Category Archives: seafood

Charbroiled Oysters, Avery Island

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One of my favorite things about being a teacher is that I often hear the phrase “I am so lucky because…” My students count themselves lucky because of special trips, new toys, exciting things they get to eat, upcoming playdates… you name it. If it’s impressive to a preschooler I’ve probably heard about how lucky they are because it exists. I love that they are constantly tallying how grateful and fortunate they are, and it inspires me to count the ways in which I am fortunate. For instance, I am lucky because this blog has afforded me the opportunity to meet incredible people, travel to interesting places, and eat delicious and amazing meals. One of those such trips was my recent visit to Avery Island, Louisiana.

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Avery Island is the historic home of the McIlhenny family, the creators of Tabasco. Invented by Edmund McIlhenny in the late 1860′s, the McIlhenny family has built a hot sauce empire on three ingredients- tabasco peppers, Avery Island salt, and vinegar. The recipe today is identical to the recipe penned by Edmund himself, and the making of the sauce remains a truly family business. This October Tabasco flew a handful of food bloggers and recipe developers to Avery Island to learn, eat, drink, and share as a part of its annual Tabasco Tastemakers event. I was honored to be one of those bloggers that made the trip down south.

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Upon our arrival on Avery Island we were brought first to the archives, where Tabasco historian Shane Bernard gave us the abbreviated history of Tabasco and showed us a peek at some of the collection he’s amassed in his nearly 15 years of service. Afterwards we were whisked up to the Marsh House, the historic Avery and McIlhenny family home. It was here where the Avery family fled during the Civil War and it was here where Edmund first concocted his hot sauce. While a fair amount of the extended McIlhenny family still lives on Avery Island, the Marsh House is now used for private family events and hosting guests such as ourselves. After unpacking, getting ourselves together, and exploring the grounds, we congregated in the main living room to meet Tony Simmons, his wife Jeanie, and a half dozen or so family members. I was taken aback when, upon entering, Tony greeted many of the food bloggers by name. This seemed to be a theme that was consistent throughout the week– everyone we met was sincere, personable, and so incredibly kind. Traits that, in my book, are as good as gold.

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This year’s Tabasco Tastemakers were, from left: Ericka, Amber, myself, Tami, Tracy, Taylor, (that’s Tony Simmons of Tabasco in the tie), Ana Sofia, Natalie, and Bren. This whole party was put together by the incredible ladies at Hunter PR, and they deserve a big kudos. 

Our first night on the island was drinks and a seafood boil, a time honored tradition throughout the South (and although my Maryland friends would be appalled at the boiling of crabs, it was delicious). The next day it was time to don our hairnets and learn about the making of the famous hot sauce, from seed to bottle. We visited the greenhouse where the pepper plants are started, all from the same seed family that Edmund procured years and years ago (origins unknown). We watched as Tony checked 100 barrels of mash (tabasco peppers + Avery Island salt), something that is done each morning. We saw where the mash is fermented in oak bourbon barrels for 3-8 years. We watched as the mash was combined with vinegar to make the final hot sauce. And we watched the sauce being dispensed into thousands of bottles each minute in the bottling factory.

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charbroiled oysters 7After the big tour we were treated to a gumbo demonstration by Chef Sue Zemenick of Gautreau’s Restaurant. It was our second gumbo of the week, our first being the many times award winning gumbo of Avery Island’s Chef Nelson. Chef Sue and Nelson sparred as she demonstrated the perfect roux and whipped up a batch of her gumbo de herbes. Later that evening she served the gumbo topped with a deviled quail egg, followed by five more courses of mind blowingly delicious foods, all featuring Tabasco (including the dessert, which I was thoroughly impressed by).  In between Chef Sue’s demonstration and dinner, however, we had a bit of time to explore the bayous around Avery Island in my now preferred means of transportation- airboat. It may be loud, but it is fun as all get out.

