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.