OYSTERS
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Saturday, 25 June 2011 00:21
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As the evenings turn cooler and fall air pushes the hot humid summer temperatures from South Louisiana, my thoughts often turn to cold, delicious oysters on the half shell. Growing up in the deep south, we were introduced to eating

 

raw and fried oysters at very early ages. Nearly every Friday from October through January, Mamma would make certain a few dozen raw oysters were on the dinner table available as an appetizer before the main meal. Oyster recipes in our family were limited to raw, fried, and served as an oyster dressing during holiday feasts back in the “early days”. Years later, the repertoire expanded!

Today, restaurants feature many variations of preparing oysters that we can often prepare in our own kitchens. My taste buds are running rampant as I continue this dialog, but must restrain to provide some of the interesting and perhaps not-so-interesting facts about the popular mollusk.

Through archeological discovery of ancient middens (mounds), shell remains date back to the early Greeks and Romans centuries ago. Oysters were also a mainstay for Native Americans living along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts.

Today Americans consume over 100 million pounds of oysters every year. The official name of the Gulf Coast oyster is Crassostrea virginica (Gmelin). The species was extremely abundant prior to 1880 and reached it harvesting peak at the turn of the 20th century. Just to settle an argument— this family of oyster is incapable of producing a gem-quality pearl. So if that’s your only purpose in eating them, please stop and save ‘em for the rest of us!

Oyster habitats are most often found in the brackish or partly salty waters along the coastlines. The oyster season usually lasts from September to April—the months that include an “r”. Spawning during the spring and summer months usually results in a fatty, watery, and less flavorful texture. However today, many oysters are farmed—raised in cooler waters and available commercially throughout the year.

Eaten raw, oysters, like clams, are susceptible to biotoxins that can be seriously damaging to the human immune system. If you’re going to attempt to harvest your own, be sure to first check the status of those waters with your local marine fishery government agency. Healthy oysters are an excellent source of calcium, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and copper.

An excellent source for information about Louisiana oysters is on the Louisiana Oyster website. They also feature a current list of suppliers of shrimp, crab, oysters, and fish in Louisiana.

Another interesting fact about oysters is that there is no way of determining male from female by examining their shells. While they do have separate sexes, they may change their sex many times during their 30-40 year life span. A single female oyster can produce up to 100 million eggs annually. The eggs become fertilized in the water, develop into larvae, and find a suitable location to develop (sometimes another oyster). Oysters usually mature in just one year.

Because oysters feed by filtering food from floating plankton, water quality near oyster beds is higher. The beds are popular habitats for anemones, barnacles, striped bass, black drum, and red fish. The oyster’s greatest predators include crabs, pelicans, sea gulls, and humans.

Harvesting oysters varies according to the water depth and equipment available. Popular in South Louisiana are the oyster tongs. These long-handled rakes are used to reach beds 4′ to 8′ below the surface. The oysters are scraped into piles on the bottom and lifted in a scissor-like manner using the long tongs.

Now on to the eating part of the story! Perhaps the most famous of all cooked-oyster recipes is Oysters Rockefeller. It was created by Jules Alciatore, grandson of the founder of Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans. He so named the dish because the amount of butter used made for a sauce as rich as the Rockefeller family! This website includes a very close-to-authentic version ofOysters Rockefeller; so give it a try.

There are nearly 30 appetizer recipes that contain oysters in Cajun Today. Another of my favorites isOysters Mosca. Be sure to include a healthy portion of buttered, garlic, and parmesan-flavored angel hair pasta on the side. This recipe was made famous by the Mosca family at the small, but very popular restaurant about 10 miles south of New Orleans on Highway 90.

Now I’m not going to claim to have the famous charbroiled oyster recipe from Drago’s Restaurant in New Orleans; but the Grilled Oyster recipe in Cajun Today is definitely delicious!

Lastly, but certainly not least, I must include Mamma’s wonderful Oyster-Artichoke Soup recipe. Big hit, especially on a cold winter’s day. Be sure to serve it with hot, toasted French bread rounds. Oh, ca c’est bon!

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 16:23