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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 gras..you'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 out..as 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.

                  2. I have had oysters from all the US coasts, in France and some Tasmanian oysters while in OZ.

                    I happen to like cold briney Gulf oysters best but each variety has its own taste because of its variety and terroir.

                    A good oyster can be eaten plain. I'll add "stuff" when the oyster can't stand by itself. This uear I've had a suprising run of good oysters all through summer, from places in town, on the north shore and in Mobile. The Apalach oysters were good but not great as they usually are.

                    When some people bury them in garlic and cheese or katsup and hot sauce it doesn't matter what is underneath.
                    Although I will occasionaly opt for grilled oysters when I'm after the smokey grilled garlic flavor as much as the oyster.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: collardman

                      If you can get the "cold briney" ones I agree with you re: toppings. Although a good mignonette is really very good and doesn't take anything away. (Be certain, if in Europe, to fully pronounce the word lest it be mistaken for something else in French and Russian. That's all I'll say....) The last Apalatchcola ones I had--and those are often superior--were not up to snuff. I asked a fellow if the Water War between Alabama, Florida and Georgia was to blame and he said yes. Atlanta has been using 300 million gallons a day and this has drawn off much of the water to Florida's coast. In fact they declared a disaster for oystermen there last month. Last I heard, Florida was going to sue Georgia over water use in the Apalatchicola-Chattahootchie-Flint Basin. Georgia says Florida is jumping the gun and has not responded to Georgia's efforts to settle. Supreme Court gets this right off the bat. might be kinda fun if the poor fisherman doesn't starve to death first.

                      Last Mobile ones I had were last season and were good. I did have some great ones in the summer from Zone 3 in LA. Normally I don't have raw ones in the hot months because it is not fair to the oyster (even though it has already been sacrificed) But these looked terrific and they very good although I wished I could have them in January.,

                    2. There are no Appalch oysters at present.Too much fresh h20 this summer,after too little for the two years before.At their best,and when kept cold,they are salty and sweet,and served best with a drop or two of Krystal,or some of the local sauces like big ed's red.

                      1. This is as general a comparison as you'll get, but I tend to like the PEI and Cape Cod harvested oysters for eating raw, and the Gulf/Pacific varieties for cooking in stews, frying, etc.

                        I think the Northern varieties do have an edge with that lovely ocean taste as all the 'hounds before me have said, and I don't do a darn thing to them except thank them for their existence before slurping them down.

                        1. There is a standard rule of thumb that some people use. The colder the water, the better the seafood.

                          I firmly believe this to be true. Have had Gulf oysters several times and find they simply aren't as good as what's up north.
                          In other words, I would characterize them as like northern oysters but not as good.

                          I've also heard it said that whatever oyster you learned to love first will always be your favourite. So everyone's MMV.


                          1. I have eaten fresh oysters on all coasts,but not in Europe.I am not terribly bright,but I have been impressed by how what are supposed to be the same oysters,in the same area,can taste so differently in different establishments.Some plces usually have great oysters,that sometimes are average,and some places are always average.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: r1949

                              A lot depends on the harvester..some use public beds, some maintain private leases. Then you must factor in rainfall or other freshwater sources. Also, you can move the oysters to a finishing area to improve salinity/water quality. It is a tricky game.

                              1. re: hazelhurst

                                Yes, it's like many other foods, from eggs, to chickens, to beef to alligators, "pasture" and feed can make a difference in flavor

                            2. I just spent a long weekend enjoying several dozen raw Gulf specimens a day, so it's interesting to read over this thread. I grew up on NE oysters, but at this point I prefer the ones from the Gulf. I've never cared for oysters from the Pacific NW, as the "creamy"/cucumber-y/sweet notes that they're praised for make me gag. It's odd, but for whatever reason that flavor translates as rotten to my tastebuds.

                              Casamento's might be a good place for you to do further research into this whole issue, as they have excellent raw, chargrilled, and fried oysters. I can't think of a much better way to spend an afternoon.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: gort

                                Interesting. I just came back from New Orleans this past weekend, and the raw oysters at Casamento's made me gag. I'm used to briny, sweet, saline oysters from the likes of Hog Island (Northern CA) and the Pacific NW.

                                That being said, the chargrilled and fried oysters I ate at Casamento's were amazing. (Especially that pickle!) Cooking the oyster seemed to eliminate the off flavors that made me gag (which reminded me of rotten earth/a deep bog, etc).

                                1. re: Aron H

                                  Have to agree with you on Casamento's, also my sheels were so filthy with dirt, it kept getting into the oyster flesh when eaten, major disappointment.

                              2. We just returned from 5 days in NOLA. I was very surprised to see a small number of Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast oysters on display at Luke. I didn't see them until we were leaving, so I did not get any. I talked to the oyster shucker and he kindly offered me a P&J gulf oyster. He picked out a small one for me and I was shocked at how briney and ocean-y it tasted. Nothing on it all, just the oyster, WOW! I think I would agree with the comments below that the taste of differen oysters of the same variety depends on a lot of variables. I sure did get a good one at Luke.

                                1. oysters always taste better in cold weather/water...that is not to say that one region's bivalves are superior to another, it is just that gulf oyster afficionados must wait for winter...have eaten oysters in cape cod, seattle, sydney, australia, cancale, france, and even villahermosa, mexico...enjoyed them all since i, like all true foodies, am interested in the variety of taste...mostly depends on the water, particularly the salt content, since some 90 percent of the oyster is water, and your preference for small versus large...i prefer the smaller at a raw bar and the larger for grilling, stews, and great casseroles...

