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French Quarter Courtyard in New Orleans
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Millsap, Diane
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Oysters, Cake and a Bottle of Champagne, 1891
Oysters, Cake and a Bottle of Champagne, 1891
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Huitres Fines De Claires (Oysters), Ile De Re, Charente Maritime, France, Europe
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The oyster is my world

Louisiana's salty bivalves are at peak of season
and the harvest is good, officials say

Thursday January 08, 2004
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA
By Marcelle Bienvenu

[Okay. It is no longer January. And there has certainly been a lot of water
under the bridge since 2004! And... you may have heard the popular myth
that the best time to eat oysters is during months that contain an "R" (i.e.
September through April) and to avoid eating oysters in months that do not
contain an "R" (May through August). But believe you me (or the Louisiana
Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board
), oysters are ALWAYS in season
in Louisiana, and in many other fine places on the planet. Therefore, we
proudly offer you Marcelle Bienvenu’s tribute to this celebrated bivalve:]

“When the first cold front of the season blows through, my husband Rock and
I make our annual pilgrimage to Abbeville to Black's Oyster Bar, our favorite
oyster house. This year, although we've had several cold fronts, we have not yet
made our trek along the back roads that wind through the parishes of St. Martin, Lafayette, Iberia and Vermilion to enjoy those salty, cold bivalves that locals
claim to be an aphrodisiac. But friends are coming this weekend, bearing a
sack of oysters from Grand Isle, and my mouth is watering.
My father first introduced me to oysters. On Friday afternoons during the winter,
Papa would bring home a little white carton filled with cold, salty oysters freshly shucked at our neighborhood grocery store. At first, I could only manage to dip a saltine cracker into his custom-made cocktail sauce and then swipe at the liquor
from the oysters in the carton. But it didn't take much coaxing before he had me choosing the smallest oysters I could find in the carton to plop on my crackers.
From then on I was a passionate oyster lover.
During the years I lived in New Orleans, I made many a trip to the Acme Oyster
House
in the French Quarter to slurp oysters, standing elbow to elbow with deliverymen, smartly dressed ladies, construction workers and suited bankers
and lawyers. I loved nothing better than concocting my cocktail sauce in the
white paper cups, adding just enough hot sauce and horseradish to the ketchup
and a tad of olive oil to suit my taste. Ice-cold beer was my poison of choice to
wash it all down. After a dozen or so oysters on the half-shell, I usually carried
home a fried oyster po-boy (dressed) to enjoy in my tiny Chartres Street apart-
ment. Ah, a little bit of heaven.
But oysters, of course, can be enjoyed in many preparations other than on the
half-shell or fried. Take, for instance, the humble oyster stew that was supper on
many a Sunday night when I was little. And I still enjoy oysters Rockefeller,
Bienville and Ruffignac, and oyster pan roast loaded with garlic.
I remember reading somewhere years ago that oyster lovers would eat them if
there was arsenic in them or part of an old shoe. Well, I'm not sure about that,
but oysters are consumed in great quantities in Louisiana and our neighboring
states where prime oyster beds are in many bays and estuaries along the Gulf
of Mexico. According to Mike Voisin, chairman of the oyster task force of the
Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board, the oyster industry is enjoying a good
season with plenty of bivalves available. Although the production in the public
areas (about 2 million acres) is down a bit, the private sector (about 400,000
acres) is doing well.
Over the years, the industry has had good times and bad. Overharvesting,
chemical and thermal pollution, natural disasters such as hurricanes, and the
oyster's natural enemies have all taken their toll. And in recent years, reports
of illness related to eating raw oysters have hurt sales.
‘We like to educate the public. If anyone has a high-risk condition such as liver problems or diabetes, we tell them to be sure they consume post-harvest treated
oysters, especially in the warmer months, or eat fully cooked oysters. We've not
had any concerns or complaints recently, and because we've not had a lot of
rain, the oysters right now are plump, salty and delicious,’ Voisin says.
Oysters vary in size, appearance and taste because the water, food, climate and
location of beds affect their growth. They range from plump and grayish with
a bland taste to greenish or coppery with a metallic taste. Some are small as a
dime while others are as big as the palm of your hand.
When given the choice, I like smaller oysters when eating them raw, as they fit
nicely on top of a cracker. But when they are cooked in any dish, I'll take them
any size as long as they're fresh from our Louisiana waters.
Baked stuffed oysters is a dish I remember from childhood. The name is a
misnomer, because they are really baked either in a casserole or in individual
ramekins, but no matter what they're called, they have long been a
family favorite.”
 

