Friday, June 1, 2012

National Seafood Month: Glorious Oysters

June is National Seafood Month!  With that topic on the table--so to speak--our thoughts turn naturally to New Orleans, where seafood and particularly shellfish of every variety - shrimps, crawfish, crabs - all feature heavily in the local cuisine. 

As John Besh, the talented New Orleans master chef declares:  "Crawfish and long-grain rice cohabit in our swampy lowlands, and there's no better pairing on the plate," (My New Orleans: The Cookbook)  Besh, who is an inspirational writer, teaches us the intimate details of the New Orleans kitchen through a rambling collection of personal anecdotes and memory-laden recipes (think "Crab Season", "Creole Tomatoes" or "Feast Days"...)

Inspired by this best-selling cookbook we sought advice closer to hand from Philadelphia's answer to John Besh, Bill Beck at Beck's Cajun Cafe in Reading Terminal Market.

Soft shell Po Boy
Chef Bill features seafood on his menu daily (shrimp Po Boys; seafood gumbos, Creole Shrimp and jambalaya) and when the price is right adores cooking with his favorite seafood - the glorious oyster.

Chef Bill imports his oysters from the Gulf region - he just prefers the oysters there, observing however that most oysters are related to one of six strains of oysters.  He explains: "The types of oysters are delineated by the body of water from which they are fished, the salt and mineral balance in the water, the current...there's a whole science behind it!"

So how does he recommend we eat them?

1. Raw.  You can't beat this.

2. In soups - Chef Bill cooks up a stunning Oyster Bisque and Oyster Stew!

3. In cornbread stuffing or dressing as it's known in the South, recipe here

4. As a salad - chicken salad and fried oysters work together sooooo well. 

Beck's Chicken and Oyster Appetizer

5. Poached with a cream sauce

Want to try this last one at home?  It's pretty easy.   Shuck 12 oysters, reserving liquor.  Boil 1/4 cup of Cognac in small saucepan,  reduce heat to low, add 1 cup heavy cream, 2 TBSP reserved oyster liquor, salt and pepper.  Simmer gently for 5 minutes.  Add oysters, and cook 1-2 minutes.  DO NOT OVERCOOK.  The oysters will puff up, absorbing the delicious sauce as it reduces in the pan.  Top with chopped chives and fresh tarragon, and serve with crusty bread.

This is surely one of the simplest, sexiest and most sophisticated ways to eat oysters.

We're looking forward to sharing other seafood recipes this month as it's National Seafood Month.  If you have any easy suggestions for preparing seafood, then please send them our way so we can share with our readers.

Later this month we sit down with Chef Bill and get the inside scoop on how to cook a Crawfish Boil...

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