This is Jeff Young, the Catholic Foodie at CatholicFoodie.com and you are listening to episode 128 of the Catholic Foodie: Louisiana Oysters.
Welcome, Folks, to the Catholic Foodie, where food meets faith! I’m your host Jeff Young and today we are going to talk about oysters. You may love ‘em, you may hate ‘em, but one thing is certain… the Louisiana oyster has a certain mystique and a large loyal following. Although many would argue that the best way to serve oysters is in the raw, there are so many ways to prepare them. In this episode we are going to talk about a few of those ways. Drago’s famous Chargrilled Oysters (and our variation of it). I have a few recipes for you too: fresh cocktail sauce for those yummy, slimy raw oysters, and sauces for grilled or BBQ oysters. Oh, and a special recipe for what I call the Bayou Mary Oyster Shooter.
All this and more right here, at the Catholic Foodie, where food meets faith!
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The Incredible, Edible Oyster
I didn’t always like oysters. As a matter of fact, my very first encounter with oysters happened when I was a senior in high school. I grew up in Baton Rouge, so oysters were always everywhere. I just never wanted anything to do with them. Then, one Friday night, I was invited to a friend’s house. The occasion? It was just a Friday. Probably in November. But oysters were the reason for the gathering. The host had purchased a goodly amount of shucked oysters and wanted to throw a party and serve oyster po-boys. I remember admitting that I had never eaten oysters, and I confessed that I probably wouldn’t like them. The chef’s response? She told me to add ketchup to my po-boy, and whatever you do, don’t look at what you’re eating. That was good advice. Yes, of course I looked. And it was gross! I mean the fried oysters looked delicious when they’re whole. Crispy golden. But once you bite into one, you see the slimy grey and black interior, which made me reflect on exactly what I thought I was doing. However, I did make it through the meal. I even had seconds. Why? Because it tasted great!
Whenever I eat po-boys today, I never order oyster though. It’s not because I don’t like them. It’s just that I LOVE shrimp and catfish more. But, that was my introductory culinary experience of the oyster. It would take a few years before I ventured to try one raw.
That didn’t happen until 1992 or 1993, when I was the head bartender at seafood restaurant in Baton Rouge. It was a seafood restaurant, right? I worked in the lounge, serving up all kinds of delicious libations. But, one of the things that this restaurant was famous for was its raw oysters. The same family owned a seafood market next-door, so the oysters were always fresh and plentiful. They employed a full-time oyster shucker who worked with me in the lounge. On really busy nights I’d help him shuck. Believe it or not, it took me at least a few weeks of shucking before I finally decided it was time to try one raw. Shucked it myself. And enjoyed it with a draft beer.
Next thing I know, I’m going out routinely with co-workers for raw oysters. The restaurant closed at 9:00, and we were usually out of there by 10:00. Then we would head out to a late night place, like the Chimes right outside the gates of LSU. That was our favorite haunt. Tons of beer on tap. Cold raw oysters. Excellent fried seafood. And it didn’t close till 2:00 AM. I think I used to spend all the tips had made earlier that night whenever we went to the Chimes.
The Chimes was also where I ate the oysters that almost killed me. It was 1993 or 1994. One of our routine after-work gatherings at the Chimes. There were 10 of us. All ordering oysters on the half shell. And, the oysters were particularly good that night. What we didn’t know was that they were harvested from waters that were contaminated by some kind of bacteria. That fact began to dawn on us, one at time, between 24 and 48 hours later. It was not pretty. At least a couple of us went to the hospital. I did not. I did, however, honestly think I was going to die. It was awful. Awful. And, because of that experience, I did not eat raw oysters again for a number of years. As a matter of fact, I didn’t eat them again until I was on my honeymoon with Char. We were on a beach on Margarita Island, Venezuela. We were blessed with a two-week honeymoon. To make a long story short, I was lured into eating raw oysters by our driver, a local we had befriended. He was a great guy. He brought us to an incredibly beautiful beach. I haven’t seen its equal since. It was set between the ocean on one side and a saltwater lagoon on the other. Really incredible. While enjoying that day, he insisted that we had to try the oysters. Said they were the best on the island. And so… we did. We had a few dozen I believe. And didn’t get sick. So, I haven’t been as afraid of them since… especially during oyster “season.”
We call it a season, but is it really? I mean, we start to think Oyster down here whenever the weather turns cold. Or cool. Why is that? Well, we’ll get to that shortly. But, first, I tell you what I had always been told. You can only eat oysters during months that end in R. September, October, November, December. They all end in R. Those are the safe months, right?
That’s a myth. I always believed it. Everyone I know has always believed it. I was told it had to do with heat. Oysters are living creatures. They have to be kept cold after they are harvested. Apparently, a long time ago, before refrigerated trucks (and boats), transporting oysters in the summertime could be, well, dangerous. The oysters could go bad. That makes sense, right?
Well, just the other day, I came across this press release about oysters from the US Department of the Interior. When I read it, it had me laughing so hard. Listen to this:
So, how about that? The R-month thing is a myth. And we should have known that since 1964! Too funny!
