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The Love Shuck

On National Oyster Day, a Little History and a Big Recipe



For the bivalve lovers out there, today is going to be a good one — it’s National Oyster Day.

 

The word oyster covers two different types of mollusks: true oysters and pearl oysters, which are not eaten but only harvested for their jewels. While there are hundreds of different types of oysters, usually named after the bed they were harvested from, there are only five species of the briny shellfish — Atlantic , Pacific, Kumamoto, Olympias, and the Belons. Gulf Coast oysters are members of the crassostrea virginica (Atlantic) species but are considered to be plumper and tastier than their Mid-Atlantic cousins.  Luckily for us, lower levels of salinity and warmer waters allow local oyster beds to reproduce and repopulate all year round in the wild — yielding a mild, unchanging product.

 

Humans have been eating oysters since the dawn of time, although it must have taken a very desperate and hungry caveman to shuck the first shell.  The Romans were the first to actively farm and cultivate oysters by harvesting natural oyster seed stocks from the Adriatic Sea and planting them across the empire for consumption. By the 19th century, oysters were soaring in popularity despite their reputation as a primarily working class dish. New Orleans’ oldest restaurant, Antoine’s, bought into the craze with the creation of Oysters Rockefeller in 1899 — its creator Jules Alciatore claimed that a dish with a sauce so rich needed a rich man’s name. But by the 20th century, overfishing and disappearing beds led to higher prices and scarcer stock although recovery efforts are slowly building natural oyster beds back up across the country.

 

The oyster has long been central to life in South Louisiana from a beloved cooking ingredient to a material to pave roads with.  Until the BP oil disaster in 2010, Louisiana was the largest oyster producer  in the nation — hundreds of local beds were destroyed by the diversion of fresh water from the Mississippi River to prevent crude oil from reaching the already fragile marshlands. Despite the setback, Louisiana production is on a steady rebound, ranking only below Washington.

 

While the rest of the world usually enjoys oysters raw and on the half shell, New Orleanians have found several different ways to prepare the shellfish.  There’s the classic fried oyster po-boy from a mom and pop place like Domilise’s and the oyster and french fries plate from Liuzza’s.  Or a dozen on the half shell from Casamento’s. There’s the white tablecloth version in Galatoire’s Oysters Bienville and the backyard BBQ chargrilled oyster from Drago’s. But for sheer oyster perfection, consider the garlic, Parmesan and olive oil drenched Oysters Mosca from that white shack slice of heaven out on Highway 90 called Mosca’s.

 

 

In celebration of National Oyster Day, we’ve got an oyster recipe for y’all courtesy of Chef Emeril Lagasse. Check it out below:

 

Frissee and Arugula Salad with Pan Fried Oysters and Creamy Fennel Dressing

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 ounces sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 bulb fennel (about 1 pound), halved and cored
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely diced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1/3 cup Herbsaint or Pernod liqueur
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups canola, grapeseed, or other vegetable oil
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 12 medium-size shucked oysters (about 8 ounces)
  • 8 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh arugula or spinach, large stems removed, leaves rinsed and spun dry
  • 1 small head frisee, rinsed, core removed, leaves pulled apart (about 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 apple, cored and thinly sliced or julienned

 

DIRECTIONS

  • Cook the bacon in a small saute pan over medium-high heat until it is crispy, 7 to 9 minutes.  Drain, and set the bacon aside on paper towels to cool.  Crumble the cooled bacon, and set it aside.
  • Thinly slice one half of the fennel bulb on a mandoline, or with a sharp knife, and set it in a small bowl.  Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and set it aside for 20 minutes.  Then rinse the fennel well under cool water, pat it dry, and cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Cut the remaining fennel into small dice.  Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add the diced fennel, shallot, garlic, 1/2 teaspon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the white pepper.  Cook until tender, stirring as necessary, about 3 minutes.   Carefully add the Herbsaint to the pan and cook until the liquid has been absorbed, 2 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool for 5 minutes.
  • Combine the egg yolk, water, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon white pepper, and the sauteed fennel in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until smooth.  While the machine is still running, add 1 cup of the canola oil in a thin, steady stream until incorporated.  Transfer the dressing to a small container, cover, and refrigerate.  (If desired, the dressing can be thinned to your liking with additional water.)
  • In a shallow pan, stir together the cornmeal, 2 teaspoons salt, the black pepper, and the cayenne.  Dredge each oyster in the cornmeal mixture and set them aside.
  • Heat the remaining 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a 12-inch saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add the oysters and cook until they are golden and the centers are set, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towels.

To assemble the salad, combine the arugula, frisee, reserved sliced fennel, reserved bacon, parmesan, and apple in a large mixing bowl.  Add 1/4 cup of the dressing (or more if desired), and toss gently to combine.  Divide the salad among four to six serving plates.  Divide the oysters among the salads, and serve immediately.

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

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Linzi Falk

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