It was a beautiful late-summer day: gentle breeze, clear skies, comfortably warm. A perfect time to go to the sea. With two visiting friends, we headed out in search of seafood and the beach.
One destination on our long list of places still to visit and things still to do was an oyster and mussels farm / sales stand named Coqui Thau (pronounced coh-kee-toh). Reports have been that they offer a casual, waterside dégustation (tasting) of super-fresh raw and cooked oysters and mussels. The name comes from coquillage and Thau. Coquillage means shellfish; the shellfish farm is in the Étang de Thau, which roughly translates as the Thau Lagoon. A narrow sandy barrier separates L’Étang de Thau from the Mediterranean, between the towns of Sète and Agde.
L’Étang de Thau is famous for its oyster and mussel farms. The oysters we regularly buy in Carcassonne’s Saturday market come from the étang. There are around 600 shellfish-raising businesses in the lagoon, harvesting about 12,000 tons of oysters each year!
Coqui Thau is located on the outskirts of the village of Marseillan at the southern end of the étang. Our GPS selected the exit from the autoroute, and led us along narrow, almost single-lane roads through the flat coastal land. These narrow roads are common in the agricultural countryside in this part of France. There are no shoulders; only precipitous drainage ditches on both sides. Local drivers are so familiar with the roads that they zip along confidently. We, on the other hand, are sure that our side-view mirrors will be sheared off any time we meet oncoming traffic.
We found Coqui Thau along a rustic street, which was lined with many other shellfish vendors. All the buildings along the street abutted one another. They expressed simple rough utility. This is a shellfish raising, harvesting, managing and selling industrial district.
We walked through the unadorned sales area, passing troughs of seawater and fresh oysters and mussels. At the back, we found an outdoor covered wooden pier with about eight tables. The breeze was soft, and the view of the étang was shimmery.
A simple menu: oysters and mussels, raw and cooked; fresh bread; a carafe of rosé.
Coqui Thau highlights their version of steamed mussels. Perhaps you’ve had moules frîtes (mussels and fries). The steamed mussels come to the table in a lidded pot, and you use one empty mussel shell to grab the other cooked mussels in the pot. Traditionally, the mussels are steamed with some combination of white wine, water, garlic, and/or herbs. Coqui Thau calls their version Brasucade de moules. (Brasucade comes from an Occitan word meaning grilled or roasted with chestnuts.) The Brasucade mussels are boiled with wine, red and green peppers, garlic and piment d’espelette (a lightly spicy ground pepper from the Basque region of France — this is about as spicy as the French palate gets, which isn’t very spicy!) The combination of the hot steamed fresh mussels and the peppery flavors was wonderful. When we go back, I’m going to order a platter of raw oysters, followed by a pot of Brasucade de moules.
The strip of land that creates the étang is one long beach. The beautiful day invited us to take a walk along the water’s edge. With input from Google maps’ satellite view, we found a parking area adjacent to a relatively undeveloped part of the beach. We walked a short way through the dunes and emerged onto the long wide beach. This was early in September, just after the August summer holiday rush. There were sun bathers and swimmers, but not many of them. The water was cool, the sun bright, and the air fresh. We strolled and chatted up and down the beach, feet in the calm surf edge. A beautiful after-lunch promenade.