French Seafood at the Source: Bistrot de l’Ecailler’s Perfect Seafood Platter
The first time I ever had them, I had no idea what to do with them. Michael and I were on our second trip to France and we’d been invited to a friend’s home for lunch. When we arrived, we discovered that it was her brother’s 21st birthday and 30 — count’em — family members were gathered around the table to celebrate the occasion with lunch. We got there just as huge bowls of bigourneaux were being passed around … along with nails! The nails were used to pull (sometimes yank) the snail-ish creatures out of their shells. The process was messy and fun (once I got the hang of it). It’s the kind of food that just about forces strangers to become friends – it’s hard not to be friendly when you’re playing with your food. Of course there isn’t a time when I have bigourneaux that I don’t think of that lunch.
Bigourneaux are part of most plateaux fruits de mer, or French seafood platters, and they turned up regularly in Brittany. They appeared again in this most fabulous plateaux (again from Bistrot de l’Ecailler). Starting at the lower left with the bigourneaux there are:
Brittany oysters, the creux kind, with deep spoon-like shells; and then flat, round Belon oysters – when I had Belons on the Port de Belon, I pinched myself to prove it was real; next there are crevettes roses, big pink shrimp (can you see their heads popping up between the crab’s claws?); and bulots, or whelks, which are hidden behind the shrimp; and two kinds of clams: palourdes and the smalleramandes; tiny gray shrimp, crevettes grises, in the seashell; and, completing the circle, langoustines, which had just come into season two weeks earlier (when I wasn’t eating oysters on this trip, I was eating fresh-from-the-sea langoustines and smiling foolishly, I’m sure). In the center of the plateau was a gorgeous araignée de mer, a spider crab.
Looking at this platter, you might think that I shared this with Michael … but you’d be wrong. This was a platter for one and only one person ate it: moi. Michael had Sole Meunier, a perfect sole meunier.
I know, I know, it looks so spare compared to my generous plateau, but perfection comes in all sizes.