Cancale has been synonymous with oysters since the 16th century, when François I bestowed Cancale with ‘city’ status as a reward for the oysters he received regularly at his court. One hundred years later, Louis XIV had Cancale oysters delivered daily to Versailles, and was said to sometimes eat six dozen before a meal. What makes the oysters from Cancale so special is the Mont-Saint-Michel Bay. The shallow bay is home to the second largest tides in the world (over 40 feet) and provides an environment in which oysters, mussels, and other shellfish thrive.

Mary Margaret Chappell
Mary Margaret Chappell

Every restaurant in Cancale, from the most rustic mussel-and-french fry-joint right up to the two-Michelin-starred Coquillage restaurant offers oysters as a first course. There’s also the Marché aux Huîtres, a cluster of oyster stands by the lighthouse where you can buy shucked oysters by the dozen, then eat them while sitting on the sea wall overlooking the miles and miles of oyster beds that ring the bay.

Mary Margaret Chappell

Throughout France, oysters on the half shell are served with slices of lemon, a small cup of mignonette sauce (below), and lots and lots of bread and salted butter. To that assortment, I like to add a peppermill. I first tasted freshly-ground black pepper on an oyster at Le Coquillage restaurant when local chef Olivier Roellinger had his 3 Michelin stars. (His son Hugo helms the kitchen now.) It was a revelation. Today, Les Epices Roellinger (the family’s spice business with locations in Cancale, Saint-Malo, and Paris) has come out with a pepper blend especially for oysters, Poivre des Mers.

This recipe is the starter for "A Menu From My Cancale Kitchen."

Serves 2 or can be scaled up

  • One or two dozen very fresh oysters, chilled and shucked (top shells retained for arranging on platter)
  • Mignonette Sauce
  • One lemon, cut into wedges
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Slices of crusty artisan bread
  • Best-quality salted butter


1. Arrange the oysters on a platter or platters, using the top shells (turned over) as a bed to help stabilize the oysters. (Or serve on seaweed, rock salt, ice, or whatever you like!) Be sure to include a little bowl of the mignonette sauce on each platter. Garnish with lemon wedges. Grind a bit of pepper over the oysters, or pass the pepper grinder.

2. Serve the oysters with bread and butter alongside.


Mignonette Sauce

Makes ¼ cup

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Pinch of salt, grind of black pepper


1. Stir together all the ingredients in a small bowl. Let stand 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop. The sauce will keep 2 to 3 days in the fridge. Leftover sauce can be used to make a flavorful shallot vinaigrette.