New residents to our region, and even those of us who are fortunate to have been here awhile, find this place fascinating and pleasurable for a wide variety of reasons.
Always mentioned and appreciated is the friendliness and hospitality of the people in the area. Yes, we are a friendly lot, never fearful of offering a smile and happy to make the effort to look each other in the eye. Some areas of the country have citizens who avert their eyes downward when walking along the street. Here we greet you eye to eye.
Then there’s the weather. Yes, it is warm, even humid along "America’s Third Coast." And that’s the way it is year-round. We know it and we love it.
Festivals? Oh boy, we do truly enjoy a good festival! And we stage them with the least little provocation, for the silliest of reasons. No one ever has second thoughts about shrimp and petroleum linked together, or mullet flying through the air, or betting on races with contestants that are crawfish or crabs.
But the one thing that absolutely astounds even the most die-hard sports fan from another part of the country is the intensity with which we follow our football teams. Gulf Coast people are rabid about football. It makes no difference if our team is at the high school, college or professional level; we are loyal and crazy about our lads in shoulder pads.
Alabama vs. Tennessee, 2009
There is no comparing this always-getting-carried-away loyalty and devotion for Gulf Coast football to anything else, anywhere else. From Friday night into Saturday afternoons and evenings all the way to Sunday, we are in the stands, listening to the radio, swapping stories on the internet, reading newspapers and watching TV. We can’t get enough football news, nor can we buy enough logo merchandise. We become walking experts and billboards for “our team.”
To make matters even sweeter, after a long off-season from football is the simultaneous arrival of oyster season just about the time conflicts on the gridiron get underway.
Traditionally, oysters were not eaten in any month that does not have an “r.” June, July, and August were not oyster-eating periods. That was mostly due to a lack of refrigeration on the oyster harvesting boats, and the water being warm already this time of year, the bivalves were at risk of quick spoilage.
Also the oysters harvested in the summer months were not quite ready for prime time, often having a milky consistency which was not pleasant. Would not hurt you, just not as delightful as oysters taken in cooler months when the water is cooler.
The Gulf Coast is fortunate to have a wide area along our coast populated by oyster beds, from the area around Apalachicola, Fla., across the Florida panhandle, through Alabama, into Mississippi, all over the Louisiana coastline, and into Texas. Our oysters are mostly wild-grown, that is they are not seeded or farm-raised but reproduce naturally and prolifically. Oysters like brackish waters, which is a mix of both salt and fresh water.
Rivers flowing into the Gulf provide a perfect environment for the development of oysters. When there is too much fresh water or too much salt water, the oysters shut down the maturing process, maybe even die. The 2010 BP oil spill which intruded into many oyster beds, particularly in Louisiana, and the floods of 2009 in the central part of the U.S. which sent too much fresh water down the river systems, both negatively impacted the harvesting of oysters.
Lately there has been some movement in the oyster fishing community to establish “farms” in spots along the coast where the oysters can be properly grown and conditions controlled to a certain extent. This has long been the practice on both the East and West Coasts. It never before has been needed here but with the latest ecological and environmental disasters, there are some thoughts on how to minimize the negative economic effects that seem to be occurring more frequently.
Fresh oysters are a staple in restaurants along the entire span of the Gulf Coast. They are served ice-cold, even on ice. Oyster shuckers (openers) are not just talented and experienced folks, they are also great guys and girls (but mostly guys) to talk to while they open a dozen or two before your very eyes. Tip them well and reap some special rewards, usually.
Tandarie, stock.xchng, 2007
Some folks like to create an oyster dipping sauce comprised of ketchup, Worcestershire Sauce, lemon and horseradish, sometimes adding a dash of Louisiana hot sauce for good measure. Others simply like to drizzle lemon onto each oyster and eat them right out of the shell. And still other folks enjoy a French creation, mignonette, which is a blend of cracked pepper, minced shallots and vinegar. There are also those who would not tackle an oyster without placing it on a saltine cracker. Whatever it takes for you is the right way to go.
In New Orleans, Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House, located right on Bourbon Street, has paired the city's love of oysters with its love for the Saints. The restaurant team created a Black and Gold (the colors of the New Orleans Saints) oyster dish, using Louisiana oysters on the half-shell, topping them with Louisiana caviar. The sources for the caviar are the choupic, known in other parts of the country as bowfin, which yields black eggs, and farm-raised catfish which yields gold eggs. It makes for quite a pretty presentation of ice-cold oysters on the half shell topped by either black or gold caviar, three of each, for only $9.
Grilled oysters are placed on a barbecue grill on the half shell then slathered with a butter-garlic sauce. The quick cooking marries the sauce to the still juicy oyster. Omigod, is it good!!
Fried oysters are quite popular, both as a main course and also as a po-boy sandwich in just about every restaurant along the Coast. The French bread is buttered, toasted a bit, laden with fried oysters, then, to your liking, tartar sauce or ketchup-based spicy sauce and plenty of pickles are served with fries or homemade potato chips. Now, that’s lunch.
It does not matter how your tastes run, all that matters is that you truly enjoy one of our most popular delicacies from the sea. And that is the gauge of a really great oyster. It is like a kiss from the sea. Cool, salty, even briny.
Drinking with oysters is as varied as the way you like your oysters. On the half-shell, oysters pair very well with Champagne or sparkling wine. Lighter white wines, like sauvignon blanc, albariño or dry Rieslings make for a nice complement. There’s always a good, ice cold beer opportunity here, too.
Avoid sweet pairings, like cocktails or carbonate soft drinks, as the salt in oysters demands something that works with that aspect and sweet drinks don’t.
Oysters and football along the Gulf Coast: It’s the sexiest season. Aren’t we lucky to be here?