Where Y'Eat: As a New Orleans Summer Nears, Seasonal Flavors Step Up

May 18, 2017

When does summer start? Consult the calendar and you’ll see it’s still a month away. But in New Orleans the seasons aren’t necessarily tied to the conventions of solstice and equinox.

For me, the New Orleans summer always begins immediately after Jazz Fest, and it’s not the changing weather alone that marks the shift.

It’s the feeling that the long New Orleans train of one big celebration after the next has reached the station, and it’s time to hop off for a bit.

This realization can be a little depressing. The summer here, after all, can test the souls of strong women and men.

But it can also be a bit of a relief, especially around the table. It feels like a time to repent, or perhaps just retrench, and it might feel overdue.

Goals, pledges and ultimatums, they’re all liable to get kicked down the road in this town as New Year’s resolutions yield to Carnival, Lent intersects with all those feast days and festivals roll one to the next. There’s barely time to catch our breaths, never mind stick to a diet. Now though, we’re out of excuses and into the slow season.

So, if there’s anytime in New Orleans to cut back and lighten up, it’s now, in this corner of the year between Jazz Fest and football.

That does not mean the fun is over, however. Just as summer weekends still fill up with smaller events and more locals-oriented fests, Louisiana food brings its own special summertime pleasures, even if they’re a little more subtle than king cake and cochon de lait.

Gulf shrimp, heaped on a boil tray or dabbed with remoulade, will only get better as the summer season progresses. And crabmeat – remember that month-long ban on crab fishing Louisiana endured this winter? It sharpened the craving and now that crabs are running again we can eat our fill. Is there anything better than cool, large lumps of sweet crabmeat, not covered in sauce but dressed just as lightly as we all want to be on a summer day? 

Lately, even raw oysters count as a light summer thrill. We’re still getting great traditional Gulf oysters in May, and the new brands of local, specially cultivated oysters stand up just fine in the summertime too. They give varied flavors and textures thanks to modern oyster farming techniques, and they give us something new, different and cold at the oyster bar. 

Go to a farmers market or a well-supplied grocery store. Look at the colors and shapes of the fruit and vegetables, so resplendent now. A lot of it you’ll want to eat raw. Or if you invest a little time over the stove for a brief boil or blanch, you can have cool fixings for quick kitchen table meals all week. You know what goes well with crisp, fresh vegetables? A crisp, cold glass of wine. Remember, this is about balance.

I am not one to taunt a New Orleans summer. I respect its power too much. So I am not about to say bring it on. But since it’s coming anyway, let’s count the blessings that get us through.