David Bertrand runs Shucks seafood house in Abbeville, Louisiana with an eye for detail. Along with his partner Bert Istre, they have two locations (they’re in Baton Rouge, too), and they share a keen understanding of the tastes of their South Louisiana customers. This is not a tourist haunt, and it’s not an upscale, white-tablecloth eatery with a big-name chef. In fact, David is quick to point out that there is no chef, but it is evident by what comes out of his kitchen that there is immense talent there.
And that talent is based on an appreciation for the heritage and tradition of the Cajun culture, and a focus on the freshest ingredients around. No can-to-table here. The crawfish come from local ponds, the oysters from coastal waters off Golden Meadow, the shrimp from down the road in Delcambre, and the black drum brought to market by the Delcambre Direct Seafood program.
David takes great pride in talking about his grandmother’s Cajun recipe for crawfish étouffée that’s the real-deal classic recipe (no mushroom soup here) that most locals grew up on. He breaks into a big smile when he relays the accolades he gets for his fried shrimp—“the best in South Louisiana they say.” And he gets downright giddy when he talks about the 40-year-old baking pans that are home to his custardy bread pudding.
But, it’s the oysters that this joint is known for, and it’s the reason folks travel far off the interstate to get a taste of. Abbeville has a long oyster heritage dating back to 1869 when Joseph Dupuy opened his oyster shop in the shadows of the cathedral in the downtown area. Back then, oysters were a nickel-a-dozen, and after three generations and over a century later, Dupuy’s is still shucking. But, it was a spin-off of one of the owners of that long-time institution that gave Shucks its start in 1995.
And with the mantra “A Whole Lotta Shuckin’ Goin’ On,” Abbeville’s oyster reputation immediately hit overdrive as Shucks upped the ante on preparation. Raw oysters on the half shell are still king around these parts, but the char-grilled interpretations that this kitchen puts out are fast becoming the big draw. An anise-infused Rockefeller piled high with spinach shares a platter with the namesake Shuck-a-fella with a creamy, bacon and mushroom finish. The Roughneck has a purity of purpose in a cream cheese and bacon sauce spiked with sautéed jalapenos. And even a sweet Candied Oyster with cheese punched with sweet pepper jelly. But, it’s the Oysters Supreme that me and my oyster-eating friend Jay Owen have come for.
I’ve written about my friend Jay “The Steakmaster” Owen before; no better beef cook have I run across. He approaches food as I do, with an appreciation for both the art and science of preparation and a palate that just flat-out knows when something tastes good. So, when he proclaimed the Oysters Supreme at Shucks the tastiest version of a baked oyster on the planet, I was up for a road trip.
After wheeling his pick-up into the gravel parking lot a few minutes after the start of the noon lunch hour, it took Jay two passes to find an open space among the dozens of vehicles crowding the place; it’s just that popular. I looked around the room: Shirt-and-tie bankers, jumpsuit-wearing oilfield roughnecks, a group of uniformed sheriff’s deputies, and even a group of blue-haired, bridge-playin’ socialites all bellied up to the four-tops in the big dining room. And they all had one thing in common—a tray of raw oysters. You see, at this joint, it’s almost a mandate that you start your experience off with a dozen raw, and that’s before you even think about what’s on the menu. Jay and I had no cause to defy tradition, so with a dozen each, let the oyster fest begin!
After tasting our way through the oyster menu with every Cajun recipe variation, our server Rene brought out the main event—the Oysters Supreme. I was fast approaching my capacity when the platter of piping hot roasted oysters was placed in front of me; my taste buds perked up, my nostrils flared, and my stomach said, “bring it on; there’s room for more!”
Here’s the skinny on these plump chargrilled oysters: They’re not baked in an oven as you might think, but rather they start out freshly shucked and placed on an open flame grill. They cook ever-so-softly in their natural juices, and then comes a spoonful of the sauce–a red pepper cream reduction kissed with sherry and a bit of Cajun seasoning. Then the oysters are crowned with fresh, jumbo lump crabmeat and chopped Gulf shrimp, with a final flourish of bread crumbs. It continues to cook on the grill that produces a lick of smoke and a crisp of char for a grand finish. Quickly, these beauties are brought to the table still smoking hot.
They’re rich in a good way; the sherry helps elevate the cream sauce. Texturally, the oysters retain their plump, juicy character and the briny jus –the oyster liquor– steams them in their shell. The crab and shrimp build on this Cajun recipe foundation to give meaning to the moniker “Supreme,” and the bread crumbs provide just the right contrast of crunch. I was in half-shell heaven!
Recreating this dish wasn’t easy, but with much prodding, I was able to decipher enough info from David to come close for a home version. So are the Oysters Supreme the tastiest oyster dish on the planet? While my Cajun recipe will not duplicate the culinary experience of eating this regal dish at Shucks, I urge you to plan a road trip, and like Jay and me, have your own Abbeville oyster festival.
I’ll let you decide.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ cup chopped, roasted red bell pepper, peel removed
- ¼ cup sherry
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped dill
- ½ cup grated romano cheese
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 dozen raw oysters, on the half shell
- 1 cup white lump crabmeat
- 1 cup chopped cooked shrimp
- 1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter and bell peppers. Sauté the peppers until they soften and cook through, about 5 minutes. Add the sherry and deglaze the pan letting some of the alcohol burn off, about 2 minutes. Add the cream, and once it begins to bubble, lower the heat to a simmer. . Stir the mixture as the moisture cooks off, and the cream begins to thicken to a gravy consistency. Using an immersion stick blender (or regular blender), pulverize any chunks within the sauce and blend until smooth and creamy. Continue cooking and add the dill, cheeses, and a light sprinkle of Cajun seasoning. Turn off the heat and keep warm.
- Prepare a gas grill with the burners turned to high. Inspect the oysters to make sure that the muscle has been severed from the shell. Place the oysters in their shells directly on the grill grates over the flames. Let the oysters cook in their shells as you quickly add a heaping spoonful of the cream base to each oyster. Let the oysters continue cooking as you top each with a portion of crabmeat and chopped shrimp. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and continue roasting over the open flame until bubbling hot, about 1 minute. Place on a platter and serve immediately with toasted French bread.
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