Taking a break from the normal routine, I was invited on a tour of the oyster beds in Empire, Louisiana. P&J Oyster House is among the oldest processors in America, and they have close ties to both coastal restoration and proper seafood management. After a scenic hour plus drive down south to Empire, we boarded an oyster boat owned by the Jurisich family and proceeded to tour the beds.
For the oysters to grow, cement or limestone is dropped into the water which allows the oysters to attach and mature. The boats then dredge the state owned area (oyster farmers rent the beds), and pull up their haul while tossing back immature oysters. During colder months, the oysters develop a salty flavor due to high salinity in the water from less rainfall and lower river water mixing into the Gulf of Mexico. The oysters swell and become plump as they hold onto fat before spawning. The old saying is that you should only eat oysters in months with the letter "r". This has a lot to do with the fat content and water salinity. Both give the oyster a fresher taste and less flavor.
Among our local seafood, I feel oysters are our most prized asset. Gulf shrimp are amazing, but so are other shrimp from around the world, and the same goes for crabmeat. However, our oysters are really special. To join this crew for a morning tour was a real treat and a wonderful lesson in the day to day activity of an oyster boat.
We shucked some freshly caught oysters and after a few hours at sea, we rode back to the camp and relaxed over a home cooked meal of fried oysters, marinated oysters, crawfish ettouffee, bread pudding and a salad.
Thanks to the Jurisich family and P&J Oyster House for bringing us on such an amazing trip.