For pure-if-decadent simplicity, nothing beats a platter of oysters preening on their half shells. Have plenty of lemon wedges, shakers of Louisiana hot sauce and bottles of iced sparkling wine within easy reach. But don't stop with raw oysters, no matter how delicious.
New Orleans is home to famous cooked oyster dishes. Elizabeth Williams, president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, said the region’s historic oyster bounty prompted cooks to come up with a variety of ways to cook them.
“They were tired of raw,” she said. “Because we had a lot of French influences, oysters were often used in recipes where snails were not available. They were looking at escargot recipes and using oysters.
“If you could cook snails with bread crumbs, butter and parsley, you could cook oysters that way.”
Judy Walker, newspaper food editor and co-author of “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans,” agrees the availability and abundance of oysters led New Orleans cooks to experiment with recipes. She said another spur to innovation is the fact that Louisiana oysters are particularly delicious cooked.
“It’s the texture, I think, and you could get really big ones and they’d just cook beautifully,” she said.
Oysters work well at Mardi Gras time because the weather is relatively cold, even in New Orleans.
“The cooler the water, the sweeter the oysters,” Williams said. “Our oysters tend to be more tender, a bit salty and sweet at the same time.”Smoked Oyster Dip
Prep: 30 minutes Makes: 3 cups
4 slices bacon, cooked, crumbled, 2 tablespoons fat reserved 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, diced 1 can smoked oysters, finely chopped, with juice 6 tablespoons mayonnaise 1/4 cup each: diced red onions, diced celery, diced yellow bell pepper Juice of 1 lemon 1/8 teaspoon salt Freshly ground pepper, granulated garlic, hot sauce
Stir bacon, eggs, oysters, mayonnaise, onions, celery, pepper and lemon juice together in a bowl. Add salt, pepper, granulated garlic and hot sauce to taste. Transfer dip to a serving dish, spread so the top is even. Cover, refrigerate 24 hours. Serve chilled with crackers or garlic croutons.
Nutrition information: Per 1 tablespoon serving: 25 calories, 85 percent of calories from fat, 2 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 0 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 33 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Source: “Hooks, Lies & Alibis,” written by John D. Folse and Michaela D. York.
Margie's Oyster Soup
Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 20 minutes Makes: 10 servings
4 dozen freshly shucked oysters, with their liquor 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter 2 bunches green onions, white and green parts, chopped 3 ribs celery heart, finely chopped 1 each, chopped: yellow onion, clove garlic 3/4 cup flour 1 cup whipping cream 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped 1/2 teaspoon salt White pepper, ground red pepper
Poach oysters gently in their own liquor until plumped, 5-10 minutes. Drain, reserving liquor. Add enough water to the liquor to measure 2 quarts.
Heat butter in a large soup pot over medium heat; add celery, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in flour to make a smooth paste. Slowly whisk in oyster liquor and cream. Heat until just boiling. Add parsley and oysters. Add salt and peppers to taste. Serve hot.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 253 calories, 68 percent of calories from fat, 19 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 74 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 270 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Source: The late chef Warren Leruth privately printed a recipe booklet in 1983 to mark the 20th anniversary of his restaurant, LeRuth’s. This soup from his mother-in-law, Marie Margarite Huet Rizzuto, was included. Judy Walker, food editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, published the recipe in “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans.”
Prep: 1 hour Cook: 20 minutes Makes: 6 servings
3 dozen fresh-shucked oysters, liquid, shells reserved 6 cups rock salt 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter 1/2 cup minced each: onions, celery, garlic 6 to 8 cups packed spinach leaves or 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen spinach, thawed 2 cups sliced green onion tops 1 cup chopped each: flat-leaf parsley, watercress 2 tablespoons each: flour, Pernod 3/4 cup ketchup 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce 1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce 1/2 teaspoon salt Freshly ground pepper
Wash oyster shells well, scrape off any dirt. Place 1 cup rock salt on each of six serving plates.
Melt butter over medium high heat in a saucepan. Add onions, celery and garlic; cook until wilted, 3-5 minutes. Add spinach, green onions, parsley and watercress; cook, stirring, until vegetables are wilted. Sprinkle in flour and Pernod; stir to mix. Add ketchup and oyster liquid. Stir well, simmer 2-3 minutes. Add Worcestershire and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place contents of saucepan in a food processor; puree. If mixture becomes too loose, add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour to thicken slightly. Adjust seasonings. Cool slightly.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place oyster shells on baking sheets. Place 1 oyster in the center of each shell. Divide the Rockefeller sauce equally over oysters. Bake until hot and bubbly, 10-15 minutes. Place six oysters in a circle over rock salt on each plate.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 279 calories, 53 percent of calories from fat, 17 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 62 mg cholesterol, 26 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 899 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
Source: Chef John D. Folse writes in his Louisiana cookbook, “Hooks, Lies & Alibis,” that this dish was named for oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller because it was so rich.
Oyster and Artichoke Gratins
Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 15 minutes Makes: 6 servings
1 cup unseasoned fine dry breadcrumbs 1 cup finely chopped fresh, blanched artichoke hearts 1/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan 2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic 1 tablespoon minced fresh flatleaf parsley 1 teaspoon each: Creole seasoning, pepper 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup olive oil 12 shucked oysters
Combine the breadcrumbs, artichokes, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, garlic, parsley, Creole seasoning, pepper, salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a mixing bowl. Thoroughly mix by hand until the mixture resembles graham cracker crumbs, breaking up the artichoke pieces into smaller bits as you mix. Set aside.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a 12-inch skillet over high heat 1 minute; quickly drain the liquor from the oysters (they should still be very wet); add the oysters in a single layer to the skillet. Cook just until the edges curl, about 1 minute. Do not overcook. Divide the oysters among six baking dishes. If there is more than 1 teaspoon or so of oyster liquor in the dishes, drain off the liquid.
Divide the artichoke mixture among the dishes, patting the mixture firmly so all of it will fit. Place dishes on rimmed baking sheets. Bake until the tops are browned, 5-10 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven; evenly sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Parmesan on top of each dish. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the top of each, making sure the edges get a few more drops than the rest of the surface. Return the baking sheets to the oven; bake until gratins bubble around the edges, 3-5 minutes. Cool 5 minutes.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 309 calories, 63 percent of calories from fat, 22 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 27 mg cholesterol, 16 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 629 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Source: “Pairing the flavors of oyster and artichoke is a recurring theme in New Orleans cooking,” writes Ralph Brennan, the Crescent City restaurateur, in his “New Orleans Seafood Cookbook.” This recipe calls for individual baking dishes, each about 6½ inches in diameter. Substitute frozen or canned artichoke hearts if fresh aren’t available.