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Our third day on Avery Island was probably my favorite. This day began with the grand tour of Avery Island, as given by Dave, who should probably be their mascot. Dave worked for McIlhenny Company for decades, was raised on Avery Island, and even though he retired years ago continues to help the McIlhenny family sell the Tabasco charm. He reminded me of my grandpa, if a little less Irish and a little more Cajun. Dave showed us around the island, driving us past everything from the salt mines to Tony Simmon’s house (shhhhhhhh), and ending in Bird City, an egret reserve founded by E.A. McIlhenny as a way to help save the snowy egret population. Afterwards we headed back to Marsh House for a hot sauce tasting with Tony and Charlie Cheng, the scientist and flavor developer behind many of Tabasco’s sauces. It was fascinating to hear the CEO and lead recipe developer talk candidly about what had worked, what had failed, what needs tweaking, and what is on the docket. For lunch we were treated to Bon Creole in New Iberia for boudain and bowfin caviar, a Louisiana specialty. Afterwards we headed into back to the Marsh House kitchen for a cocktail and mixology demonstration by Kirk Espinotal, a man who mixes drinks with more flair than anyone I’ve ever seen. Kirk made three cocktails with us (it was a very interactive workshop, which was highly appreciated), my favorite of which was The Awakening, a twist on the Pimm’s Cup and a Tequila Sunrise. That night for dinner we headed in to town to Cafe Des Amis, which was a treat particularly because it was the first opportunity that week for a big fat salad.

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The next morning, much to my dismay, it was time to head back to reality. After packing our bags (and a final breakfast with Stanley) we headed into town for one last trip- a visit to Legnon’s Boucherie to watch them make their famous boudin. Boudin, which my brother in law Bradley is kind enough to bring to every holiday gathering, is a mixture of cooked sausage, rice, vegetables, and spices that is stuffed in sausage casings and served hot. After watching in awe as they worked through dozens of links of sausage we headed into a back room to watch them make cracklin, something I have long loved but never seen made. Having acquired that experience, I’m pretty sure I’m okay leaving this one to the experts.

charbroiled oysters 4After sweet goodbyes to new friends we split into small groups based on travel arrangements and headed to the airport. Even now, weeks later, a smile comes to my face when I think about this trip. It’s rare to have an experience that so perfectly blends business and pleasure, and I continue to be impressed that Tabasco, Hunter PR, and the McIlhenny Company were able to put together such a memorable week. I came away from this not only a lifelong Tabasco customer (I already was one, so this is just a bonus), but thoroughly blown away by how the McIlhenny Company operates. I was afforded much more than a glimpse of the company, and I am so grateful that the family opened themselves up to us in such a unique way. It was absolutely a trip of a lifetime.

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This past week we were invited to no less than five oyster related events, which to me signals the beginning of the holiday season. And while I firmly believe that in these parts oysters are best in the coldest months, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try my hand at one of the recipes I enjoyed on Avery Island. Nelson’s charbroiled oysters were spicy, buttery, and fantastic, something I’ve been dreaming about since I returned. My best imitation of his masterpiece involved butter (of course), parmesan, white cheddar, garlic, French bread, chipotle, and Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce. They were exactly what I was hoping for, a recipe that I’ll be rolling out frequently from now until the waters are warm again.

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This post is sponsored by Tabasco. The words, thoughts, and opinions are my own. Don’t miss our first post featuring Tabasco sauce- Honey Chipotle Wings.

Charbroiled Oysters

2 dozen oysters, fresh & raw

1 stick butter

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 cup cubed stale French bread

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup Cheddar cheese

1 tsp chipotle powder

1 tsp salt

1 lemon

Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce to serve

In a skillet melt butter. Roughly chop garlic and add to pan, along with hot sauce. Simmer over low heat.

In a food processor combine bread, cheese, and spices. Pulse until you have created bread crumbs.

Using a shucking knife, halve oysters. Heat grill to 400F and lay oysters on a baking sheet or plate. Spoon a tbsp of the butter mixture into each oyster shell. Top with a tbsp of the breadcrumb mixture. Transfer shells to the grill and charbroil with the lid closed for 5-7 minutes or until the oysters are bubbling. Drizzle with lemon juice and garlic pepper sauce. Serve hot on the half shell.

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Tangy Grouper Salad

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Last weekend I headed up to Morehead City for a photoshoot. I’ve been doing a lot of photoshoots lately, totally booked solid, which is amazing. Amazing and also a little disorienting because I can’t for the life of me tell you what month it is, let alone what day. For the first time in my life I’m excited for the slow melancholy of January. A trip to Carteret County also means the opportunity to visit with the parents who are the bests hosts because they’re always willing to have us, they always have wine, and they usually send us home with fish. This trip it was a cooler full of freshly caught grouper.