Baked Stuffed Oysters

Makes 4 appetizer servings

1 pound fresh pork sausage, removed
from casing and crumbled
1 pint oysters, drained (reserve the liquor)
and chopped
3 tablespoons minced parsley
1/4 cup minced green onions
8 slices toasted bread, finely crumbled
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and cayenne pepper
12 oyster shells (cleaned) or ramekins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brown the sausage in a heavy sauce-
pan until all pink has disappeared. Add the oysters, parsley and green
onions, and cook, stirring, for about five minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add the bread crumbs, butter and lemon juice and mix well. If the mixture
is dry, add a little of the oyster liquor. Season with salt and pepper. (If the sausage is highly seasoned, you may not have to add salt and pepper.)
Put equal amounts of the mixture in the oyster shells or ramekins (or in
a small casserole dish) and place on a baking sheet. Bake until heated
through, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

. . . . . . .

“In the 1960s I lived in the university section of New Orleans, right off
Broadway, and whenever I had a few extra dollars, I treated myself to
dinner at Compagno's on Panola Street.
I would belly up to the bar for a dozen or so on the half-shell to enjoy
with a couple of cold beers while I waited for a table in the small
restaurant. The place was always packed and everyone knew
each other.
My favorite dish there was oysters bordelaise. Unlike the classic
bordelaise sauce
that is made with wine, brown stock, bone marrow,
shallots and parsley, this one incorporated lots of garlic, butter, olive
oil, herbs and spices. It's such a simple dish, but oh so good.”
 

Oysters Bordelaise

Makes 4 appetizer servings or 2 main course servings

6 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon (or more according to taste)
minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced green onions
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce to taste
2 dozen freshly shucked oysters, drained
Salt to taste
Fresh lemon juice to taste

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil,
garlic, green onions, parsley, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Cook, stirring,
for one to two minutes. Place the oysters in a shallow baking pan and pour
the butter mixture over them. Season with salt (if the oysters are salty, you
may not need more), sprinkle with the lemon juice and place the pan under
the broiler until the edges of the oysters curl, two to three minutes. Serve immediately over toast points or cooked angel hair pasta.

 

Oysters and Artichoke Appetizers

Makes 12 appetizer portions or 4 to 6 main servings

6 whole artichokes, trimmed
1 stick butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup minced parsley
1 pint oyster liquor
Pinch each of ground thyme, oregano
and marjoram
Salt and cayenne to taste
6 dozen oysters, drained
Thinly sliced lemons sprinkled
with paprika for garnish

Boil the artichokes in water until tender. Drain and cool. Scrape the tender
pulp from the leaves. Clean the hearts and mash together with the pulp.
Melt the butter in a skillet and add the flour. Stirring slowly and constantly,
cook until smooth and well-blended. Add the green onions and garlic, and
cook, stirring, for one minute. Add the parsley, oyster liquor, thyme, ore-
gano and marjoram. Stir to mix. Season with salt and cayenne. Simmer,
stirring until the mixture thickens. Add the oysters and cook just until the
edges curl. Add the artichoke pulp and stir to blend. Spoon the mixture
into individual cups or shells and garnish with the lemon slices.
Serve warm.

2004 NOLA.com All Rights Reserved.


Featured Archive Recipes:
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Antoine's Oyster Stew
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Corinne Dunbar's Oysters Carnaval
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Mary Margaret's Oysters Johnny Reb
New Orleans Deviled Oysters
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