We’d wager our Gulf oyster against West Coast and East Coast varieties any day. The Gulf oyster is big, briny and affordable compared to its Atlantic and Pacific counterparts. But whereas you’ll find a dozen or more varieties of Maine oysters hailing from different points and coves and the same can be said of California oysters, we’ve always just called our oysters by one name “Gulf oyster.” Sure they come from different “area” classifications (with some yielding saltier oysters, etc.), there still is not much distinction in terms of oysters coming out of the Gulf. But all of that changed recently.
More Oyster farmers throughout the Gulf states are growing off-bottom oysters. New Orleans Advocate food writer, Ian McNulty has written about them extensively. They are rich in flavor, have enhanced minerality than other Gulf oysters and tend to be saltier. You can also tell they’re different just by their appearance. They have lighter shells and deeper cups than their Gulf oyster counterparts.
The differences in look and taste is from the method used to cultivate the oysters. Traditional Gulf oysters are harvested from reefs, these oysters grow in floating cages or mesh bags and tumble in the current. The saltier conditions help them thrive and their enclosures keep them safe from predators that would normally feast on them. Farmers are also more involved in the cultivation process and can move around the cages as water conditions shift.
Bourbon House began serving off-bottom oysters in September of 2016 and typically offers a selection of three choices. In December the team dreamed up an idea of bringing the actual oyster farmers in for dinners that showcase the fruits of their labor. The first dinner occurred late April with Jules Melancon. Jules is a second-generation Oyster fishermen and grows the Caminada Bay and Champagne Oyster Bay varieties. Chef Eric Cook begin the dinner with a selection of Melancon’s oysters on the half shell, followed by a salad with a crispy fried oyster, triple cream brie and caviar-ranch dressing, next was grilled oysters with lump crabmeat, followed by Gulf fish with spring peas and poached oysters, and lastly the dessert was a crazy, yet delicious oyster beignet. Jules entertained the guests with stories and facts about the life of an oyster fishermen and provided a solid overview of this new technique of Gulf oysters.
Want to try a dozen? Visit the Oyster Bar at Bourbon House to see this week’s selection. Also, stay tuned for the date of our next Oyster Dinner!