Oyster & Brie Soup with Champagne

August 17, 2009

How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?
~Charles de Gaulle

A kitchen syllogism (with even a third premise): 1) Champagne pairs well with oysters. 2) Champagne couples splendidly with brie. 3) Champagne is simply sublime solo. Ergo

Christened the “Queen of Cheeses,” brie is an elegant, creamy, buttery soft French cow’s milk cheese. The cheese tooks its name from the area once called “Brie” which roughly corresponds to the modern département of Seine-et-Marne which is located in the Île-de-France region of France, often called the Région Parisienne or RP (the Paris Region).

To make brie, the curd is made by adding rennet—an enzyme that aids in separating curds from whey—to raw milk and then heating it at low temperatures. The separated curds are spread out in thin layers in molds and drained for almost a day, about 18 hours. The cheese rounds are removed from the molds, salted, and bacteria is introduced. Finally, the cheese is aged in caves for at least four to five weeks.

French brie differs significantly from that exported to the states. Real brie is unstabilized being made from unpasteurized raw cow’s milk, a practice prohibitied by the USDA. Our imported brie is made from pasteurized milk, remains alabaster white, has not developed properly and is simply not ripe or mature. Therefore, it is much milder and decidely less complex in aroma and flavor.

Brie should be served at room temperature, almost gooey, and the delicious rind is intended to be eaten. Because I tend to love brie au naturel with a crusty baguette, the liberal use of the cheese in this soup recipe occasionally makes me wince. The champagne finish is not optional, especially since the remainder of the bottle beckons.

OYSTER & BRIE SOUP

3 dozen medium oysters in their liquor
4 C cold water

1/2 lb unsalted butter
1/2 C all purpose flour
1 C onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 C celery, chopped
1/2 C carrots, chopped
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t Cayenne pepper
1/2 t dried thyme

Pinch of sea salt
1 bay leaf

1 lb Brie cheese, rind on, cut in small wedges
3 C heavy cream
3/4 C champagne

Chives, for garnish

Combine oysters, oyster liquor and water together and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Strain and reserve the oysters and water separately.

In a large heavy skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth but not browned. Increase the heat to medium, add the onions, celery and carrots and sauté until onions are translucent, about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the white and Cayenne peppers and thyme and sauté about 2 minutes more, then set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, bring the reserved oyster water along with the salt and bay leaf to a boil. Stir in the sautéed vegetable mixture until well mixed. Turn heat to high. Add brie and cook until cheese starts to melt, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Lower heat to a simmer and continue cooking for about 5 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat, strain soup and return to pot. Turn heat to medium high and cook about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in cream and cook until the soup reaches a gentle simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the champagne.

Turn heat to low, add the oysters and allow them to plump for about 3 minutes. Serve immediately in shallow soup bowls, garnished with chives.

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