Oysters from the Bassin d’Arcachon were popular among rich Romans of Burdigala (Bordeaux), who would set up relays to have them brought to their tables in a few hours. By the Middle Ages, when the old Roman roads were full of mud and potholes, tastes turned to dried oysters put up in barrels, eaten in a sauce or fried. The Bassin’s industry remained small and local, however, until 1850, when once again speedy transport, in the form of the railway, allowed the bivalves to chug post-haste to Bordeaux, and then on to Paris in 1857 – at a time when restaurant diners thought nothing of beginning a meal with 10 or 15 dozen.
To prepare the little rascals à la mode d’Arcachon: count on a dozen (or more) oysters per person, four (or more) crépinettes (small flat sausages cooked in white wine, embedded with truffles if you’re lucky), plenty of thinly sliced rye bread and butter and glasses of dry white Entre-Deux-Mers, properly chilled at 6–8C. Open the oysters and keep cool, and fry or barbecue the sausages just before serving. Then slurp down the oyster, perhaps with a squirt of lemon or a dollop of vinegar and minced shallots, take a bite of hot sausage and buttered bread, then wash it down with a swallow of wine. And repeat and repeat and repeat.
© Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls