Gulf Coast Seafood Tour - New Orleans, LA to Biloxi, MS
The Gulf Coast has some of the most impassioned and proud people that I’ve met in our travels. No matter what seems to come their way, the people of this region are strong–willed and determined to preserve their heritage, culture, and way of life, which includes one of the major industries that has supported this area for many generations, the fishing and shrimping industry that thrives from the waters off the Gulf Coast between Louisiana and Florida.
I recently traveled to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast region with a group of writers on a Gulf Coast Seafood Tour to learn first-hand about the efforts of the community, local fisherman and shrimpers, seafood processors, and several state agencies to spread the word about this beautiful part of the country and remind people to support the Gulf Coast, especially when purchasing seafood.
An astounding amount of shrimp consumed in this country, 90% of it, is farm-raised and imported, primarily from Asian countries. As you know, I am a huge supporter of local foods and seafood and will only purchase wild-caught and sustainable fish. When I purchase shrimp, I buy either Gulf shrimp or shrimp caught off the coast of Georgia or South Carolina. There is no comparison in taste or texture of wild-caught and local shrimp (Wild American Shrimp) versus farm-raised. Shrimp that is sourced from these waters feeds on natural substances and tastes like the ocean; the texture firmer and the shrimp less gritty. Farm-raised shrimp has a very different taste and texture. You can read more about farm-raised shrimp here.
In the last four years, I have been to the Gulf coast region three times. Each time I return, I am impressed at the new developments and growth in the area and the tenacity of the people to revive their communities. The first time my husband and I drove along the Mississippi coast headed toward New Orleans (our first trip after Katrina and the oil spill), we were broken-hearted at the devastation. The memory of the drive around the 4th Ward in New Orleans has remained with me since that day, but as we heard from both Ralph Brennan and John Besh in separate interviews on two prior trips, people in this region don’t look back, they look forward and they come back better and stronger than ever before.
On this recent trip, as our group listened to the young tour guide take us through the history of shrimping and fishing at the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi, I could hear the emotion in her voice. This wasn’t just a job; she was talking about generations of her family who lived and worked here. They relied on good fishing seasons and the bounty of the sea and their hard labor to provide for their families. She grew up along these coastal waters and has never left. At one point, fishing and shrimping were the only industries in the Biloxi area and everyone worked either on the boats, or in the processing facilities, or they sold seafood. There was no other way to make a living. While new businesses have emerged and tourism has grown in this region, chances are her children and their children will continue that legacy of living off the Gulf waters, at least in some capacity.
We heard this same passion every place we visited during our trip. From the coffee roaster in Long Branch, to the shrimper in Biloxi, the processing plant next to the boat yard, and to a young chef who returned home to open a successful restaurant in Ocean Springs, there is a common theme; they love their Gulf Coast and want to share its history, bounty, and culture with others.
No one speaks more to this than the chefs of the region who embrace this incredible seafood in their restaurants. They are inspired by the heritage and flavors of the region; the dark rouxs and traditional Creole and Cajun dishes, yet nothing is more delicious than a simple plate of freshly harvested steamed Gulf shrimp and plump briny oysters with a Mignonette sauce or a dish of beautifully blackened redfish or perfectly seared Gulf grouper.
New Orleans is one of those cities that arouses food cravings. My trip began with Shrimp and Deviled Egg Gumbo, with one of the darkest and earthiest rouxs I’ve have ever seen, at Cochon, followed by a quick visit to Café du Monde for beignets and ended with an early morning run for yet another stop at Café du Monde in the French Market. No trip to New Orleans would be complete without these puffy little fried squares of dough served warm and generously topped with a mound of powdered sugar. Eerily quiet that last morning, beignets taste best when seated at this normally boisterous and hectic café while people watching and sipping a Café au lait made with their famous chicory coffee. This is one city where food and flavors are enhanced by a sense of place.
Some of the other highlights of the trip were our dinner at Lüke, the first evening in New Orleans, where native Louisianan, Chef Drake Leonards, pulled out all the stops for our Gulf seafood inspired dinner. Starting with a gorgeous fresh seafood platter featuring Gulf shrimp and oysters, the incredible Cajun inspired feast kept on coming, ending with a barrage of delicious desserts, which included a traditional bread pudding.
The following day we traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi and the surrounding area, where we enjoyed a seafood inspired Southern brunch at the very popular Half Shell Oyster House. This was followed by a boat tour with a local shrimper and then a beautiful seasonally inspired lunch at Vestige, in Ocean Springs.
We had dinner that evening at Cora’s in the historic and elegant White House Hotel in Biloxi. After watching the sun set over the Gulf from the roof deck bar area, this was the perfect way to end the day. This was another impressive dinner, created by Chef Anthony Rametta, once again featuring local Gulf seafood and each was course paired with a lovely wine. The highlight of this meal was something I don’t often find on menus, a beautiful blackened redfish, a specialty of this region.
When you think about purchasing seafood on your next trip to the grocery store, consider buying local. Most grocery stores, particularly stores like Whole Foods that have seafood counters, will have signs indicating where the seafood is sourced. If you are buying frozen seafood, it should also have sourcing information on the packaging.
When you purchase local Gulf seafood, you are not only getting a better product, you are also supporting our fisherman and shrimpers, a tradition, a community, and a way of life. We’re already planning our next trip to New Orleans and Mississippi. There’s so much to do in the area along the coast between New Orleans and Biloxi and there’s a nice mix of craziness from Bourbon Street to the charming and quaint small towns like Ocean Springs. Oh, and of course, there’s all that wonderful fresh Gulf seafood.
Thank you to everyone mentioned above (with links) who sponsored this tour and also to The Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition and the beautiful Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans, located on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
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