The oyster season is a bit precarious in Mississippi.
The Department of Marine Resources is responsible for regulating the harvest of this delicious mollusk all for a good cause: keeping the oysters we love to eat, safe to eat.
Due to red tide and fresh water intrusion from the Bonnet Carre Spillway, DMR recently oversaw the relocation of tons of oysters to safer environs.
Cultch planting, as it is called, involves creating beds of concrete, limestone or oyster shells and seeding them with spat, baby oysters.
Once the oysters have matured, we will be fortunate to enjoy the results of the hard labor.
So what are we to do with a sack of Mississippi oysters, or a quart or pint, swimming happily in their own liquor?
The possibilities are almost endless. The purist would consider nothing less than eating them on a half shell, adorned with nothing but a hint of lemon. They would not dream of muddling things up by drowning out the flavor.
"No cheese! No garlic! No herbs," they will shout. And so we should let them be.
There are, however, more offerings for the rest of us.
We can make them into a lovely stew, bisque, soup or gumbo; stuff them with spinach and a few other good things, and call them Rockefeller; broil, bake and charbroil. All are good, all delicious and none so complicated that we should shudder at the prospect of their preparation. What a delight!
Please be careful to use only fresh (not out-of-date oysters) in the shell, or sealed in yet-to-be-opened plastic tubs. A bad oyster will taste bad, coppery, most people say, but it is not a good idea to take any chances.
12 fresh oysters on the half shell
1 lemon cut into wedges
Rock salt or ice
Make sure to keep the oysters cold. Fill a flat tray with rock salt or ice, carefully place the oysters in the tray, adorn with slices of lemon and the oyster forks. Serve with a good, dry French Chablis, Pouilly Fuisse, or even better, a good Champagne.
There used to be a Biloxi car dealer who was famous for his oyster stew that he made with fresh, just-shucked oysters, cream and green onions. He claimed his was the best because he cooked it in a used coffee can.
1 pint fresh oysters, liquor reserved
2 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground white pepper
1-2 pinches celery salt
Simmer 1 cup of oyster liquor for 5 minutes, add the cream and butter and season until you have it just the way you want. Add the oysters and simmer just until the edges curl. Serve with buttered crackers.
The oyster loaf is similar to an oyster po-boy, just simpler, without being dressed and the only condiment being the butter the oysters were cooked in.
1 loaf crusty French bread
Lots of butter
1 cup bread crumbs
Drain the oysters and reserve the liquor for another purpose. Slice the French loaf horizontally, and pick out most of the soft dough. Melt several tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan, dip the oysters in the whisked eggs, then in the bread crumbs, and fry just until brown. Certainly not more than a minute or two. Fill the loaf with the oysters, pour on the butter from the pan, reattach the top of the loaf, give it a little press, and serve at once. This is a great picnic choice.
A good omelet is a simple thing, but it does take a little practice to get it right. Fill this one with raw or deep-fried oysters, no other adornment is needed.
3-4 farm fresh eggs, lightly whisked
4-6 fresh oysters or deep fried as in the oyster loaf above
2-3 tablespoons milk or cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons butter
Melt the butter in a nonstick pan, add the eggs, and give them a good swirl. Now begin drawing the edges toward the center with a fork. Just as soon as the eggs start to set up, add the oysters, all in a neat row. Carefully fold the omelet by tipping the pan sideways, as the omelet starts up the side of the pan, fold it over. Season and serve at once.
More oyster ideas
Here are a few other suggestions for oysters. They are simple ideas that do not require much of a description or detailed recipe.
Consider serving fried oysters with a green salad, accompanied with slices of fresh avocado. Deep fried oysters are also delicious when paired with pasta and a light cream sauce. Just don't add the oysters until the very end.
Another great idea is to add fried oysters to eggs Benedict topped with a lovely hollandaise sauce.
Another idea is to bake whole oysters over a fire. When the lids pop open, add butter and breadcrumbs, bake a few minutes more and serve piping hot.
Julian Brunt, who comes from a family with deep Southern roots, writes Coast Cooking in Wednesday's Sun Herald and has a blog at sunherald.com. He is a food writer and photographer with columns in magazines.