                                  1. ...a last thought...enjoy the regional differences in oysters, sauces, and presentation...that bottle of common pepper sauce, green peppers in white vinegar with a touch of salt and garlic, is to the southern table what mignonette is to the french...explore, expand, and investigate...you'll broaden yourself.

                                    1. I had oysters in Savannah in April - almost inedible. Mushy and not appealing. I live in Maine,where the oysters are far better. Could have been a bad batch, I suppose

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: mainehound

                                        Any idea where the oysters were from that you had in Savannah? Savannah isn't really known as an oyster harvesting area. Charleston is, but Savannah not so much. If you don't know their origin, they could very well have been Apalachicolas from the Gulf--the standard go-to oyster in the Al/N.FL/GA region. When river water flow is high, they do tend to get watered down.

                                        1. re: LorenzoGA

                                          Are they harvesting Apalachicolas Oysters. I thought is was shut down....

                                          1. re: ibew292

                                            When? Why? I haven't shopped for oysters lately, so I may be out of the loop.

                                            1. re: ibew292

                                              Part of the bay is open and they are actively harvesting.Rest of bay will probably open in sept,unless the red tide come inshore.

                                                1. re: r1949

                                                  Did the shutdown have something to do with the GA-FL water wars?--inadequate river flow into the bay? A quick Google found nothing about this. Just curious.

                                                  1. re: LorenzoGA

                                                    Eh,kind of a perfect storm,but certainly the lack of fresh water is the biggest factor.Also,overharvesting was encouraged w/ the BP spill,I guess in anticipation of a major kill,that never happened.But the variable that prevented the rebound was the lack of fresh water which creates lots of problems for oysters.

                                                    1. re: r1949

                                                      I was in Apalach on a project during the shut down and a guy from FL Fisheries was attending. His answer to my question was somewhat opaque but he said the shutdown cause had nothing to do with nature and more with legalities and economics. While too little fresh water has an affect so does too much. As in the fight by oystermen to stop Mississippi River diversion projects that would put more fresh water (and sediment) on the oyster beds to the east of the river.

                                                      Minimal rains made for wonderful salty oysters last year in Mobile, Panama City and Apalach.

                                                      1. re: collardman

                                                        too much fresh water and too little fresh both decrease the areas of the bay that are most productive.In addition,too little fresh allows the intrusion of predators that prey on oysters.I believe that had a scarcity of mature oysters.Eating immature oysters is the maritime version of child abuse

                                          2. My recent trip to Seattle confirmed a view that offends parochial tastes: in the height of the fall season, I'd put our oysters up against any from the Northwest and Northeast. But when all are at their seasonal best, I rank (raw), Northwest first, Northeast second, New Orleans third. If you haven't had the others on their soil when they are in season, don't call me a heretic. Only if you've done that can you refute my order of preference. Right now, I'd give my right arm for 2 dozen Stellar Bay oysters from British Columbia, best I've had by far.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: sanglier

                                              While my own *personal* taste preference is probably the same as yours -- if we could change terminology a bit, or at least define what we mean when we say things like "Northwest" and "Northeast" and "New Orleans" (see below) -- I think the debate is something along the lines of which wine is best, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir or Syrah . . . all three can be great; all three can be $#|+; and all three are wines that I love IN a specific time and place, and with specific foods.

                                              I tend to think of North American oysters as "West Coast" (British Columbia south to Northern California); "Northeast" (Nova Scotia south to Long Island); "Southeast" (Atlantic-based oysters, from Maryland/Virginia south to . . . ); and "Gulf Coast" (Louisiana to Florida). So my preference is West Coast, East Coast, Gulf Coast -- same as you -- with Southeast last. But I also live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I have West Coast oysters far more than from anywhere else.

                                              That said, my on-going ritual whenever I arrive in New Orleans (Fall, Winter, Spring), is to grab a dozen oysters on the half shell and a pitcher of Abita Amber. For me, that's what makes me relax and feel like "I'm home" (in my home away from home). And there is nothing I'd rather have at that moment . . . But there is NO DOUBT that the oysters from the Gulf *are* different than from the cold water Pacific oysters of the West Coast and from the oysters found in the cooler waters (compared to the Gulf) of the Atlantic -- less briny, less "snap" (as the OP phrased it), more meaty.

                                              But I've found that my "go to" wines to have with oysters won't work with Gulf Coast oysters. Muscadet¹, Picpoul², Chablis³, Albariño/Alvarinho⁴, Txakolina⁵ -- even Champagne -- none work, at least to my palate, as well as something from Bayou Teche or Abita . . .

                                              ¹ Or, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie, to give this Loire Valley wine its full name.
                                              ² Picpoul de Pinet is from the Languedoc region along the French Mediterranean.
                                              ³ Chablis is another French wine, emanating from the sub-region of Burgundy, and is produced from 100 percent Chardonnay.
                                              ⁴ The Spanish and Portuguese names for the same wine, from Galicia and the Vinho Verde regions, specifically the Rias Baixas and the Monção and Melgaço regions, respectively.
                                              ⁵ Txakoli comes from the Basque region of Spain.

                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                You left out all the bays on the Texas coast.

                                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                                  Unless Texas has a coast I don't know about, it's still the Gulf Coast . . .

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    I'm splitting hairs but you referenced Gulf Coast Louisiana to Florida.

                                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                                      Well, I'll confess that I can't recall ever having an oyster specifically identified as originating in the waters off of Texas.

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        Almost all I had last winter were from there.