Fruits de mer.
Do your knees buckle by the sound of it?
Or does it run shivers up your spine?
Love it or hate it, fruits de mer is a very popular and posh meal to order.
When Luc and I are celebrating a special occasion, then we will often go out for a fruits de mer platter here in town.
But what is it exactly?
Can you make a plateau de fruits de mer at home?
What seafood should you definitely include?
And what to drink with it?
Let’s find the answers to these questions.
Where is le plateau de fruits de mer from?
Le plateau de fruits de mer is French and literally means platter of fruits of the sea.
Or in other words a seafood platter.
What does fruits de mer include?
What does a classic French seafood platter consist of?
It contains a nice selection of raw and/or cooked seafood.
The main players here are raw oysters, clams (palourdes), snails (bigorneaux), whelks (bulots) and cooked gambas or brown shrimp.
Depending on what platter you choose and the region you are in in France, your fruits de mer platter can also contain mussels, langoustines, lobster and crab.
And sometimes even sea urchin!
The seafood is nicely stacked on a large platter filled with crushed ice.
In France it will be served with bread, lemon wedges, a pepper mill and sauces such as a shallot vinegar (for the oysters) and dipping sauces like mayonnaise and cocktail sauce (for the cooked shrimp).
Often you will also get a bowl of water and lemon slices to rinse your fingers off.
Or just a bunch of napkins.
Is it safe to eat raw and cooked seafood together?
Look, seafood can be a little tricky of course.
A bad oyster, mussel or clam are things that just happen. And you don’t always taste it if it is off. But eating both raw and cooked seafood at the same time is perfectly fine.
What is usually raw on a French fruits de mer platter?
Oysters, clams and if you are lucky langoustines as well.
Other seafood is cooked and served (cold) alongside the raw stuff.
And that are mussels, crab, snails, langoustines and lobster.
Did you know that in France and Belgium we eat raw mussels as well?
You will find them under the name ‘moules parquées’.
If you find them, we rarely see it on menus these days.
You can still order raw mussels in restaurant Aux Armes de Bruxelles in Brussels for instance.
How do you pronounce fruits de mer?
In phonetics: /fʁɥi d(ə) mɛʁ/
Yo can also hear it here:
How do you portion and serve a plateau de fruit de mer?
If you are lucky to have a good fishmonger, he or she will certainly help you out.
What type of seafood you have to choose depends on what you and the person(s) on the other side of the table like.
We already summed it up: oysters, clams, snails, shrimp, mussels, langoustines, lobster and crab.
Make sure that all the types of seafood are prepped and ready.
Traditionally a seafood platter starts with a layer of crushed ice and some kind of green decorative stuff such as seaweed or fresh parsley.
Chuck your oysters and put them all around the platter.
Then start building your platter up with the rest of the seafood.
It is up to you if you add the sauces and lemon to the platter as well, or serve them on the side.
Why is seafood served on ice?
Just to keep all the seafood cool, just like in the supermarkets or farmers markets.
When raw fish and seafood gets too warm, bacteria start to come to live again and might spoil your little fish and seafood dinner.
You can get terribly ill from eating spoiled seafood.
How do you eat a French seafood platter?
That is up to you.
Luc and I always start with the raw oysters and clams.
After that we go for the cooked seafood.
Prepping your seafood and fruits de mer dinner at home before you start will get you a long way.
Make sure that the seafood is properly opened, cracked, cleaned or cooked.
And don’t forget to put all the utensils you need on the table before you start.
What kind of fork is used to eat seafood?
A seafood fork or cocktail fork.
It is longer and narrower than a normal fork which makes it easier to pick up seafood.
We usually use a two-pronged fork for escargots, which also works very well.
If you eat crab or lobster, you might need a nutcracker to open the claws if they are not cracked yet. And a very fine crab fork to get to the meat in those legs.
Small snails are easy to remove from their shells using a toothpick or a pinhead needle.
What to drink with a fruits de mer platter?
If you are a beer drinker, then a crisp and ice cold pilsner beer is your best option.
Traditionally people enjoy seafood fruits de mer platters with a dry white wine.
Think of a French muscadet or a sauvignon, or an Italian Frascati.
What’s the most popular seafood?
That also depends on where you are.
In America the most popular seafood item is shrimp.
Fresh oysters are number one in France.
Where do the best oysters in France come from?
Although oysters are cultivated in different coastal parts of France, Brittany is king.
It has a strong reputation thanks to its location that gives them exceptional seafood and one of the best quality fresh oyster you can get.
Where in France is famous for oysters?
That is in the Brittany region of course.
Have you ever heard of the fishing village of Cancale? It is near the Mont Saint-Michel, that village on a rock that gets surrounded by the sea when the tide is high.
Cancale is the capital of the Brittany oyster.
Along the coastline are numerous oyster farms.
Why these oysters are the best, has something to do with the excellent sea water quality, temperature and massive amounts of nutritious plankton on which the oysters feed.
We were in Cancale a couple of months ago, and it was fantastic.
Highly recommendable when it is oyster season!
Well yes, let’s talk about oyster season.
Is there a season for oysters?
Yes, indeed. Oyster season in France runs from mid September through April. Oysters thrive best when the seas are cold.
Outside of that it gets too hot for them and they tend to get a milky cream color, which means that the oyster is spawning.
How to easily remember if it is oyster season?
Think of the classic rule of thumb of any month with an ‘R’ in its name.
So we got 8 months with an ‘R’.
Oyster in French is ‘huître’, 8 is huit.
We were once told that an oyster was called huître because of the 8 ‘R’, huit ‘R’.
True or not?
It definitely makes sense!
What are the best French oysters?
The Saint-Vaast oyster is rumoured to be the best oyster worldwide for its nutty and refined iodised taste.
The bay of Saint-Vaast is located in Normandy, next to Brittany and is believed to have the purest seawater.
How much do oysters cost in France?
It all depends where you are.
In Paris for instance you will pay quite a lot of money for fresh oysters, 3 to 4 euros a piece.
That is just because the transportation costs are so high.
In Cancale a dozen of oysters will cost you 5 to 6 euros at most, depending on how large they are.
Why do the French eat so much seafood?
Well you can’t deny that France has quite a lot of coastal sides.
The seas around it are excellent for the cultivation and production of seafood.
Fruits de mer used to be a poor man’s meal because there was so much of it and it was so cheap.
Nowadays seafood is a luxury food for special occasions.
What do the French eat for Xmas dinner?
As much as the French enjoy their foie gras, escargots and caviar for starters…
And meats such as duck, goose, pheasant and partridges as a main course…
Fruits de mer or seafood in general still is one of the most popular items on a Christmas and New Year’s Eve menu.
Best addresses to eat fruits de mer
Aux Armes de Bruxelles, Rue des Bouchers 13, 1000 Brussels
Fiskebar, Marnixplaats 11, 2000 Antwerp
Au Pied d’Cheval, 10 Quai Gambetta, 35260 Cancale
Bar à Iode, 34 Boulevard Saint Germain, 75005 Paris
Oesterij, Havendijk 12, 4401 NS Yerseke