Recipe Review: Drago’s Char-Broiled Oysters

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With several dozen oysters needing to be cooked, I reached out to the interwebs in search of the best recipe.  Like its city of origin, this oyster dish has an interesting history.

In the mid to late 19th century, economic recession and perhaps a little religious persecution brought Croatians from the edge of the Adriatic Sea to Louisiana.  Also known as Dalmatians, these people were skilled in mariculture –growing stuff in the sea.  They settled in Plaquemine Parish and are credited with starting the commercial oyster industry in Louisiana.   Some settlements still speak Croatian today, and there was  a time not long ago that if you bought an oyster around New Orleans, you bought it from one of these Dalmatians.  Pretty cool.

Included in this wave was restaurateur Drago Cvitanovich.  Loyal to his expat countrymen, Cvitanovich would meet the oyster men down at the wharf in New Orleans and buy the premium oysters reserved only for him.  Later his son Tommy would be inspired to create the famous recipe Drago’s Char-Broiled Oysters.  Here is another version, and yet another.

My criterion for determining a Tremendous Recipe is threefold: complexity, taste, and manliness.  So with that, lets review:

1.  Complexity

The most complicated part of this recipe is getting the right oyster.  Freshness is paramount and size, species, and ease of opening are all important considerations.  I wholeheartedly suggest getting them yourself.  If not possible, visit a trusted fishmonger.  You can also take your chances at the supermarket, and sometimes you will score big because they are cheaper.  But if you smell sulfur run.

The method is simple.  Shuck.  Place on the half shell over a hot fire.  Mop in melted garlic butter.  Cook 5 minutes or until plump.  Remove and add mixture of cheese and parsley.

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2.  Taste

As the oyster enters your mouth, melted Parmesan and Romano cheese, with rich and deep smokey undertones, greet you initially. Then, as your teeth  cut through the oyster a salty sweet explosion of flavors rushes over your tongue.  Chewing the rest is almost painful it tastes so good.  Good French bread is the appropriate accouterment, and dipping a hunk into the  shell of left over oyster flavored garlic butter is a five star appetizer in and of itself.  The best tasting seafood dish I’ve experienced.

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3.  Manliness

Cooking over fire is always manly.  Moreover, gathering and shucking oysters is dangerous work.  Champion Shucker Patrick McMurray, in his wonderful tome Consider the Oyster: A Shucker’s Field Guide, notes that the French treat about 2000 injured oyster lovers every Christmas due to shucking mishaps.  Combine fire, danger and the known effect oysters have on the amorous, and you’ve created a manly dinner.

Until you can make it down to New Orleans and stop by Drago’s, do yourself a favor and make this dish soon.

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Field Trip: 5 Things to do in New Orleans with your Family

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If you’ve never been to New Orleans–or only been as part of a bachelor/bachelorette party, or during Mardi Gras in a drunken haze of an ill-remembered reverie–you may not think it’s a family destination.  And that’s too bad.  New Orleans has incredible food, culture, and things to do with your family. Here’s one day we had recently.

1.  Stay Outside of New Orleans

Easter weekend, my family (wife and three sons ages 6,4, and 18 months) made the 6 hour drive from our house to New Orleans.  Because it was spur of the moment, we weren’t able to land a room in the Garden District or the French Quarter for the price we wanted.  Typically you are looking at $125+ a night in these areas and paying for parking, around $25 a day.  Because we decided at the last minute, prices were much more.

Normally, I’d be bummed about staying outside of the Quarter or Garden District.  However, we discovered the LaQuinta in Kenner has a bar and grill run by http://messinascatering.com/.  The red beans and rice are amazing, as is the bread pudding.  When we were about 20 minutes out, we called and they had the food waiting for us.  Crawfish Etoufee, poboys, etc. This is indicative of the magic about the New Orleans area.  Tremendous food and culture just kind of appear out of nowhere.

