Cocktail sauce and crackers are great, but New Orleans chefs are getting more creative with how they dress up raw oysters, offering new alternatives for the beloved local bivalve.
As Saints season revs up, the team’s black and gold colors are everywhere. That includes on the raw oysters at Bourbon House. The French Quarter seafood restaurant has always offered a topping of black bowfin caviar on its oysters, but during Saints season this year the restaurant is serving them beside oysters topped with golden-hued catfish caviar as well.
This Saints-themed seafood special is just the latest example of creatively wrought raw oyster platters that move beyond traditional cocktail sauce and crackers. They’re adding new dimensions to the beloved local bivalve without burying the essence of the oyster under ketchup and horseradish.
In fact, all across New Orleans, restaurants are dressing their raw oysters with pearls, and more. For instance, at the Little Gem Saloon the raw glacée oysters are topped with a tart slush of cranberry sorbet, while Restaurant R’evolution serves its oysters with an icy granita imbued with mellow cucumber and lemon flavors.
In Kenner, taco truck operator-turned-restaurateur David Montes takes a simpler tack with raw oysters. At his Chilangos Taqueria and Chilangos Seafood, the ostiónes Veracruz get a slice of fresh avocado, a spoonful of chunky pico de gallo and a squeeze of lime. The preparation a traditional Mexican beachfront snack, though they made a pretty good Williams Boulevard snack too.
One of the most elaborate raw oyster preparations turns up at Criollo, the restaurant inside the Hotel Monteleone. For his “oysters and pearls” appetizer, chef Joseph Maynard nests a fat, cold oyster in its shell between crisp mirliton slaw strung with sweet, lump crabmeat and soft tapioca balls — or the pearls. They’re spiked with Crystal hot sauce, and get a sprinkling of black caviar. The result is a cool, compelling combination of crisp and creamy textures and salty, spicy, marine-tinged flavors. There’s a lot going on in that dish, but Gulf oysters are no shrinking violets. Big and plump, they can stand up to some kitchen creativity.
Like Criollo’s caviar, the eggs for Bourbon House’s black and gold oysters come from a local supplier. The New Orleans-based Louisiana Caviar Company has found wide acceptance for its black bowfin caviar, also known as choupique caviar, for the Indian name for the same fish. But catfish caviar is a much newer product. Like the bowfin variety, some batches are prepared with a touch of ghost pepper, adding a spicy bite for caviar with a kick.
Beyond its potential to create a Saints-themed color scheme, the gold caviar makes a fine accompaniment to oysters. The eggs are larger and softer than the bowfin variety, and they taste milder and a bit earthier and creamier. If you find black caviar too intense, this catfish caviar might be more your speed. Of course black and gold oysters beg the question of a possible purple and gold combination, but Bourbon House hasn’t been able to source any purple fish eggs… yet. If the LSU Tigers get on a roll, anything could happen.
144 Bourbon St., New Orleans, 504-522-0111; bourbonhouse.com
777 Bienville St., New Orleans, 504-553-2277; revolutionnola.com
Little Gem Saloon
445 S. Rampart St., New Orleans, 504-267-4863; littlegemsaloon.com
214 Royal St., New Orleans, 504-681-4444; criollonola.com
2723 Roosevelt Blvd., Kenner, 504-469-5599
3617 Williams Blvd. Kenner, 504-471-6104