Our journey to make the perfect mignonette.
Mignonette was traditionally a term referring to a “sachet d’epices”, or bag of spices used to flavor a liquid. It often used peppercorns and cloves, and could be found in stocks and other classic French sauce preparations. Over time it became more clearly defined as a spiced vinegar, often with the addition of shallot, and most commonly served with raw oysters. Like many culinary terms, it has been used quite brazenly to describe any number of complicated ingredient blends, but to us the classic mix of shallot, sugar, peppercorn, and champagne vinegar is the best.
To make the ultimate version of this old school sauce is to also follow in the footsteps of Emily’s first oyster experience, and it begins by booking a cabin on Lummi Island in the Puget Sound of northern Washington. Joel first spent time on Lummi Island when he was a stage at The Willow’s Inn and it was during that trip that he learned the secret of making a stop at Taylor’s Shellfish Farm on the way to the ferry.
Taylor’s Shellfish is one of the biggest and most favored shellfish producers in the Pacific Northwest. Though it’s most known for it’s array of oysters, it also specializes in more exotic seafood like razor clams and the monstrously delicious geoduck. It has a couple of retail locations in Seattle, but there is a timelessness to visiting its farming location on Chuckanut Bay. While the farm has a bustling outdoor dining area where you can eat your oysters immediately, they are also happy to pack your oysters in plenty of ice so they’ll hold up on the short ferry ride to the island.
Once settled onto the island, begin by popping your first bottle of chilled champagne and sit out on the deck for a while to get acclimated. Lummi is a very small island with rock beaches and views of the larger Orcas and San Juan Islands in the distance. The days often start with a marine layer before it burns off into clear skies and light breezes. Once ready for oysters, and at least a half bottle of wine in, make your way to the kitchen to begin the mignonette.
Mince a shallot as finely as you can. Sprinkle a thin layer of salt and a thicker layer of sugar over the top of the shallot. The salt will draw out moisture from the shallot and by mixing well you’ll be able to dissolve the sugar in this liquid. Add enough champagne vinegar to fully cover the shallot and taste for balance. The mixture should be tart, with just enough sweetness to keep you from puckering. Once you’ve reached the right balance crack a good amount of black pepper into the mixture. Remember that the black pepper spice is the backbone of this sauce, so don’t go lightly here. At this point the mignonette is ready, but we often like to let it sit for at least an hour so that all the flavors meld and the sauce becomes more rounded out.
Alternately, you can plant a pot with chives in the spring and wait until summer when the chives begin to bloom brilliant purplish-pink flowers. Harvest as many flowers as you can and use scissors to snip the tiny flower buds from their stem.
Pack these into a glass jar or bottle with a good amount of whole peppercorns. Cover with champagne vinegar and allow to sit refrigerated for at least two weeks. You’ll immediately notice the vinegar take on the vibrant hue of the flower. As long as you keep this in the refrigerator, the color will hold indefinitely. When you are ready for an oyster simply strain out a small amount of vinegar and muddle granulated sugar until you reach that perfect balance.
Alternately, alternately go through the same process of making the chive blossom vinegar. After two weeks strain the full jar and sweeten to the desired level. Place in a shallow container with a lid and freeze.
Before shucking your oysters remove this from the freezer and scrape aggressively with a fork. You will now have fluffy shards of ice making a granita that is bright pink and has the punch of the classic mignonette. Since oysters are better the colder they are served, covering them in a big scoop of flavorful ice truly takes them to their peak.
Alternately, alternately, alternately you can go with the Emily method. Begin by trying your first oyster ever with a classic mignonette. Realize how delicious oysters are, and then decide you like them best with just a shake of hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon.