A raw shellfish bar may be the height of satisfying, easy, ready-to-serve bar food (if you have access to impeccably fresh shellfish from clean waters, of course). But for decades, raw bars have been drowning their delicate clams and lusty oysters in spicy red cocktail sauce. The traditional horseradish-ketchup concoction packs great flavor, but for some folks, when it comes to the subtleties of raw shellfish, it's like cracking open an egg with a sledgehammer—it's just way too powerful. Most chefs these days prefer a mignonette: a sheer mixture of vinegar, shallots, and pepper.
A red mignonette combines 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped shallot and parsley, and 2 teaspoons crushed peppercorns (black or a mix). A white variation can be made with 1/2 cup white wine vinegar instead of the red wine vinegar. (Makes about 1/2 cup)
Combine 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons each minced ginger, daikon radish, and chives or green onions.
As you can see from these jumping off points, it's easy to get creative with chef-style tweaks like these:
Being the central component of a mignonette, the type of vinegar makes quite a difference. Select a varietal, like a merlot or cabernet vinegar, or how about a Champagne vinegar, boosted by a bubbling splash of real champagne? Rice vinegar has a lovely mild acidity that dances well with the crisp flavors of raw shellfish.
Milder than vinegar, verjus is pressed from unripe green grapes (literally "green juice"). Mix it with ginger or shredded carrot, if you like.
Replace or augment the vinegar with fresh citrus juice—lemon, lime, orange, or if you're really hip and wealthy, Japanese yuzu.
Finely shredded or minced green apple and cucumber, separately or together, freshen a mignonette. With finer chopping and more dressing, you can easily adapt a small portion of the Green Apple-Cucumber Matchstick Salad into a mignonette (see the recipe in Great Bar Food at Home).
Lemongrass, cilantro, chives, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seed, pickled ginger, and other herbs and spices put a perky twist on a mignonette, and once you find a sauce combination you like, try it wherever a light but tart boost might be useful—fried calamari, carrot-cucumber slaw, or cold cooked shrimp, perhaps?
[This outtake was originally written for Great Bar Food at Home, but was cut out due to limited page count. To read more, buy Great Bar Food at Home, by Kate Heyhoe]
This page created September 2007
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