Friday, February 1, 2008

Mardi Gras

a perfect time to celebrate oysters.

Mardi Gras comes early in 2008 and I expect to be really busy, however busy or not, Fat Tuesday requires at least a minimum of gold, green, and purple celebration. New Orleans does hold a special place in the history of regional American cuisine. The cultural background of the city alone ensures its uniqueness. Creole cooking is most identified with the French immigrants in the city itself. French cooking techniques with other cultural influences coupled with the local game, seafood and produce has resulted in the cuisine now known as Creole. The word Cajun, a corruption of the word Acadian, refers to the descendants of French refuges relocated from Nova Scotia to the bayous of Louisiana in 1795. Two cooking styles that although similar is different.

I have very personal culinary ties to New Orleans myself. My memories go back to over 40 years ago and include not only vivid memories of grand restaurants, but of chefs and their dishes and even certain tables where I sat decades ago! It was as a teenager that I first experienced the dishes Coquilles St. Jacques and Pompano en Papillote at Antoine’s Restaurant. I was also delighted to discover the late night or early morning pleasures of CafĂ© au lait and Beignets at the French Market. And many, many years later, I was thrilled to spend several days at The French Market learning how to make those famed Beignets. Four decades ago, the oysters on the half shell were $1 a dozen at tiny French Quarter cafes and even though those times are passed, oysters raw and cooked remain one of my favorites. The author Tom Robbins observes in his distinctive novel, Jitterbug Perfume, “The oyster was an animal worthy of New Orleans, as mysterious and private and beautiful as the city itself”.

I particularly enjoy this baked oyster recipe honoring the founder of New Orleans, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville. Several of the cookbooks that I have read include egg yolks and mushrooms in Oysters Bienville. The recipe that I use does not, but does contain red peppers and celery. Does this jive with your experience with this Louisiana favorite? There are probably as many recipes as there are cooks. Take this as an oyster challenge and share your version with us! Traditionally, the Bienville sauce is packed on individual oysters in their half shell and baked on a bed of rock salt, although a quick version of the dish can be prepared as a casserole. Make a layer of oysters, cover with the sauce, and top with bread crumbs and then bake. Either way they are delicious and will have you saying “laissez le bon temps rouler”!

Oysters Bienville
Preparation time: about 2 hours
Servings: 4

Ingredients: (*Available at Avanti Savoia)

3 Tblsp. butter
3 Tblsp. All-purpose flour
¼ cup cream
1 cup clam juice (Clam juice is a bottled product that serves as a quick substitute for Fish Fumet or Fish stock. We will have a recipe for homemade fumet and a discussion of stocks soon).
2 Tblsp. butter
2 Tblsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Fruttato Intenso from Marcinase (#10001)*
2 cloves garlic, minced and mashed
1 cup green onion, chopped
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
½ cup red bell pepper, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
2 Tblsp. dry sherry
1 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1 tsp. ground white pepper - Ferri Dal 1905 (#32003)*
1 tsp. Sel de Mer (sea salt) - Artisan (#35021)*
½ tsp. Thyme – Ferri Dal 1905 (#32055)*
¾ cup tiny boiled shrimp
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup quality bread crumbs
1 Tblsp. sweet paprika – El Ruisenor (#32100)*
24 oysters on the half shell


1. In a saucepan, melt the butter and stir in flour. Stir and cook slowly for a couple of minutes to cook away the raw flour flavor.

2. Add cream and clam juice. Blend and cook until white sauce thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil. Add garlic, onion, parsley, bell pepper and celery. Cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes.

4. Add sherry, Tabasco, pepper, salt, thyme and shrimp. Cook for 1 more minute and remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly.

5. Stir in the cooled white sauce and Parmesan, mix well and taste for seasoning.

6. If using oysters on the half shell, cover each oyster with a liberal amount of Bienville sauce. Top each with a sprinkle of bread crumbs mixed with the paprika. Bake at 400 degrees about 7 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Time can vary with different sized oysters.

WINE SUGESTION: The traditional wine of “old” New Orleans was “Claret”, although I think a fruity Pinot Grigio suits my taste a little better.

Chef Joseph

Chef Joseph Lowery is the Chef Consultant at Avanti Savoia. He has worked as a chef, author, and cooking instructor since 1971.

1 comment:

BBR said...

I appreciate that you can use clam juice as a short cut, but don't you find it a rather one dimensional substitute for real fish stock? Also why can't you just use the oyster juice and be done with it?