By Stephanie Jane Carter
THE P&J OYSTER COOKBOOK
By Kit Wohl and the Sunseri Family
224 pp. 10 x 10 100 color photos Index
Do you love the Oyster Roast at Cochon? I have that recipe. Would you like to know how Dickie Brennan, the man behind the Bourbon House, shoots oysters? I can tell you. Are you curious how the Sunseri family of the 130 year-old P&J Oyster Company, prepares oysters? They must know how, right? I have 28 of their recipes and they definitely know how to prepare oysters. If you have a favorite oyster dish at a restaurant in New Orleans, there is a very good chance the recipe is in the P&J Oyster Cookbook, by Kit Wohl and the Sunseri Family. The P&J Oyster Cookbook celebrates the venerable, salty, fatty, delicious Gulf Coast oyster and appears to define the P&J Oyster family and community as the entire P&J oyster-loving community, which appears to be the entire New Orleans community. This is evidenced in the 220 glossy pages of oyster recipes from journalists, cookbook authors, “cheerful souls,” Sunseri family members, and over 50 New Orleans varsity level chefs and restaurateurs. The ambition it took to compile all of these recipes was an admirable and successful feat by Kit Wohl.
For more than 130 years, the P&J Oyster Company, the oldest business of its kind in the United States, has been cultivating, harvesting, and distributing fresh Gulf Coast oysters. The company, located at the corner of North Rampart and Toulouse in the French Quarter, has been lovingly embraced by the surrounding community for as long as it has been open. According to the book, Chef Leah Chase, the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” has never allowed any other oyster in her kitchen. GW Fins, which flies seafood in from all over the world, only uses the local P&J oyster. If the shrimp-dish naming scene in Forrest Gump were to be filmed using this delicious bivalve instead of shrimp, this is the book they would want to have on hand. The photography in the book is oddly charming, presenting fuzzy oyster delicacies retreating and emerging from clean, white space. The book is divided into the following chapters and every chapter is packed with enticing recipes.
Raw – featuring a recipe for raw oysters on the half shell with no less than three paragraphs of instruction, proving the seriousness with which this subject is treated. It moves on to other raw preparations (oysters with granités, oyster shooters, oyster shooters with granités, etc)
Grilled – which includes Cochon’s delicious Roasted Oysters with Crushed Herbs, Garlic, and Chiles.
Fried – featuring 19 ways to fry them.
Baked – featuring the classic Rockefeller which was originally made with P&J Oysters, Oyster Biscuit Pudding from Café Adelaide, and 23 other ways to bake them
Soups, Stews, and Gumbos - Like Rockefeller? Try the Rockefeller Bisque in this section.
Casseroles, Pastas, and Pies - including GW Fins’ savory Oyster and Mushroom Tart that Chef Flynn once demonstrated at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Sal Sunseri, of P&J Oysters, accompanied him and shucked oysters. Thanks to Sal, we all also know the proper way to eat an oyster on the half shell (slurp it out from above so that you get all of the juices and none of the grit from the shell)
Gratins, Stuffings, and Dressings – Oysters Marie Laveau, P&J’s Oyster, Sausage, and Pecan Dressing, and others
Stocks, Sauces, and Seasonings – to accompany some of the dishes
There are so many wonderful recipes in this book that I really hate to say anything critical about it. So much of the New Orleans community contributed valuable insight into how to prepare the venerable bivalve and the book could have been perfect.
That said, it is a shame that that community did not include an editor. It is clear that the recipes in this book were written by many different people with different vocabularies and different expectations of the audience’s cooking ability. One example of the sloppy editing is found in the confounding recipe for a “Glace de Viande with Veal” that calls for either beef bones or veal. (Really? How does that work exactly?) The recipe also includes 12 other ingredients and without instruction on what to do with them. There are a few other editorial lapses, but none that can’t be noticed without reading the recipe before you start cooking (which a good cook does anyway).
Even with the editorial shortfalls, the P&J Oyster Cookbook remains a dedicated, powerful, delicious, and ultimately sublime tribute to an institution and product that helps define and enhance New Orleans culture. This book, full of 93 oyster recipes, is still wonderful. These chefs, cheerful souls, and writers show that we consider P&J Company our family too. At any rate, I love this cookbook and I think you should have it. Just grab a red pen and be ready to edit it yourself.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum has a limited number of autographed copies of the P&J Oyster Cookbook for sale. They are available by calling 504-569-0405.
*Thank God. No Gulf Coast oyster ban.