February 6

Raw Oysters. Bivalve. Monopoly. Flavored Perrier. Horsemeat.

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras--21 Valentine's Day--8

Today's Flavor

This is National Raw Oyster Day. It's the shank of the oyster season right now along the Gulf Coast, with water temperatures cool enough to make the oysters pump a lot of water through their bodies to filter out nutrients. This makes them fat, with big meaty "eyes," (the adductor muscles) and more complex, briny flavors. Assuming you have no health problems that would prevent you from doing so, you should have a dozen or two today and see how good oysters can be. I think they're the finest seafood we produce in our part of the world, and by far the best buy. All that is true despite the damage done to the Louisiana oil beds indirectly because of the BP oil spill. Few beds of any size were touched by the oil, but fresh water sent from the river through the bays where oysters grow killed them. It was estimated that it would take three years to return to full production. It's still much lower than before the spill, but you can once again get Louisiana oysters everywhere you once did. At higher prices, however. The oysters we enjoy in New Orleans are all of the species crassostrea virginica. These are also the oysters of the entire Atlantic Coast, including those of the Chesapeake Bay and the formerly rich oyster beds of New York City. But there are many other species, although they only occasionally appear in this market. Reason: the quality and low cost of the local oysters, which are as fine a blessing as a habitat ever bestowed on its interlopers.

Edible Dictionary

oysters Rockefeller, n.--A baked oyster dish, usually served as an appetizer, of a thick sauce of very finely chopped pureed greens with a slight tinge of anise in the aroma and flavor. It's usually served atop an oyster on a shell, usually three to six at a time. The most common recipe for oysters Rockefeller uses spinach as the main component, and gets the anise flavor from Pernod, Herbsaint, or a similar liqueur. The original recipe, created at Antoine's in 1899 and still served there, is made with celery, fennel (the source of the anise flavor), parsley, and green onions. All that is combined with a light roux and bread crumbs to thicken the sauce. The dish is named for John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in the world at the time of the dish's creation. The richness and green color of the sauce suggested the name to Jules Alciatore, whose idea the dish was. The story is that he needed a quick appetizer for a party, and saw a line of picked-over relish plates in the kitchen. He told the cook to grind their contents and make it into a sauce for oysters. For many years, if you ordered oysters Rockefeller at Antoine's, you'd get a card saying how many orders of it had been served in history, including yours.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Oyster Creek runs twenty-six miles through a twisting course into the Gulf Of Mexico near Freeport, Texas, sixty miles south of Houston. The creek is a distributary of the Brazos River, and about 7,000 years ago it was the Brazos. Now it is more a tidal stream than a running waterway, allowing oysters to move in as the salt water takes over. Along the creek is the town of Oyster Creek, with its 1200 residents. Niko's Grill is right in the middle of the town, and probably has oysters on the menu.

Deft Dining Rule #670:

No recipe for cooking oysters will ever equal the goodness of the same oysters, freshly shucked, eaten raw.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The best way to shuck oysters is to find somebody who really knows how and get him to do it for you in exchange for beer.

Food Games

Today in 1935, the board game Monopoly was sold for the first time. Now you can find custom versions of the game for many cities and special interests. But I don't think I've seen one with restaurants as the theme. Let's see. . . in New Orleans, the inexpensive properties just past GO would be Domilese's and Dong Phuong. Around the first turn you'd have the opportunity to buy Mandina's and Liuzza's. Just past Free Parking you'd have Mr. B's and Clancy's and Brigtsen's. The green properties would be Galatoire's, Arnaud's, and Antoine's. But which would be the ones where Boardwalk and Park Place? August? Commander's Palace? Square Root?

Annals Of Bottled Water

Today in 1985, Perrier rolled out the first of its flavored bubbly waters. It was the first time the French company bottled anything but its famous spring water. They recently added Pink Grapefruit to Lemon, Lime, and Citron (the latter, conceived in a flash of creative brilliance, is lemon and lime together).

Annals Of Food Writing

This is the birthday of Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, a great book about the food we eat, where it comes from, and how growing it the way we do is creating enormous problems. It's a book well worth reading, one full of surprising facts.

Mardi Gras 1951

Today is the sixty-sixth anniversary of the last time Mardi Gras fell on this date. Reason I know: I was born that day. Carnival will not fall on my birthday until 2035. I hope I live so long. I share the day with Ronald Reagan, Aaron Burr, Babe Ruth, Tom Brokaw, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and my late radio colleague Bill Calder. Also born today (in 1914) was Thurl Ravenscroft. A voice actor with the deepest imaginable bass, he appeared in thousands of records, movies and commercials. His most famous gig was as Tony the Tiger saying, about Sugar Frosted Flakes, "They're great!" He was a good singer, too, easily able to hit a low C without sounding unnatural. You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch was his best-known song.

Back Of The Butcher Shop

Today in 1865, a banquet at the Grand Hotel in Paris featured horsemeat in almost every course. Horsemeat soup, sausages, ragout, and steak were served, among many other dishes. Horsemeat goes in and out of popularity in Europe. During the mad cow scare of a decade ago, it had a brief renaissance. Eating horsemeat has not caught in in the United States. I have never seen it on a menu or in a store, even though I have encountered just about every other edible mammal. Not even T. Pittari's ever offered it.

The Saints

It's the feast day of St. Amand of France, a monk of the seventh century. He is the patron saint of bartenders, brewers, and winemakers. He's also a patron saint of the Boy Scouts, strangely enough.

Food Namesakes

Ebenezer Brewer, the writer of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, was born today in 1897. . . Film music composer and conductor Maurice Le Roux was born in 1923 on this date. . . Sir Charles Wheatstone, a British physicist who invented a device for measuring electrical resistance, was born today in 1802. . . Eric Partridge, who wrote about the English language as used in New Zealand, was born today in 1894.

Words To Eat By

"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy, and to make plans."--Ernest Hemingway.

Words To Drink By

"Here's to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life."―F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned.