10 Things I Learned About Louisiana Seafood (and a Sno Ball)

A few weeks ago we returned from a fantastically action-packed yet relaxing trip to Louisiana. While most of our time was spent in New Orleans, we were able to see a few places like Houma, Venice and Slidell, thanks to the Louisana Seafood Board. This trip was called the Food Blog Masters and let me tell you how much of an honor it was to be included in the roster of attendees. Sponsored by Louisiana Seafood, we ate more shrimp and crawfish than you could imagine while spending time learning about the seafood industry, the challenges it currently faces, and having a fantastic time with my blogging friends and the people of Louisiana. Did I mention I ate until my pants no longer fit?

With all kidding aside, what’s happened to the gulf coast of Louisiana in recent years isn’t anything to laugh about. With hurricane Katrina and the aftermath causing such notorious damage as well as the Deepwater Horizon accident, this part of the world has faced life and death situations that would destroy almost anyone. But not Louisiana. As I found out during my second trip to the area this year, Louisiana is resilient, determined, strong as hell, and putting things back together. Talk to anyone and notice: they aren’t going anywhere and refuse to be down about what life has given them. I’ve yet to find sorrow in any face I’ve met, only perseverance and acceptance and a welcoming spirit that makes me always ask “How on earth can people collectively deal with such shit and come back out on top?” And yet come back out on top they do.

The markers of these past events trickle into conversations on occasion. You can still see painted X’s on homes in the 9th ward as well as hear tales of oil spills and ecological disasters. But to focus on these two events would be a mistake, a disservice to the people who call Louisiana home. They are much greater, much better than anything mother nature or BP could throw at ‘em, much stronger than you or I could imagine. They are a special bunch of people who smile constantly and greet you as if you are family. They are proud of who they are and what they do, no matter the sacrifices that must be made to live in a region that gives but also takes away.

In a word, they believe in what they do. With all their hearts. And for me to share that with you in whatever way possible is a gift. I truly believe this.

So let’s bring it back to the seafood. I’m going to admit my culinary bias right now by telling you I grew up on the gulf coast. I have always known that the seafood from that part of the world packs more flavor than other seafood I’ve tasted and I’ll take a Gulf shrimp over any other any day of the week. Still, I wanted to do my best to remain open-minded about seeing how everything works first hand. And what did I learn? I discovered that Louisiana seafood is safe to eat, tested regularly, and that the hysteria that surrounded the BP oil spill can sometimes be blown out of proportion. For the doubters who are reading, I’ll say this: I won’t make a strong case to persuade you, I’m not confident enough with my words and believe that you will need to read, research and come to your own conclusion. I want you to have your own opinion. I can only tell you that personally I have seen and tasted what i feel is safe and will always implore you, my readers, to form your own opinion. It’s very easy for someone to say that my outlook was influenced by a trip sponsored by the Seafood Board but I’d hope you’d know me by now when I say I am speaking honestly and from my heart. That’s about the best I can give ya.

 

10. Go ahead. Embrace the classics.
There’s a reason why the ettoufees, the gumbos, the sazeracs are classics. Don’t go wrong and miss them. Trust me on this. Which is why over the course of the day my list included 5 different types of gumbos, crawfish etouffee, muffalettas, a shrimp po-boy, an oyster po-boy, bananas foster, fried oysters, fried shrimp, a crab boil, a crawfish boil, barbequed shrimp (Louisiana-style, mind you), shrimp salad, barbequed oysters, lots of snapper, flounder, sashimi, turtle soup, this list goes on and on. Just do it and don’t think twice. You’ll be happy you did.

9. There are 4 seasons in Louisiana: Crab, crawfish, oyster and shrimp.
And maybe this was a folkloric adage said to the group in slight humor but I don’t think so. Luckily we were able to eat across all these seasons and enjoy the absolute best the state has to offer. My faves? Shrimp and crab, without a doubt.

8. Louisiana Seafood is safe to eat.
We spent time with Mike Voisin, 7th generation oysterman and CEO of Motivatit, as well as other experts in the industry. What did I learn? Louisiana seafood is tested more now than it ever has been and is safe to eat. However, there are some that don’t believe the message and that’s ok. Again, I encourage you to reach out and ask questions and discover for yourself. But I have no issue with buying, cooking and serving it to my friends and family. I honestly believe it is safe to eat.

7. A Sno Ball in The Heat Of Summer Cools You Down

I was quite aware of the cultural significance of a New Orleans snowball from Hansen’s Sno Bliz but I still didn’t know how completely perfect they are. I’d never had one! The softest, fluffiest ice is shaved into a cup, topped with your choice of syrup flavors (everything from standard to exotic) and then topped with ice cream, marshmallows, cherries, you name it, giving you the perfect refreshing summertime snack with just enough oooph to elevate it to someplace higher than your basic sno-cone. I’ve seen trickles of Sno Balls appearing in a slightly modified version here in Los Angeles and it’s a trend I will gladly stand behind.

 

6. Fishing and Crabbing is hard work. Unless you do it with professionals. Attractive professionals.
I can have your permission for this blog to veer into juniorhighschoolgirlmode, right? Thank you for that. Because you’ll want me to share this moment with you. TRUST ME. See above.

Ok, enough of that. Back to being serious. Going out in the LA heat with the sun beating you up is hard work, and doing all that while fishing or lifting crab cages swiftly for a living makes what I do a luxury. It’s grueling tough work in the Louisiana sun that is passed down from generation to generation. To so many families here fishing is their life and I will never look at another piece of Louisiana seafood on my plate the same way. Respect.

5. Referring to myself as “The Reluctant Fisherman” isn’t really working for me so much anymore.

I grew up near boats on the gulf coast but I never claimed to have the urge to fish. I always left that to others who enjoyed it. Yet these past few years have seen me fishing in the Caribbean, in Mexico, in Louisiana and next week in Alaska which makes me think that a) I’m kind of enjoying this and b) I might have to start thinking of myself as the Not-Very-Good-But-Still-Down-To-Give-It-A-Try Fisherman. Yep, that works for me.

4. There’s no problem that can’t be solved by a crawfish boil.
Think about it: It’s an opportunity that requires communal eating, a chance to let guards down and be messy with others, and a meal that’s always always enjoyed with beer. These things instantly make all things better. And what could possibly make a crawfish boil even better than this:  Heading back up with your tray for seconds, that’s what.

3. To cook the food of Louisiana — no matter where you are — requires a knowledge, understanding, and an affinity of her history. Without this and you’re outta luck.
We spent a Saturday afternoon listening and visiting with Chef John Folse, a Louisiana culinary icon, as he spoke about the state of Louisiana seafood and Cajun and Creole cooking. The biggest thing I took away from the afternoon is that one must consider all of Louisiana’s rich history in order to successfully understand where each thing comes from in the kitchen. Spanish, Italian, French, African, Caribbean, Native American…it’s all there. Learn it and you’ll unlock they key to cooking Louisiana cuisine.

2. Jambalaya is best when made by Kristen Preau, a/k/a Jambalaya Girl of Cook Me Somethin’ Mister
Here’s a recipe for you: Daddy’s recipe, a special blend of spices, world’s biggest smile from the sweetest girl, some heat and sausage. Mix it up and what do you have? Kristen’s roving Jambalaya, something she does all over the place for gatherings and occasions. You’re not allowed to taste the final dish until you’re willing to join in on the chorus of (yell this VERY loudly!): “YUM YUM COME AND GIT YOU SUM!” I did my best but somewhere there’s a video of Marla Meredith of Family Fresh Cooking giving it her all and folks, trust me when I say this girl has it down like a native! I’ll pay good money for this video…. anyone? anyone?

And one last thing: can we get Jambalaya Girl to California, please?

1. I would and could eat Louisiana-style Barbequed Shrimp every single day of my life.

No, this isn’t a ketchupy thrown on a grill type of shrimp but a regional specialty that involves butter, garlic, oil, herbs and shrimp that results in a savory, silky dish that allows plenty of bread dunking into the sauce after you’ve devoured the shrimp. And I’m going to let you know that I am the type of guy that eats the entire shrimp: shell, head, all of it. I tell you this because I’m tired of being embarrassed with dining pals as I crunch away, always fending off questions about my missing shrimp shells. I know I’m not the only person that does this, right? But anyway, back to the recipe. I think this is one of my favorite Louisiana recipes of all time because it hits all the flavor points that excite me. I’m really missing it and hope to make it at home after I get my hands on some Louisiana shrimp!

Footnote: My friend Brooke Burton of FoodWoolf covered many excellent points about the seafood industry in her round up of the trip. I encourage you to read it.

Fine Print and Full Disclosure: This trip was furnished by Louisiana Seafood Board. I was not paid to write or to furnish my opinions, images or views.

Comments

  1. says

    You need to go to Hunan Province, China and try some of their delicious spicy crawfish! I don’t even know how they make it, or what the dish is even called, but it’s saucy and spicy and delightful — and you have to eat with gloves ‘cuz the sauce will sting the hell out of your hands otherwise. It’s awesome.

  2. says

    What a wonderful post! I grew up in Arkansas and have a soft spot in my heart for Louisiana seafood. Like most people I’m concerned about how the oil spill has affected fish/shellfish in that area and if it’s safe to eat. Because of your post I feel inspired to do more research on the subject. One thing I don’t doubt is the heart and soul of the people in the seafood industry down there.

  3. says

    Matt you ain’t no couillon.
    Your description of the people’s strength and desire to survive is heart warming.
    Your insights into the food are appreciated.
    Laissez les bons temps rouler!

  4. Brooke says

    Matt,
    What a beautifully written post. Your photos bring me right back to lovely NOLA. Gorg. Oh, and THANKS for the shout out. I really appreciate it! Wow!
    Xoxo
    B

  5. says

    Delicious & delectable photos! I am dying to get down to Louisiana some day and try authentic Gumbo and shrimp n’ grits, cajun spices and experience the amazing atmosphere.
    I just got back from Seattle and sampled an amazing amount of oysters on the half shell – my favourite!!!

    The Wanderfull Traveler

  6. says

    Matt I love your recap post of your trip!

    I was following along on other bloggers’ twitter posts and blog posts and it looked like so.much.fun!!!!

    I love the shot of you holding the fish on the boat. Too funny! I love the mirror-image mouths :)

  7. vecchie55 says

    Thank you Thank you Thank you for shedding light on the Louisiana Gulf Coast. You wonder how we ‘re so resilient, strong and determined with a positive spirit? Basically, we know how to celebrate life. I’ve traveled the world and have noticed the difference between those of us in south Louisiana and the rest of the world. We work hard so that we can cut our work days short and spend time with family and friends. We love life and love all things culinary. Did I mention Mardi Gras? That’s a other post. I’d love to treat you to a family meal our amazing French Quarter the next time you’re in town. Late-uh Dawlin’

  8. says

    Matt! I lived in New Orleans for 4 years, and it was such a huge part of molding me as a food-centric person. The BBQ shrimp at Pascal’s Manale, the catfish po-boys pretty much anywhere, and etouffee is my favorite of course! All that sweet tender crawfish. I made a demo of myself making Bananas Foster last year, and added a bit too much rum at the end. The ceiling-high flame prompted me to title the footage: “Michael Bay Bananas Foster.” :) So glad you had a tasty and informative trip in NOLA!

  9. says

    Matt – you are the sweetest! First of all – fabulous article on Louisiana. I think you’ve got us figured out. We’re pretty simple – good food, good people, good times, which all keep you coming back for more!

    I’ve actually cooked in CA before at the SANFRANOLA party (http://sanfranola.com/) last year. I hear ya though . . . I’m working on making my way back soon to Southern California and you’ll be hearing from me when I do.

    Oh, and here’s the video. MUAH: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NxmX7N2mI8&feature=player_embedded

    Yum Yum Come Get You Some!
    Jambalaya Girl

  10. Arleen Petersen says

    So glad that you had a wonderful trip to New Orleans. It is a great place to visit and live. I would never live anywhere else.

    thank you for helping to get the word out that Louisiana seafood is safe. I live on the northshore across the lake from New Orleans since the hurricane. I grew up in the lower 9th ward and know quite a few people and family members that are struggling to make ends meet because of the country’s perspective of our seafood. Any positive comments will help so keep spreading the word.

