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Sep 8, 2013 10:46 AM

Gulf area Oysters compared to Northern varieties (General Comp)

In preparation for an upcoming trip to New Orleans, I was discussing plans with friends of mine who have been a few times. A few people mentioned that raw oysters in the Louisiana region are very different than the Pac-NW and NE oysters that I am used to. They described the gulf oysters as very meaty without the snap and sweetness of Kumamotos and others.

Of course there are so many different species of oysters, and region is not the best distinction of type (afaik), however some friends whose opinions I value stated that they mostly get the chargrilled or otherwise prepared varieties of oysters when in New Orleans.

So, my question... for those of you who love oysters, and have eaten varieties local to the gulf area as well as northern varieties, how would you characterize the differences? Do you enjoy raw oysters in New Orleans (probably a stupid question). Lastly, have you enjoyed raw oysters as early in the season as Late October?

Thanks again for all your opinions.

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  1. I have eaten oysters from Maine all the way around to Texas and in Northern California and Oregon (but not Washington..yet). Gulf oysters fry up better than any but you get a wide variety in the ability to do it and in the coatings used. We have had a surprisingly decent time of Hot Weather lately (mornings in August were tolerable untl about 8:30--for the most part) which leads the ever-hopeful to think an early fall might be in the offing. Fall = colder weather=colder water=better oysters. But it is still a question of time. I've joked with oystermen for years about how that first cold snap send folks out for oysters and they rave about how much better the things are. But the ones they are eating were harvested days before, before that cold front moved through. I doubt, when you are here in October, that there will have been enough temperature drop for long enough to bring out the best.

    The Gulf oyster does not have the ocean taste of the East Coast, that metallic tang. In its prime it is meaty and salty and might have a bit of a zing but not much. This is why we mix "oyster dope" which is ketchup, horseradish and whateveer else you want. It is NOT "oyster cocktail" sauce but the idea is similar. The same stuff was being made up in oysters bars in New York and Maryland when I was a kid. It seemed to vanish from lots of places.

    I am old enough to remember people who railed against Oysters Rockefeller as "a fraud." (It was supposedly designed to take the place of escargot at Antoine's). I like the stuff but the oyster does get shunted aside, musch as it does in teh realtively recent "chargrilled" oyster, which is a descendant of backyard BBQ afternoons. It is just garlic, butter, and cheese, and then each maestro tries to plant his own impramatur on the things. Oysters en brochette are a success (Better than the shrimp version which has mercifully vanished) but you are dealing with bacon there and what can go wrong? Same for a good version of Oysters Bienville which has all your basic food groups: butter, cream, cheese, shrimp, wine...and a few seasons of, oh, twelve or so?

    And then there is the oyster stew or Oyster milks soup (same thing n my world) which you also used to get in Maryland and at the Grand Central Terminal Oyster Bar in the days when the oyster crackers were still loose in the little bowls with hotelware silver spons (instead of plastic packs). Do that right and it is fabulous. The temptation of Modern Chefs, though, is to Be Different and "improve" on it, a sure road to disaster.

    I would'nt do any of the local treatements on European oysters, I don;t think. Rock oysters in Scotland, for example would be ruined by anything I just described..and Belons I'd fight to protect from anything other than lemon.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hazelhurst

      <<Oysters Bienville which has all your basic food groups: butter, cream, cheese, shrimp, wine...and a few seasons of, oh, twelve or so?>>

      To be "complete," it would require foie gras, and then bacon...


      PS - for the latter, lemon and fresh parsley only.

      1. re: Bill Hunt

        I have seen bacon in versions but never fois're on to something. Expect to see it within the year.

    2. I love gulf oysters but that is what I grew up on. Since moving to the northeast I was shocked by the price and the fact that there are actually places on the Jersey shore that don't know how to properly shuck an oyster.
      The oysters up here do have more of an ocean taste which I do enjoy but having grown up on gulf oysters they just don't compare

      1. Nothing too early about late October - I have been eating Gulf oysters all through the summer. I'm in FL and more are brought from Alabama because of the problems around Apalachicola. We are into the "R" months.

