French restaurants often offer a perplexing miscellany of oysters, at
prices that differ according to shape, size and provenance. Here’s a summary of
some of the terms you are likely to encounter.
PLATES France produces two types of oysters, plates and creuses.
The plates are flatter in shape and are also
known as Belons or Marennes, two of the locales where they are produced. They
are difficult to grow and are produced in small quantities, and so they are
CREUSES Also called portugaises or japonaises, these oysters have a convex shell.
NUMBERS Oysters are calibrated from 000 to 6, with the smaller
number indicating the larger-sized oyster.
FINES Determined by a complicated calculation that only the
French understand; this designation means small- to medium-sized.
SPECIALES Labelled according to the same calculation as the fines, these oysters are a larger and more
FINES DE CLAIRE At 20 to the square yard, these oysters mature for two
months in salty claires, or marshes, where they filter
nutrient-rich water that sometimes turns them green.
SPECIALES DE CLAIRE Are grown at just 10 to the square yard. Spéciales de
claire mature for at
least two months, which allows them to grow fatter and more substantial than fines de claire.
POUSSES EN CLAIRE Set in oyster parks with only five to the square yard,
these oysters, prized by gourmets, grow for at least four months and double in
weight during that time.