THERE is no more classic staple than oysters served in their purest form: simply opened, arranged on crushed ice and served raw.

If they are on a menu, I cannot resist them. They exude the glamorous sophistication of the bustling grandes brasseries of Paris.

How did they become so desirable? In yesteryear, servants would famously demand oysters no more than three meals a week, such was their ubiquity and cheapness. Now the balance is somewhere between accessible and luxurious.

Ease anxiety about the raw texture by serving them warm; then they are as delicious as mussels. A fish pie plumped up with the silky surprise of oysters is a sumptuous treat. Similarly, a leek and potato soup with oysters either poached and served whole or blitzed through is elevated from the everyday to the extravagant. Ultimately, eating from the shell is part of the appeal for me, so I adore the rich spinach and anchovy topping of traditional Rockefeller. For a short cut, grill oysters topped with béarnaise then glazed under a hot grill.

Recipes serve 4

Grilled oysters with béarnaise sauce

6 oysters per person

A bushy sprig of thyme

2 large shallots, peeled and finely (but roughly) chopped

120ml good quality white wine vinegar

5 black peppercorns

1 packet good quality unsalted butter

4 free-range egg yolks

1 level dstsp each chopped tarragon and chervil leaves, stalks reserved

Oyster knife

1. Place vinegar in a small saucepan; add thyme, shallots, peppercorns and the chopped, reserved herb stalks. Place over a gentle heat and simmer down until 2 dstsp worth remain. Remove form heat at once and cool. Pass through a small sieve. Set aside for now.

2. Line a large oven-proof tray with wrinkled up tin foil so the oysters are held in place as you open them. With a folded tea towel in your hand, hold each oyster, curved side downwards, flat side upwards. The rounded end of the shell should be wedged into folded towel, the thin, pointed end protruding outwards. Press down onto a secure table top so it is steady.

3. Place the tip of the oyster knife at the oyster's pointed end. Where the lower curved side rises up to meet the flatter upper side, there is a small lip or indentation. Press the tip hard into this, angled downwards at about 45 degrees, while also making small twisting motions with the knife. The knife will suddenly pierce the seal and release the lid, causing it to pop apart. Using the side of the knife, loosen the rest of the lid away from the lower larger portion of shell and discard the lid. Loosen the oyster away form the base shell then place it on your prepared tray so it is stable. Remove any loose shards of shell. Continue until they are all open. Refrigerate until needed; they can be opened and covered about an hour or two beforehand. Afterwards you can reward yourself with a glass of Champagne!

4. Make the béarnaise sauce as close as possible to serving. Gently warm the butter in a small saucepan to melt (it should feel warm, not hot). Meanwhile, bring another pan of water to the boil then switch off the heat. Place the egg yolks in a round-bottomed mixing bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk for two minutes until starting to froth. Set the bowl over the hot water and continue whisking until doubled in volume. Ensure they do not become too hot or the egg will cook and scramble. If necessary, remove the bowl occasionally from the above the hot water.

5. Set the bowl of whisked egg on a damp cloth to steady, and while whisking, slowly drizzle in the melted butter a little at a time, stopping before you reach the milky solids at the bottom. Add some of the vinegar reduction, season lightly with a little salt then adjust the seasoning and consistency: it should be piquant and the consistency of a thick spooning sauce. Finally stir in the chopped herbs. Cover the surface with cling film then set over a bowl of warmed (not hot) water.

6. To serve: heat the oven to 180C, and also heat the grill. Place the oysters in the oven for three minutes. Meanwhile, re-whisk the béarnaise sauce, remove the oysters from the oven and spoon a little sauce on each one. Return to the oven for two minutes then place under the grill for a minute. Arrange on serving plates. Serve with a small fork and spoon.

Oyster Rockefeller

1 clove garlic peeled and finely sliced

1 bag baby spinach leaves

1 bag watercress

2g each tarragon and chervil

Leaves from a bunch of celery (optional)

1 bunch spring onions, sliced in fine rounds

150g unsalted butter, softened

2-4 tinned anchovies

30ml Pernod

Two spoonfuls breadcumbs

1. Heat a large pan and add a small amount of butter. Add all the ingredients to the pan, except the remaining butter, then sweat them slowly together until the spinach and onions have softened.

2. Transfer to a blender and process until smooth; fold in the softened butter.

3. Spread out a sheet of cling film and roll up the butter mix in a long sausage shape and chill until needed. (Can also be frozen.)

4. To cook and serve, open the oysters as described in steps 2-3 above, then place a slice of the Rockefeller butter on each oyster. Bake in the oven at 180C for 6-8 minutes until the oyster is warmed and the butter has melted over the top.

Geoffrey Smeddle is chef patron of The Peat Inn by St Andrews, Fife KY15 5LH, 01334 840206