 2.  Visit the French Quarter

So after grabbing a couple sacks of Beignets and Café Au Lait at the Café Dumonde on Veterans, http://cafedumonde.com/locations, we headed into town.  If you stay in Quarter and are an early riser, by all means go get your beignets at the original location.  But each morning we hit Jackson Square the line was at least 200 feet long by 9:30.  And I don’t know about you, but wrangling three kids in line for 45 minutes is not good times.

I always like visiting the French Quarter as early as possible in my New Orleans trips.  Something about the wet streets, pungent odors of last night’s debauchery and funky Spanish architecture just puts me in a relaxed state of mind. It does the same to my kids.  So we drank our Au Laits and walked around the Quarter.  The sidewalks and streets are easy to push a stroller and there are a ton of neat shops and historical markers to stop and see.

On the square proper, artists display their goods, street performers tie balloons in funny shapes,  pick pockets and con artists try to make an easy buck. Never make a bet with someone who approaches you.   E.g. “I bet you five bucks I know where you got your shoes.”  The correct answers is “On your feet.”  Don’t ask how I know.

Protip:  My strategy for con artists and hustlers is simple:  offer to sell them a magazine subscription and ask for a cigarette.  They will practically run from you.

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Here’s where we walked in the Quarter

3.  Visit Audobon Park

After lunch at Camellia Grill, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camellia_Grill, the kids are antsy and we head over to Audubon Park and the Zoo.   This zoo rocks, in part because they have animals escape at various times (though sadly, not intentionally).  We’d just walked through the gates and were soon hustled into the gift shop.  The threat level was announced as “Yellow” which after some questions I discovered meant,  some animal not as nice as a bunny rabbit (ruling out an Easter bunny sighting) and not as mean as a tiger.  Somewhere in between.    Nonetheless, I felt it necessary to get the scoop from a pro regarding our safety.

Minutes turned to half-hours.  I for one, began to feel intimidated and a wee bit anxious.  Toys and gifts were being spread out all over the floors.  I could barely walk.  While the zoo keepers moved us into the gift shop for our safety, no one was looking out for the gift shop’s safety.  Mad, sugar crazed toddlers were running rampant.  Mothers were getting snippy, and I got several stern looks–from not just my wife.  I put things back down.  Thoughts of abandoning it all entered my mind, and some of others’.

Luckily, everything turned out OK.

4.  Take in a Cemetery.  

Don’t let the guide books fool you.  Some cemeteries aren’t safe.  One guide we talked to said,  “Sure the cemetery is safe, but you can’t park anywhere safely nearby.”  So I’d definitely recommend  Lafayette No. 1.   Its the oldest city operated cemetery in town and is in the Garden District which is both gorgeous and safe.  A particularly touching tomb is dedicated to the Home For Destitute Orphan Boys, where a collection of small toys graces the front in lieu of flowers.  The last child buried there died in 1849.

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Notice it’s daylight–amp up the fun with a trip in the dark!

5.  Play in the sand, have a drink, and experience real Louisiana seafood. 

When I’m in Louisiana, I’m soaking up culture. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place than http://middendorfsrestaurant.com/.  Middendorf’s is specifically great  because it’s just out of the way enough for your average tourist to frequent.  So the people you run into are genuine.   It has a big sand beach with fences and a small fountain the kids can play in.  Bring a change of clothes or two.   The bar is accessible from the play area, allowing you to enjoy a cold beverage while letting the kids play in the sand. The fences are nice because they keeps the little guys from escaping. The food is incredible and I particularly recommend the broiled Italian oysters and thin fried catfish.  Susan likes the broiled stuffed shrimp.

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Broiled Stuffed Shrimp

 

Oliver and Allistair

Good times had by all

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Relaxed in the Sandbox

Keegan

Kung Fu is Allowed on the Deck


So these are some things we’ve done in one day in the Big Easy.  If you haven’t been to New Orleans, don’t let having a family stop you.  What is your favorite thing to do in the Crescent City?  Do you have any protips?

Al sip

Bloody Marys aren’t for Toddlers