Nowadays, oysters are pretty much safe to eat year-round.
And speaking of eating oysters….
We’ve been on something of an oyster kick. This time of year – Thanksgiving through New Year’s – oysters can be in short supply. Oyster dressing often accompanies Thanksgiving turkeys across south Louisiana. Seafood gumbo is a popular Christmas dish. Then there are all the oyster bars and hungry south Louisianians with a hankering for their oysters.
I did not do an oyster dressing this year for Thanksgiving. But, I did do a seafood gumbo for Christmas. And that was tricky. Mainly because we were going to be in Baton Rouge with family for a few days, so I had to get all my seafood a few days early. The markets were going to be closed on Christmas day.
So, I went to the seafood market on Friday the 23rd. I needed lots of fresh shrimp (with the heads on!), fresh crab meat, and of course the oysters. I scored easily with the shrimp and crab meat. 5 pounds of shrimp, and two pounds of crab meat. But I almost missed out on the oysters.
I mentioned that that oysters can be hard to come by this time of year. They’re in great demand. The real cause of the scarcity is the BP Oil Spill. It has taken a long time for the proper agencies to give the green light on harvesting oysters in Louisiana. There are lots of beds that are still not being harvested. So, the supply has been drastically cut. That has also made oysters more expensive.
At the seafood market, they had only one gallon of shucked oysters left. There was a delivery truck on its way with more oysters. But it wouldn’t be there for another hour, I just didn’t have the time to wait. So, mercifully, the owner of the market offered to split the gallon into two half-gallons. A gallon would have been too much for us. And that half-gallon cost $35.00. That’s quite a bit more than in years past. But, you know what? They were delicious. We grilled some and added the rest to the gumbo.
As a side note, that gumbo was absolutely incredible. I love making and eating all kinds of gumbos. We rarely do seafood gumbo because it is so doggone expensive. But, when I served Char her bowl, she looked me and said, “This is the best gumbo I have ever eaten.” I said, “Cool.” And then she said, “No. Listen. This is the best GUMBO I have ever eaten.” She didn’t mean seafood gumbo. She meant GUMBO. Wow. That blew me away. I used my usual recipe, which you can find at CatholicFoodie.com, but I did make a few adjustments. Adjustments that apparently made all the difference, at least for Char. So, I am going to update the recipe on CatholicFoodie.com. I haven’t done it yet, but it is on my To-Do list for this week.
The oysters I got for Christmas were so good, we wanted to do a repeat of the grilled oysters. I’m going to give you that recipe shortly. But, here’s what happened. Every year around Christmas, Big D (my son’s godfather) comes over for a big Christmas seafood blowout. And a few days after Christmas we did it again. I went to the seafood market to get the oysters. I wanted a gallon this time. Guess what. They were out. Completely out. I must have looked pretty bummed out by that news. The guy behind the counter said, “I have a truck coming. Should be here any minute. But it’s only bringing me sacks. No gallons. And I think all those sacks have been reserved. Let me go check.”
He came back a few minutes later with a sack of oysters. I hadn’t planned on shucking, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. He got my name and wrote on the reservation card tied to the sack. That sack must have been an extra. But there was a waiting list for oysters too. But since I was there… wanting oysters… that gentleman took care of me.
The sack contained 100 oysters. I did a lot of shucking, but it was fun! We served lots of ‘em raw, and we grilled some too.
Coming up soon, I’ll share with you a recipe for our cocktail sauce (for the raw oysters), and a couple of different versions of grilled oysters. But, first, let’s take a listen to this story about Drago’s Restaurant in New Orleans (well, Metairie, really). This place is the home of the Chargrilled oyster. And here’s a clip from Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” This one is with Adam Gertler, host of Kid In A Candy Store. Take a listen….
- Drago’s recipe from Cooking Up a Storm
- Our recipe for “Grilled” Oysters
- Our recipe for “Chargrilled” Oysters
- Our recipe for Cocktail Sauce
Mary in the Kitchen
Thank you very much, Sarah! That was Sarah Reinhard, folks. You can find more of Sarah over at SnoringScholar.com.
We are now officially in the Mardi Gras season. Lent is not too far away, and Sarah has a Lent book and an Easter book too! You’ll find links to those books in the show notes for this episode at CatholicFoodie.com.
Thank you very much, Sarah for producing Mary in the Kitchen each episode of the Catholic Foodie. It is a blessing for me personally and, I know, for all those who listen. You can find more of Sarah’s work over at SnoringScholar.com.
I also want thank L’Angelus for allowing us to use their Ave Maria in the show. You can find them at CajunRecords.com.
This brings us to the end of the show, folks. Are you hungry yet? If not, go check out all the past episodes of the Catholic Foodie over at CatholicFoodie.com. Lots of blog posts, recipes, and more over there too. CatholicFoodie.com.
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I look forward to seeing you again next week. Until then you might want to check out the Catholic Foodie on Facebook at facebook.com/catholicfoodie. Follow me on Twitter at Twitter.com/catholicfoodie. And don’t forget to check out the Catholic Foodie website at http://cfjwyoung.wpengine.com.
Until next time… Bon appetit!
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