  11. says

    Great blog post! I’m a Louisiana girl who ran away to Colorado and California, but my stomach will always belong to south Louisiana. I beg and plead my parents to bringing me gulf shrimp on airplanes and roadtrips and I’m always sad when my freezer is shrimp free. I’m sure that my in-laws have forgiven me for many things simply because I share my seafood bounty with them.

  12. says

    Matt, this looks wonderful! I currently live in Austin (moved here from Alaska two years ago) and have been wanting to take a road trip to Louisiana for years. You sold me!

    I’ve been reading you for a couple years now and think we like to get the same experiences out of our trips/vacations, let me know if you need any ideas for places to visit while you’re in Alaska. There are a lot of tourist traps up there and it’d be a shame for you to miss some real gems. I’ll be up there in August and I can’t wait!

  13. says

    Wow! You caught some INCREDIBLE photos while in NOLA! I LOVE the pics! Makes me want to go back. I was there last year for a conference and enjoyed every single seconds of New Orleans. The sights, food, people, food, culture, food. Did I mention the food was good? No? Well, it was amazing.

    There will always be hype with the oil spills, etc but those people really do a great job of making sure the economy recovers, safely. I enjoyed my time there and now I can’t wait to get back!

  14. curry beaux says

    Loved your post! ….sigh, wish i knew your “world’s hottest fisherman”….sigh

  15. june says

    i ate softshell crab lafitte down there a couple of weeks ago while attending graduation…my cajun sister-in-law has introduced me to some fabulous food over the past 25 yrs but the lafitte prep is popping up in my socal dreams…

  16. says

    I love these. When you guys were there I was so jealous seeing you eat all the amazing seafood. I love seeing the actual images :) It’s a must on my list. The South really needs to be explored and eaten. x N

  17. says

    Thank you for the wonderful Louisiana seafood highlights! Growing up in Louisiana, we are raised on both delicious seafood and snowballs. It was not until recently that I discovered that the rest of the world was not privy to snowballs. How sad! Snow balls are the perfect summer treat that I still look forward to each year.

  18. says

    I found your blog when reading the Times Online 50 Food Bloggers and thought I’d check it out. Since you are a Foodie, I thought I’d see if you would be interested in an Appetizer Contest?
    One of my clients is hosting a Recipe Contest at BigChef Online and you may want to check it out: http://bit.ly/BIGChefChallenge
    Thanks again, Keep on Stirring…. and sharing

    Heidi Richards Mooney, Redhead Marketing, Inc

  19. says

    Great times! The memories, food, hot guys…..hot guys….OK wait let me focus here. I will gladly take the label of #juniorhighschoolgirlmode any day!
    You really capture the essence of an amazing journey. NOLA is filled with lively folks who are passionate about life & everything in between. I love that.
    Can’t wait to hear about Alaska, you fisherman you ;)

  20. Jason says

    Just stumbled upon your blog. From one New Orleans resident – great post and great pictures! There is nothing in the world like NOLA food or NOLA people and I think you captured that perfectly!

  21. says

    Love the post, so glad to read such a positive article about this great city we call Nola. Greatest city in the world, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else :)
    I have followed your blog for a while and I so wish I had known you guys were here. I was at the seafood festival and walked right by that white tent.

  22. Barbi says

    Matt, you make a louisiana girl very happy and bring tears to her eyes! Come visit us, we would love to serve you! New Orleans and South Louisiana are open for business and better than ever. Matt, your post is lovely. There is a sno ball stand at the entrance to my subdivision, I take my kids all the time. Its our way of life and we love it but mostly we love sharing it with other people. I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip.

  23. anna says

    Ohhhhh, how you make me miss NOLA! Good reminder that I need to visit my aunt and uncle again… it’s been 15 years!

  24. says

    Its good to know that Gumbo isn’t the only dish that Louisiana has to offer. Southern hospitality + seafood must be a heavenly experience. I must admit, I never wanted to travel down south, but you might just have changed my mind! (Awesome article by the way!)

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