Louisiana shrimp and oysters: boat to table
Shrimp and oysters are in the character of our local cuisine, and they make a big contribution to the economy and way of life in Louisiana. (Photo by Ian McNulty)
It’s no accident that so many great Louisiana dishes start with shrimp and oysters. Thanks to the state’s place on the map and the culture that has developed around our waters, shrimp and oysters have become key players in the character of our local cuisine, and they make a big contribution to the economy and way of life in Louisiana. Louisiana produces nearly one-third of all the seafood consumed in the United States, and shrimp and oysters are fundamental parts of these tremendously productive fisheries. Louisiana has been the country’s top producer of oysters. The state also leads the nation in shrimp harvests, which can hit the Louisiana docks to the tune of 120 million pounds in a good year. This abundance is a result of Louisiana’s dynamic coastal environment, where salty tides from the Gulf of Mexico mingle with fresh water flowing from the rivers and bayous that trace through the state. This mixture of salty and fresh waters produces exquisite conditions for oysters to multiply, and grow fat and juicy, while these same estuaries provide the perfect habitat for shrimp to spawn and thrive. Oystermen often compare themselves to farmers, and indeed a key part of their work is cultivating and tending oyster beds, the submerged reefs of rock and shell where oysters grow so prolifically. When it’s time to harvest, crews on low-slung, broad boats called luggers drag burly metal rakes over the sides of their vessels to gather up the hard-shelled lode. They’re sent off to market in burlap sacks, soon to be shucked and slurped from the half shell or cooked into a myriad number of dishes. The dueling seasons for white and brown shrimp also keep Louisiana shrimpers busy all year. From small boats plying inland waterways to large vessels working deep in the gulf, shrimpers tow nets through areas where shrimp congregate and haul up teaming catches, which are poured out on deck, quickly sorted for size and then sold at the dock. The catch is destined for some classic Louisiana dishes like shrimp Creole or shrimp remoulade, for the highly-seasoned boiling pot or for the po-boy loaf. And they’re often found in gumbo and other dishes right alongside oysters, their abundant partner in Louisiana seafood tradition.