My favorite assessment of the goodness of our local oysters was by Richard Collin. In his last restaurant guide, his recommendation for the Best Meal at the Acme Oyster House was: "One Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell; Beer."
Then he offered his Better-Than-Best Meal at the Acme: "Two or Three Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell; Two or Three Beers."
Yep. The only thing better than oysters is more oysters.
Oysters are, to my palate, the finest of local seafoods. That's more true this year than ever. During the past few weeks, I've heard the same message both from oyster lovers and oyster sellers: They're especially good, meaty and firm right now.
Beyond those wonderful qualities, the oysters out there now have a great complexity of flavor that's not always there.
Not only are the oysters that grow around here among the best in the world, but they're available in tremendous quantity, throughout almost all of the year. The resource is so fine and so available that our cooks have dreamed up hundreds of ways to prepare them. Oysters appear in appetizers, soups, salads, seafood entrees, meat entrees. . . everything but dessert.
The hurricane killed of millions of oysters by burying them in silt, but that wasn't a long-range problem. The beds began producing as soon as six weeks after the storm, and the re-seeding process will have them back up to pre-storm levels of production next year. All that's left to be done (unfortunately, it will be a big job) is to restore the oyster fleets and dock facilities, particularly in Plaquemines Parish.
Oyster connoisseurs agree that the best way to eat them is immediately after the shell is opened. Raw oysters on the half shell, despite all warnings about the dangers they present to our health, are the standard presentation. The health warnings are true, although most of the problems affect a small minority of the population.
Oysters are seasonal. But you can eat them whenever the mood strikes me. Refrigeration on boats and trucks eliminates the reason for avoiding oysters in non-R months. However, summer is when they're at their least appealing. In early summer, the liquor in the shell can get milky. In early fall, oysters are lean and can shrink a lot when cooked. Neither of these effects is harmful, and only slightly impact enjoyment.
I admit to a local-pride aspect to my love of our oysters. But I've had oysters wherever I've traveled, including the famed Blue Points, Belons, Malpeques, Kumamoto, and Olympia oysters. None of them shows me anything that I find lacking in our oysters at their peak. On the other hand, all of those are much smaller than ours, are expensive, and typically sold a few at a time. To hell with them.
Beyond being delicious, our oysters represent a value. On a weight-per-dollar basis, there is no less expensive seafood. All of this adds up to what, for me, is the Number One seafood resource we have.
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