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It is feasible to eat exceptionally well on very little money.  My definition of well is: healthy, gourmet food made with top quality, often organic ingredients that aren’t on the verge of expiration.  The secret is to think outside the box.  The advice is to build relationships in your food community.  The hope is to pay the people who feed us a living wage (please don’t cheap out on them). The catch is that it is one helluva lot of work.  But today’s dinner isn’t.  It’s all about building skills.

On Mondays, in our home, dinner is prepared by Lastborn.  Tonight, she is making Oysters Rockefeller.  Yes, she is five.  Yes, I am serious.  Yes, we are keeping within our $130/week budget.  Yes, she loves oysters.  I try to create menu plans that allow the children to cook the foods that they particularly like.

How can oysters be a budget food item?  It’s all in the rationalization, my friend.  If you think Onlyboy can justify dubious stuff until your head spins, let’s just say he learnt from the master (or mistress I guess would be more apt).

In Canada, you can buy a box of oysters from the East Coast for $20 at Costco.  There are a minimum of 18 oysters within.  I think these are the freshest and best oysters you can buy in our landlocked part of the continent.

Oysters are a low fat, health food item full of goodness.  Oysters aren’t messed with in any way – just placed in a box and shipped.  They’re an affordable seasonal luxury.

Oysters harvested on November 10 but best before Dec 24!  And 9 oysters have 80 calories.  It’s all true my friend.

Oysters harvested on November 10 but best before Dec 25! And 9 oysters have 80 calories.

We come in just under our budget of $120.  And we get oysters and fancy cheese!

Huîtres = Oysters! (Apologies for re-using this photo, my bad).

OYSTERS KEEP FOR WEEKS IN THE FRIDGE.  That is the secret that makes oysters the perfect fast food.  Each box has a best before date and you will see that it is far into the future.

The thing about oysters is that you can just shuck them and eat them raw.  How’s that for fast?!  Eighteen oysters makes a satisfying meal for 3 people if you throw in a salad and some crackers and cheese.

We often have a few oysters while we prepare dinner.  People eat a couple of oysters and it keeps them going until the real food is on the table.  We serve them with a mignonette sauce: 3 TBSP red wine vinegar, chopped dry shallot, lots of freshly ground black pepper, about 1 TBSP water.  This sauce keeps well so have some ready in the refrigerator and your fast food will be even faster.

Monday is Lastborn’s cooking night.  She is a true foodie and LOVES oysters.

Raw oysters with mignonette sauce, Paris.  Another pre-loved photo (in fact I think I’ve used it twice already).  Let’s face it, time is precious and if I had to constantly take new photos, I’d never get any blabbing done.

I can see you guys out there in the blogosphere saying, “If you think I could get my kids to eat raw oysters, you’re crazier than I thought.  If you think I have an extra $19 to purchase 1 food item, you really are crazier than I thought.”

I agree that $19 is a lot of spend on one thing especially when you have a total of $130/week.  But at this time of year, we always have 1 box of oysters on our Costco list and we (mostly) come in on budget.  I love good food and the only way our extreme budgeting is going to work for us is if we feel like we are still living a gourmet lifestyle.  It’s a question of balancing the inexpensive food items with the pricier ones in a way that our pocketbook can stand.

I am crazier than you thought, I don’t deny it, but with the right attitude and a supportive environment, your kids may well surprise you and try the oyster.  We encourage our kids to try new foods and give them an honest description of how we think they will find it, if they need that.  For example, with a raw oyster, you can’t just try a tiny, little piece of it.  You have to commit to slurping the whole thing into your mouth.  That is the biggest stumbling block for most people.  The taste is sublime – fresh ocean, pure and simple.  The texture is snot though so that is the other freaky bit.  Oh, ya, and the oysters are alive when you shuck them.  We are very up front on these points with our kids so that they can make informed decisions on what they want to eat.

Our oysters are washed and ready for shucking.

Our oysters are washed and ready for shucking.

Two of our children love oysters and their enthusiasm has provided the peer pressure needed for the others to finally cave in and give it a go.  Let’s just say that when we have our oyster apps, we see the same faces running to the counter and other faces regularly absent.

Many who hate raw oysters will still adore them cooked.  In Maine, they serve delicious fried oysters that Onlyboy scarfs every time we’re there.  When we have more time and the ingredients, we make a variation on Oysters Rockefeller.  Oysters Rockefeller are delicious and I have yet to meet someone who was scared to try one – the perfect gateway oyster recipe.  The real recipe features a rich butter sauce of green vegetables and a topping of bread crumbs.  This simple, gluten-free version is just as tasty as the original.

Get a cookie sheet and spread a thick layer of cheap coarse salt all around.  This is not the time to use your fleur de sel as the salt will be discarded.  And speaking of salt, oysters are naturally salty from the ocean so please don’t ever add salt.  When I make Oysters Rockefeller, I use the small tray that came with my toaster oven.  That way, I can get away with using less salt and I can bake them in my toaster!

Five year olds love doing this part.

Five year olds love doing this.

Shuck your oysters.  Do not let your five year old do this part unless you want to be sharing your oysters with the triage nurses in the emergency room.  Shucking oysters is something most people don’t know how to do and it is one big reason people don’t buy oysters in the shell.  You do need an oyster knife which will probably cost about $6.

Rinse your oysters to get off any dirt and grit.  Place an oyster on a bunched up tea towel and hold firmly with your left hand if you are right handed.  You want the flat side of the oyster on the TOP, not sitting on the counter.  The tea towel will help you to keep the oyster from tipping over.

The oyster should be held close to your body on a waist high surface – a kitchen counter is perfect.  Place the tip of the oyster knife at the hinge.  Brace yourself (tense all your muscles) and try to jam the knife into the hinge.  I am just an amateur homeschooling oyster shucker so I offer you the amateur method that works every time: firmly but gently keep wiggling that knife back and forth until the oyster finally gives up.  With some oysters, you will get to a point where you are willing to let the oyster win.  NO!  You have paid for that oyster and you will eat it.  Besides, think of how rank it will smell if you toss it.  The oyster deserves a better send off than ending up as compost.  He deserves to become a Rockefeller!

oyster opening4

Insert the oyster knife in the hinge and wiggle.

When opening the oyster, take care not to spill all the lovely juice.  When the hinge has loosened, resist the temptation to look inside.  The top shell is still fastened by a “foot”.  Slide your oyster knife along the inside top shell to cut the shell free.  Now remove the top shell and pick out any little bits of broken shell.  Run your oyster knife under the oyster to free it from the bottom shell.  Sit the oyster in its bottom shell in the salt.  The salt acts as the tea towel to keep the concave shell from tipping.  Feel free to eat a couple raw (after all, you are making dinner ;-).

Slide the oyster knife under the top shell to cut through the foot.

Slide the oyster knife under the top shell to cut through the foot.

Pick out any bits of broken shell.

Pick out any bits of broken shell.

Perfect oyster on a bed of rock salt.

Perfect oyster on a bed of rock salt.

Once the tray is full, let your five year old loose.  She will top each oyster with a bit of cooked spinach, some finely chopped cooked bacon or sausage (optional IMO), a dollop of sour cream and a grating of Parmesan cheese.  Pop in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes at 425 degrees.  Enjoy!

oyster ready for oven

Spinach, sour cream, Parmesan. Good to go!

Beauty!

Fresh out of the oven.  Beauty!

Will this be enough to feed a big family?  No.  That is why you defrosted some black bean chili for the next course.  By this point, your five year old will have satisfied her cooking mania and won’t resent the chili.  After all, parents will be scrounging around trying to find another Rockefeller or two and that will make Lastborn glow with pride.