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In addition to raw grouper steaks for grilling (yum), the Capt’n packed us a container of cooked pulled grouper, ready to be tossed into grouper salad. So when I got home and was putting together food for the week I mixed the grouper with a bit of mayonnaise, a cubed red pepper, spices, and a few spoonfuls of chow chow. The finished salad was light and tangy, full of flavor and a quick and easy lunch.

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This salad could work with pretty much any combination of shredded fish, fresh vegetables, fermented vegetables, mayonnaise, sour cream, or yogurt, and spices. I loved the way the chow chow lent a sweet and spicy flavor with a punch of apple cider vinegar, but I’m also thinking of doing a salmon, kimchi, and snow peas twist.

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This weekend we headed to Bald Head Island to celebrate our anniversary. Today I leave for Louisiana, and then when I get back we head to Maryland for a wedding. Later this month I’ll be in Durham, New York, and Lake Waccamaw. Tomorrow this blog will mark 5 years in existence. As I look back on the past five years, I can’t help but to be amazed at how far we’ve come. How far I’ve come as a writer and photographer, how far I’ve come in the kitchen and as a recipe developer, how far Dan and I have come together, how many recipes have been posted (more than 350!). It’s been an incredible run, and I feel so excited for what is to come as I look out over the next few months and the next few years. Thanks for being here for the ride!

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Tangy Grouper Salad

4 cups shredded grouper

1/2-3/4 cup mayonnaise or Greek yogurt (to taste)

1 red bell pepper

1 red onion

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

Dash of garlic powder

3 generous spoonfuls of chow chow

Chop vegetables. Mix with fish, spices, chow chow, and mayo. Adjust spices and mayo to taste. For a creamier salad, pulse in food processor until blended. Serve chilled with crackers.

Clams on the Grill

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Last week I was chatting with my grandma on the phone and I made a comment about it being mid-August. No, Elena, she said (laughing) it’s late August. Oops. I lost a few weeks.

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That’s common this time of year, watching the days and nights and weeks and weekends blur past, particularly because our house has been filled to the brim with guests. Dan and Kaylee are getting a little bit exhausted by the revolving door of friends and loved ones, but I’m soaking it up. This is a perk of living at the beach, right?

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Last weekend I drove to Richmond to meet my sister in law Megan and pick up our niece, Meredith, who just turned 7. A few years ago we started taking Meredith for visits with us all on her own, and this past week we had the pleasure of hosting her for the first time in North Carolina. We spent the beginning of the week soaking in the sun and sand (Meredith’s two requests were to find shells everyday and take a bubble bath every night. We were happy to try and help her realize that dream), and the Turcottes (Megan, John, and almost three year old Amelie) joined us on Thursday.grilled clams 3

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Meredith is a bright, sweet, fun, and funny girl, and I absolutely cherished getting to spend the week with her. She came to school with me during our in-service week and it was a delight having the opportunity to watch her in the classroom, talk to her about what she was reading and doing, and explore Wilmington through her eyes. I haven’t been so engrossed in shell hunting since I was 7 myself, and I loved it.

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On Saturday we drove down to Kure Beach to hunt shells and fossils and relax in the sand. It wasn’t a great day for swimming (it was pretty rough and the coquina rocks make it difficult to navigate the water), but it was beautiful and I had a lot of fun sitting in the surf with Amelie. We stopped by Seaview on the way home and picked up a red drum and two dozen Stump Sound clams, as well as a bounty of vegetables from their food stand. That night we feasted on seafood and end-of-summer peppers and beans, rounding it all out with a salted caramel peach pie.

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It was hard saying goodbye to our sweet nieces and their parents this morning, and our house is all the quieter without them. All the reason to start planning for next year’s Auntie Elena & Uncle Dan camp!

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Grilled Clams with Rosemary Butter Sauce

2 dozen top neck clams

2 sticks butter

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 shallot

3 garlic cloves

Salt

In a saucepan melt butter over low heat. Mince garlic and slice shallots and add to the pan, along with rosemary. Simmer for 25-30 minutes.

Scrub clams thoroughly, discarding any that are open. Grill over medium heat for 10-12 minutes or until they’ve opened wide. Top with butter sauce and serve immediately.