The judges are ringside, playing footsie. The shopping is done, the research is finished, and the fix, perhaps, is in.
In the blue corner, oysters, eight dozen of them. Hailing from Puget Sound by way of Wild Edibles in Manhattan and weighing in at really freaking heavy to carry to Brooklyn by subway. With an undefeated record stretching back to ancient Rome, the oyster looks plump and ready for action.
In the red corner, chocolate. From Peru by way of Jacques Torres. Weighing in at a tempered and ready two pounds, this scrappy challenger from the New World claims he got his fighting spirit from the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. He enters wearing a robe embroidered with the George Bernard Shaw quote “What use are cartridges in battle? I always carry chocolate instead.”
The referee explains the rules. Four couples have been selected to judge this match. They have been selected because they are the only friends of the author who agreed to do it. Strangely, some friends of the author were horrified at the thought of being publicly identified with pseudoscientific sexcapades.
It will be a two-round championship match. In the first round, judges will be fed a three-course meal of oysters, then go home and have sex. In the second round, they will be fed an equally delicious and light three-course meal of chocolate, then go home and have sex. After each round, judges will fill out a brief “Sextionnaire” asking them to rate their arousal and pleasure on a scale of one to ten.
They will also be required to have sex one additional time, on a non-aphrodisiac day, and fill out the Sextionnaire. This is called a “control” and makes the whole thing seem more sciency and less like an excuse to get free shellfish.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE OYSTER’S STRATEGY In this fight, the oyster should rely upon some key factors.
- Its resemblance to the female genitalia. In the opinion of most experts, this is the big thing the oyster has going for it. But could this hurt the oyster with the gay male judges?
- Its zinc content. If the oyster can flood our judges’ bloodstreams with the important nutrient zinc, this could increase their testosterone levels, leading to increased energy and arousal.
- Its association with the sea. Aphrodite came from the sea, and she is the goddess of love. The oyster needs to use every weapon in its arsenal, real and mythological, to win this tough challenge.
ROUND ONE: The Oyster Comes Out Swinging
Oysters on the Half Shell with Ginger Mignonette, Shochu Oysters Andrea, Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet 2005 Oyster Po’ Boy Grapes
The oysters were on the smaller side, with a clean, sweet flavor. From one of our judges: “Oysters are so sensual from beginning to end. Preparing oysters, eating them, sucking and licking the shells, and then wishing there was at least one more, it’s all erotic.”
When I went shopping, I found some sorrel, so I decided to use this in a second course, which I named Oysters Andrea (right) after one of our judges, a beautiful Merce Cunningham dancer.
For our third course, we had mini po’ boys (right): fried oysters on toasted hot dog buns with lettuce and homemade tartar sauce. We switched from alcohol to water, to keep us fresh. I gave the guests a few grapes and kicked them out.
NOTES FROM CHOCOLATE’S TRAINING CAMP I had the incredible good fortune to meet with Jacques Torres at his Haven on Hudson Street. Torres is an old-school trainer who makes his chocolate bars from scratch. “No one else in New York does it. It doesn’t pay. But it’s worth it to get the highest quality product.”
What is this master chocolatier’s favorite way to eat chocolate? “Smeared on my girlfriend’s body.”
Jacques is from Bandol in Southern France, which he says, jokingly, is famous for “wine and naps,” but no one catches his chocolate sleeping in the ring. In addition to the chocolate’s naturally occurring caffeine and dopamine-inducing phenylethylamine, Jacques boosts his bon bons with things like passion fruit, damiana-infused tequila and rosé Champagne. There's even a rumor that he prepares special Viagra-spiked chocolates for friends. Jacques cannot confirm this rumor, nor can I. Plus, drugging the chocolate would be unfair to the oyster.
Then again, the fight game isn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to Alexis Arguello when Aaron Pryor’s trainer slipped him that special water bottle in the late rounds of their magnificent bout. No one will ever know if that is why Aaron Pryor won by 14th round knockout.
All we ever remember is who won. As Andrew Carnegie said, “The first man gets the oyster and the second gets the shell.”
ROUND TWO: Chocolate Does Some Damage
Chocolate “soup” and Cacao Nib Salad Quail Mole with Saffron Rice; “Les Giroflées,” Belliviere 2005 Soufflé Winograd; Domaine Pouderoux, Maury, 2001
The quail looked amusingly slutty on the plate with its little legs spread, and we all enjoyed eating it with our fingers. The wine pairing suggested by Seth at the Loire-o-licious Chambers Street Wines was fabulous. This rosé is made from the unusual pinot d’aunis and was beautifully structured with enough residual sugar and coriander-peppercorn spice to stand up to the mole.
For dessert, I followed Julia Child’s reliable chocolate soufflé recipe, but, at Torres's recommendation, mixed his Peruvian chocolate with his nibby bars. This produced a fantastic texture, almost like a chocolate-chip soufflé. I’m naming this one for our opera singer. It was a great combination with a mint crème anglaise and the delightful late-harvest Grenache.
Whose hand will be raised in victory? Do oysters even have hands?
Well, it was very close, and both foods scored higher than the control night. But the nod goes to the humble oyster, with an average score of 7.8 for arousal and 8.5 for pleasure, as compared to 7.4 and 8.3 for chocolate.
The crowd roars its approval. Chocolate demands a rematch. The judges go to sleep.
Sarah Deming is a novelist and essayist living in Brooklyn. Before she was a writer, Sarah was a Golden Gloves boxing champion, a chef, and a yoga teacher. More of her work can be found at sarahdeming.com.
Delicate yet strong
Ingredients One dozen oysters One bunch sorrel (about 1 cup chopped) 4 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons clotted cream 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs 1/4 cup grated Parmesan 2 tablespoons minced shallots 1/4 cup vermouth Salt and pepper Fresh nutmeg
1. Wash sorrel but do not dry it. Chop finely, discarding stems. Melt 1 T of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the sorrel. Cover the pan and cook 2 minutes to steam and soften. Uncover and cook down, stirring, until the sorrel is thick and dark and the moisture has evaporated. Off heat, stir in clotted cream. Season with salt, pepper, and one small grating of nutmeg.
2. Shuck oysters, saving their juice. Wash out the bottom shells and set them on a broiling rack or a cookie sheet with crumpled aluminum foil on it. Place a heaping teaspoon of sorrel puree in each shell. Lay an oyster on top.
3. Melt 3 T butter and sauté the shallots a minute or two. Deglaze with the oyster liquor and vermouth. Boil down until syrupy, then add the bread crumbs and stir to moisten. Stir in parmesan.
4. Top each oyster with a generous sprinkling of crumb topping. Place under a hot broiler for 3-4 minutes, just until the crumbs are browned and crispy and the oyster is frilled.