Oysters — A Mardi Gras Tradition

Do you celebrate Mardi Gras? If you’re transplanted Louisianan, there’s a good chance that Fat Tuesday is party time for you and your friends.

One of the traditional foods of Mardi Gras is oysters. No matter if they’re on the half shell, in cooked dishes such as oysters Rockefeller, oysters Bienville and the well-know po’ boy, the tiny crustacean is a favorite of people in the Crescent City also known as New Orleans.

I’ve never celebrated Mardi Gras, much less Fat Tuesday, but a couple of recipes that crossed my desk recently have me thinking twice about it. One recipe is for a dip that calls for smoked oysters. I’ve always loved that delicacy ever since the first time my dad shared a can of them with me. The other is for a gratin that also features artichoke hearts.

If you’re interested, my advice is go for it. After all, Wednesday is the beginning of Lent.

Oyster and Artichoke Gratins
1 cup unseasoned fine dry breadcrumbs
1 cup finely chopped fresh, blanched artichoke hearts
¼ cup plus 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon each: Creole seasoning, pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup olive oil
12 shucked oysters
Combine the breadcrumbs, artichokes, ¼ cup of the Parmesan, garlic, parsley, Creole seasoning, pepper, salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a mixing bowl. Thoroughly mix by hand until the mixture resembles graham cracker crumbs, breaking up the artichoke pieces into smaller bits as you mix. Set aside.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a 12-inch skillet over high heat 1 minute; quickly drain the liquor from the oysters (they should still be very wet); add the oysters in a single layer to the skillet. Cook just until the edges curl, about 1 minute. Do not overcook. Divide the oysters among six baking dishes. If there is more than 1 teaspoon or so of oyster liquor in the dishes, drain off the liquid.
Divide the artichoke mixture among the dishes, patting the mixture firmly so all of it will fit. Place dishes on rimmed baking sheets. Bake until the tops are browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven; evenly sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Parmesan on top of each dish. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the top of each, making sure the edges get a few more drops than the rest of the surface. Return the baking sheets to the oven; bake until gratins bubble around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Cool 5 minutes.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 309 calories, 63 percent of calories from fat, 22 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 27 milligrams cholesterol, 16 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 629 milligrams sodium, 1 gram fiber.

Smoked Oyster Dip
4 slices bacon, cooked, crumbled,
2 tablespoons fat reserved
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, diced
1 can smoked oysters, finely chopped, with juice
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ cup each: diced red onions, diced celery, diced yellow bell pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, granulated garlic, hot sauce
Stir bacon, eggs, oysters, mayonnaise, onions, celery, pepper and lemon juice together in a bowl. Add salt, pepper, granulated garlic and hot sauce to taste. Transfer dip to a serving dish, spread so the top is even. Cover, refrigerate 24 hours. Serve chilled with crackers or garlic croutons.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving: 25 calories, 85 percent of calories from fat, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 11 milligrams cholesterol, no carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 33 milligrams sodium, no fiber.