There used to be a statistic floating around that New Orleans hosts more house guests than any other city with a Convention & Visitors Bureau (because that is who tracks these things). Chalk it up to high hotel rates at Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest or real estate in New Orleans coming in at a cool $100 a square foot but
just about everyone has guest rooms, pull out sofas, blow up mattresses and “friends who occasionally rent out their spare room” and everyone has friends who want to visit New Orleans. I lived away long enough to get it: There is a different way of life here. The food, music and architecture are all extraordinary but there is way more than that. New Orleans just marches to the beat of its own drum. We have investment banks and insurance companies and high rises…but we also have Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest and the horse track. Hurricanes and hurricanes. Audubon Park. Old schools. Old houses. Potholes. Creaky floors and creaky neighbors. Po-boys. Oak trees. Art for Art’s Sake. White Linen Night. And until January 10th a kick*ss Edward Burtynsky exhibit that is a New Orleans Museum of Art project hosted at The Contemporary Art Center. And we wear flip flops. And seersucker. Chanel suits. Pearls. T-shirts. Face masks. Saints gear. We are good story tellers, we do go-cups, we cheer for our Saints even when they lose and we stand beside them, or even for them, when they refuse to give up. We make last minute plans, have dinner parties that end in dancing and whether we are lighting candles at St. Louis Cathedral, a voodoo alter, or to clear out the smell of fried okra and sauteed onions in our kitchens, we accept each others quirks, habits and idiosyncrasies… because, at the very least, it gives us good material.
We are always happy to share this life we have embraced with visitors and, most recently, with our friends Nick & Flora and their son Bram. They really get New Orleans. As I write this they are on our bikes cruising up and down magazine street with Bram on the back sightseeing and shopping for an hour before they join Nick for a quick trip into the French Quarter where he needs to go get fitted for a French aristocratic wig for a dinner party in two weeks. Just another day in the life.
There is no better way to show friends New Orleans than through the cuisine of the city. And it doesn’t always need to be dining out. For dinner Tuesday night we went to the local fishmonger and picked up five dozen oysters. We got home, Nick and Nick shucked them and we went on to have an absolute feast! Big green salad, two loaves of Leidenheimer French bread plonked down in the middle of the table and plate after plate of grilled oysters. Now THAT is what makes New Orleans special.
- FOR TWO DOZEN OYSTERS
- 2 sticks (225g) unsalted butter, softened
- 4 tablespoons minced parsley (leaves only)
- 4 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
- 1/3 cup sauteed mushrooms
- 1/3 cup cooked streaky bacon, crumbled
- 2 lemons cut in half for squeezing
- Fresh cracked black pepper
- 1. Mix the compound butter ingredients in a small bowl. Spread it into a 12"x18" piece of clingfilm and roll it as neatly as possible so that you have a "log" of butter. Wrap it tightly and seal the ends and then put it in the refrigerator.
- 2. Preheat your BBQ grill to high or about 650°F/345°C
- 3. Shuck the oysters, removing the "foot" but leaving the oyster in the bottom of the shell. (You can discard the top of the shell.) Place all 24 oysters out on a sheet pan of ice as you are shucking.
- 4. When you are done shucking the compound butter should be firm. Open the roll and slice it into 24 even pieces. (Cut it in thirds to make 3, then cut each one of those in half to make 6, then each one in half again to make 12, then each one in half again to make 24). Don't worry about them being neat, just even.
- 5. Place a piece of the compound butter on each oyster.
- 6. Top each oyster with a mixture of the ingredients for toppings. Add some Pecorino Romano to some, fresh black pepper to some, bacon and mushrooms, bacon OR mushrooms, lemon juice - whatever combo you'd like.
- 7. Grill in groups of 6-8 at a time for 7 minutes each. Remove from the grill and eat immediately.
- Pair with Abita Amber.
- I prefer a gas grill for large numbers of oysters because it keeps the heat consistent, however charcoal can be outstanding as well if you are comfortable adjusting the cooking time.
- You may find that you want to leave the compound butter off of the oysters with bacon as a topping. Depends on your bacon and your preference.