From the Louisiana Seafood Board
A holiday season in South Louisiana without Gulf seafood would be something like jolly, red-cheeked Santa Claus without a sack full of presents: unthinkable.
From Thanksgiving through the New Year, the bounty of those waters winds up in rich, savory seafood gumbos, classic oyster dressings, and every shrimp dish imaginable.
Poppy Tooker, New Orleans chef, author and activist.
But things are a little different this year after the BP oil spill, says New Orleans food activist, writer and radio host Poppy Tooker, an unwavering advocate of Louisiana seafood.
While the rest of the world is still casting doubt on the testing procedures showing that Gulf seafood is safe, locals are worrying about whether there are enough oysters to go around and fretting over how much the price has gone up this year on sacks and shucked gallons of the succulent bivalve.
“My biggest concern right now is that, in Louisiana, we’re living in a little bit of a bubble,” Tooker says. “We’re thinking about how to get oyster dressing on the table, but people don’t realize that the moment you cross state lines, there’s so much suspicion and concern about the safety of our seafood.”
Tooker believes that the Gulf coast community has gotten the message loud and clear: “Our seafood goes through six separate testing procedures before it gets to our mouth. It’s the safest seafood you can eat right now,” Tooker says.
But in places throughout the country where seafood isn’t so ingrained in the culinary culture and traditions, the suspicion and outright rejection of Gulf seafood could ultimately cripple the fishing community in Louisiana.
“I joke that the new local motto is, ‘Louisiana seafood: we can eat it all!’, but the truth is, we need people everywhere to love it and support it as much as we do to keep the industry alive,” Tooker says.
For her part, Tooker is on a mission to educate through food. This season is a prime one for teaching and preaching, because Gulf seafood is the backbone of the holiday spread in Louisiana
Tooker rattles off her list of favorites, like seafood gumbo brimming with gumbo crabs,
shrimp and oysters.
“We have a ritual: We sit down to eat a bowl of seafood gumbo or two, have a glass of wine or two, then go back into the kitchen to finish cooking dinner,” Tooker says.
Oysters are serious business, too, served freshly shucked on the half-shell and with flutes of Champagne on New Years Eve. “I didn’t agree to marry my husband until I made sure he had the appropriate shucking skills,” Tooker says, laughing. When she says this, one gets the distinct feeling she’s only half-kidding.
“The most important holiday dish is oyster vol-au-vent, or what we call an oyster patty. My great grandmother made oyster patties, and I make them every year, too,” Tooker says.
And maybe, just maybe, if people beyond Louisiana’s borders had a taste, they’d all embrace Tooker’s signature mantra:
‘Eat it to save it.’
OYSTER PATTIES GRAND-MERE
12 patty shells, clean centers and save tops and inside crumbs
1/4 lb. butter
1 bunch green onions, finely sliced
½ cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp thyme
1 cup plus 2 T flour
½ cup oyster liquor
4 doz oysters
3 cups hot milk
3/4 cup finely chopped celery hearts
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne
3 egg yolks, beaten
salt to taste
3/4 cup chopped patty shell crumb (from inside of patty shells)
Heat butter and add green onions, onion, garlic and thyme. Saute well. Stir in flour and cook together for 5 minutes until raw flour smell is gone.
Stirring continuously, add the oyster and their liquor. Cook until outside edges of the oysters just begin to curl. Over a medium heat stir in hot milk. Heat to just before the boil.
Stir in celery hearts, parsley, salt and peppers. Return to just under a boil. Reduce heat to low and stir in the beaten egg yolks. Stir until mixture thickens. Stir in patty shell crumbs and remove from the heat.
Allow mixture to cool completely then fill patty shells. Place four oysters in each shelll plus sauce. Place tops on filled patties and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes to heat filling and crisp the filled shells.
**This is for full size patty shells or vol-au-vents but can be used for cocktail patty shells as well.