oysters before (in a previous life I was a shucker/bartender for Legal Sea Foods), so I’m reasonably fast at shucking but it still takes me some time.
Shucking oysters requires a) patience b) confidence c) beer. And probably not in that order.
The worst situation would be if you’ve never shucked oysters before and you were crunched for time. You would curse. A lot. And probably not enjoy the oyster experience. But if you can take your time it can actually be a slightly fun task and once you get the hang of it, you can blast through a dozen oysters in no time.
The process is best seen in a video in my opinion so here’s a Youtube video that does a pretty good job of showing you how to shuck an oyster. I would watch a few of the videos if you’ve never done it before.
My few tips?
1) Use a clean dish towel to hold the oyster in place.
2) Make sure you have a good shucking knife. (this is not optional)
3) Find the joint in the oyster and wiggle the tip of the knife into it. Try not to crack too much of the shell, but this is hard unless you’re an expert.
4) Run your knife under cold water between oysters to clean it well.
I like to shuck my oysters in batches of one or two dozen depending on how I’m feeling.
Once I have them shucked I serve them on a plate with some crushed ice to keep them cool. I usually put out lemon, hot sauce, and the mignonette sauce to give people fun topping options.
Can you shuck oysters in advance?
Technically yes. In fact, if you have a good fishmonger, they will offer to shuck oysters for you, which is nice.
If you do shuck them in advance, you have to keep them super cold to keep them fresh and I would enjoy them within the day.
Personally, I think part of the charm of fresh oysters is getting super-fresh oysters, shucking them, and enjoying them right away. This isn’t the kind of thing I would plan to make in advance.
- 1 large shallot, finely minced
- ½ cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 pinch sugar
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 pinch ground pepper
- Peel shallot and mince them very finely. Use a food processor if it helps.
- Stir shallots together with other ingredients and season well with salt and pepper.
- Let sit for at least 15 minutes but overnight is best.
- Serve with raw oysters, lemon, and hot sauce! This amount of sauce will serve about 5 dozen oysters.