WHAT TO DRINK WITH YOUR OYSTERS?
New Orleans, an Oyster Lover’s Delight
© The International Wine & Food Society, 2005. By Cathy Kuhlman, Austin, New Orleans.
New Orleans is my home town. Although I’d lived in Austin for fifteen years prior to Katrina, because I visit the city frequently, I can’t say that I missed it until The Storm hit.
Five days before Katrina, I had lunch at Galatoire’s with two of my closest childhood friends. The storm did not yet pose a threat so we chatted about all the things old girlfriends do. Our regular waiter let us enjoy our drinks, not bothering us with menus. He knew we’d just order whatever fresh fish was available (that day, speckled trout and lemon fish), cooked to order (sautéed, grilled, poached, or fried), with our choice of sauces (Meunière, Béarnaise, Hollandaise or just simple butter), and perhaps topped with succulent lump crabmeat, fresh crawfish tails—or almonds with the trout.
Decisions, decisions. To make it easier, we started with a mixed appetizer platter: Shrimp Remoulade, Crabmeat Maison, and Oysters en Brochette. And we chose the rather mundane BV Chardonnay.
Most New Orleanians quaff a good cold beer with their salty raw dozen on the half shell. But what if you are dining at an elegant Creole restaurant rather than standing at the corner oyster bar? And what about the Rockefeller, the Foch, the en Brochette? Does a simple Chardonnay fill the bill?
Gulf oysters, as well as those along the Atlantic Seaboard, are the same species, Crassostrea virginica. Water temperature varying by season and location, minerals in the water, and marine plant life account for the differences in flavors. A good Louisiana oyster is succulent and salty with a sweet finish. The Florida Apalachicola is plump and sweet with a tinge of copper. Raw, these are traditionally paired with Champagne. Very dry whites, such as Chablis or especially Muscadet, are also excellent matches.
The perennial debate is what ingredients make the Oysters Rockefeller green—onion or carrot tops, watercress, celery leaves, or parsley? The secret recipe remains well guarded by Antoine’s, but we do know that it’s a purée of green vegetables, none of which is spinach. Seasonings may include Pernod, Absinthe, Worcestershire Sauce, or anise seed. My favorite recipe has fresh tarragon and chervil, and with that a good accompaniment would be a Pinot Grigio or Riesling.
The lesser known Oysters Foch is one of Antoine’s best and most unique creations. Crispy fried oysters are served on toast spread with pâté de fois gras, covered with their famous Colbert Sauce--a mixture of their special tomato sauce, sherry and Hollandaise. I recommend an Alsacian Pinot Gris.
Oysters en Brochette, fried with bacon, is rich and heavy. A squeeze of the lemon brings out all the flavors. But the wine? A buttery Chardonnay is best!
The city will never be the same post-Katrina and those of us who love it so much will indeed miss New Orleans as it was. But the legendary restaurants have reopened, the oyster beds have recovered, and once again we have to ask ourselves which wine should we have with our oysters.