Today is National Oyster Day. And that’s worth celebrating, whether you like your mollusks raw, baked, roasted, boiled, broiled, steamed, stewed, fried, gumbo’ed…
There are more than 100 species of oyster, and they often take on both the name and the flavor profile of the body of water they come from. So while there are Atlantic and Kumamoto Oysters out there, to name just two, around here we are naturally partial to good ol’ local Gulf Oysters. I’ve always thought of oysters as slimy little critters, but I’ve since learned that textures actually range from soft and squishy to firm, even chewy, with a variety of different taste elements as well. Indeed, oysters have so many subtleties in flavor that some even say oyster-eating is the new wine tasting.
So, is the rumor of oysters an aphrodisiac just an old wives’ tale? Apparently, researchers recently found that oysters do, in fact, contain certain amino acids that have been known to increase levels of sex hormones. So feed that old wife an oyster and she’ll have the libido of her youth once again.
Nearly two billion pounds of oysters are consumed annually, and Americans alone have been known to eat 50 million pounds of the suckers in a five-year period. I think it’s safe to say that New Orleans, as a big seafood town, has greatly contributed to these figures. But before you down your next oyster, remember that someone has to open all those billions of shells to get to the good stuff inside.
Jay Gallet is a professional oyster shucker. Raised in Plaquemines Parish, he learned his oyster talents from his family, and has been working with oysters for 10 years now. Not only does Gallet spend 12 hours a day shucking oysters at Superior Seafood & Oyster Bar, but he’s also the 2016 Oyster Fest Shucking Champion of New Orleans. He won the contest this past June by shucking 19 oysters in two minutes, though Gallet admits that his personal best is actually 24 oysters in two minutes. That’s an oyster shucked every 5 seconds!
How many oysters can an oyster shucker shuck? Well, this one happens to crack open about 2000 of the salty bivalves a day. And since statistically speaking, only about one in 10,000 oysters is supposed to produce a pearl, Gallet is still pretty much guaranteed to encounter a pearl at least once a week. In fact, he pointed out one that he had found earlier today. Though the tiny pearl dot didn’t look like it’d exactly make it on to a Tiffany necklace, it’s still a pretty exciting find.
Gallet took time out of his busy shucking schedule to teach me the tricks of his difficult trade. I can safely say, it’s a lot tougher than it looks. First he taught me the anatomy of an oyster and all its many parts: the hinge is the back part, the bill is the front, the bowl (aka the cup) is the top and the plate is the bottom half of the double-decker creature. Then he showed me the steps to freeing the meat inside: stick your knife in through the hinge, press down firmly on the oyster with your other hand until it pops open, twist, turn over, cut, scrape…and ta-da! Ready to slurp off the half shell, if you dare. (I prefer mine as far from raw as possible. Fried is preferable).
Though I am not quite ready to challenge Gallet for his shucking crown at next year’s Oyster Fest, after a little practice and his expert guidance, I did start to get the hang of it. I figure it could come in handy as a neat party trick at my next seafood-themed dinner event. Whenever that might be.
You can come out to Superior Seafood and see Gallet in shucking action, and eat the fruits of his labor. Superior has a daily Happy Hour from 4 to 6 p.m. every day of the week, and they offer 50-cent oysters along with drink specials on beer, wine, and their highly acclaimed frozen drinks. Choose from a Frozen Mimosa (always available but a real hot (or cold?) commodity at Sunday brunch), their Frozen French 75 (move over, Arnaud’s), and their original frozen concoction, the Frozen Pomegranate Mojito. Made with hand-muddled ingredients, fresh-squeezed juices, and higher-quality spirits (and more of ‘em) than your average mass-produced daiquiri, Superior is raising the frozen cocktail to a new standard.
But don’t forget the oysters.