        1. Not to be heretical, but for eating raw oysters (which is how I like 'em best), I prefer the smaller Pacific, Northwest and Northeast oyster varieties. The gulf oysters are not as good to me when eaten raw for the reasons your friends noted. I also have had a hard time finding a good mignonette sauce in New Orleans, but I've haven't been there enough to have done an exhaustive search. Usually with the raw ones have been served lemon and cocktail sauce. In some places I asked for mignonette and sometimes they brought out some unseasoned vinegar and shallots and some places didn't even know what I was talking about. But I have a hard time finding a good mignonette in a lot of places. They usually are just unseasoned vinegar and shallots. I like the one I make at home best: blackberry vinegar, minced shallots, Meyer lemon zest, salt, sugar and cracked pepper.

          8 Replies
          1. re: mwest9

            I had never seen a mignonette sauce until I moved to the northeast

            1. re: roro1831

              I enjoyed mignonette with my middle neck clams in PB two nights ago.

            2. re: mwest9

              There is no mignonette sauce in New Orleans unless you make it yourself. I used to carry it around in an old Lea & Perrins bottle. It vanished from US tables in the 1960s I think. You certainly did not see it in New York then. I first encountered it in a 1939 cookbook when I was about 10 years old and it intrigued me. It made a comeback in the 1980s I'd say.

              It never vanished in Europe, I don't think. It was always in London and France, of course, and I had some in 2001 in St Petersburg, Russia.
              I am surprised that Besh or some other chef who read up in libraries hasn't chucked it out at Luke. Folse might also think it a sign of Klass.

              1. re: hazelhurst

                An aside re: no mignonette - This is one of the interesting components to regional differences in culture, most obvious to me at least in food and music. It's one of the main reasons that I enjoy traveling. It's so easy to think that in this age everywhere is homogenized, but this thankfully is not the case. Based on all the reports that i have read, New Orleans has steadfastly maintained their traditions more than most places and I will be very excited to "do as the Romans do", in this case gulf oysters with 'oyster dope' (love the expression) and just experience it for what it is.

                This is likely a totally different thread, but I would be interested in reading about the other 'Only in Louisiana' differences in food practices and traditions. Oysters are an obvious example, there's just so much else to learn.

                1. re: wynnemat

                  Luke restaurant has mignonette sauce and a great raw bar, too. Happy hour daily 3-6, 1/2 price oysters and wine and tap beer. (I hope people aren't mad at me for spilling the secret!).

                  1. re: StRoch

                    I am not surprised to hear they'd put one I noted above it seems the sort of thing Besh would have read about. I have had raw oysters there with lemon only and wasn't offered anty mignonette (that I heard..that place can be godawful loud)and I wonder if I'd have taken them upon it?

                  2. re: wynnemat

                    You might want to look at Sara Roahen's book "Gumbo Tales" which is as auslander's view of local food and culture. I have my disagreements with her but for an overall romp it is not bad.

                2. re: mwest9

                  Try this Mignonette sauce from Hogs Island oyster company in Mashall, CA.

                  Mignonette is a classic and refreshing topping for raw oysters. With a common base of light vinegar and shallot the home chef can make endless, creative variations of this traditional sauce. Hog Wash, which is served at the Hog Island Oyster Bars, is Hog Island's take with an added kick of jalapeno, cilantro and lime.

                  Hog Wash
                  1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
                  1/4 cup natural rice vinegar
                  1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
                  1 large Jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
                  1/2 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
                  juice of 1 lime

                3. Very informative replies, I appreciate it. I think it won't hurt to try a batch of raw, but with this info in mind, I will not plan a whole meal (or multiple meals, which I originally intended) around oysters.

                  As a side note, I made a reservation at Peche... they have a raw bar, I have heard good things... maybe if we do raw oysters one night, it would be there.

                  Thanks again, can't wait for our first time in your city. So excited.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: wynnemat

                    I think if you are an oyster fan, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t try our oysters. I much prefer them to the oysters I got last year at Neptune Oyster in Boston. They had a variety of different oysters from the region and I found them too briney and too salty for my taste. The best oysters I ever had were in South Africa down in the Garden Route in little towns like Knysna and Wilderness. When you are here, try them chargrilled and raw. Enjoy.

                    1. re: shanefink

                      The chargrilled at Half Shell Oyster House in Gulfport and Sarasota are awesome. I'm sure an equivalent can be found in the Big Easy.