Monster Louisiana Oysters (Caminada Bay)

Mar 26, 2011

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Collins and his father Wilbert Collins, two of the most revered oystermen in Louisiana.

That’s Nick in the middle and Wilbert on the left. Their family has been farming oyster leases along Bayou Lafourche and Grand Isle forever. Nick told me how, before he could walk, he would be tied to a pole in the middle of the boat by his granddaddy, and there he’d stay all day, crawling around and around in circles, while the family harvested oysters. That same old wooden boat is still in service. Nick took me out on it and we dredged up some oysters from his leases–almost all dead, thanks, indirectly, to the BP oil spill. (Read why here.) But there were a few live ones, and I have to say, they were unlike any Gulf oysters I’ve encountered. They were HUGE. Take a gander. (We mangled this one, but we were shucking with a hatchet, and hey, you try shucking with a hatchet.)

What really struck me was the “eye,” the muscle the oyster uses to close its shell. (This is the same piece of meat that we eat in scallops.)

This is where a lot of an oyster’s sweetness and crunchiness comes from. An eye this big is VERY unusual; you’ll never see one outside the Gulf. It’s the sign of an oyster living in an incredibly rich environment. You never see ’em this big in restaurants, because the locals generally keep them for themselves. Your best bets are to try P&J Oyster or Louisiana Foods, both of whom buy from the Collins clan. The flavor of these oysters was clean, pleasant, not very salty, with a nice little veggie broth finish. The texture was amazing–firm, firm, firm. We ate some raw, then fried up a batch, and it was amazing how they didn’t shrink up when cooked. These were oysters of substance; they made Northeast and Northwest oysters look very wimpy indeed (even if I did miss the saltiness). It opened my eyes to how extraordinary a Gulf oyster can be, and you can expect some more posts in the coming weeks as my Gulf odyssey continues.

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