Alive, fresh, kicking, and wild. According to federal, state, and third party independent testing, completely free of any signs of contamination from either the oil, or the dispersant used to break it down. Off the boat, you can get it for around one-fifth of the price that similar-sized frozen shrimp from farms in Southeast Asia go for.
Who knows why they're called barbecued shrimp? They don't come anywhere near an open flame, but that don't stop them from being delicious. Fat, fresh, and head on, the shrimp are sauteed in a garlicky butter with plenty of creole-style seasoning. Come with a bib and plenty of newspaper, because things get messy.
The best part: sucking the savory, buttery juices out of the head at the end.
Catch of the Day
The lakes and estuaries near Lake Charles in Southwestern Louisiana (near the Texas border) is teeming with speckled trout, redfish, needlefish, porgies, and flounder. The speckled trout are small fish, but some of the tastiest brackish-water fish around.
The Seafood Palace
There's no shortage of things to fry and places to fry them in Southern Louisiana. The Seafood Palace in Lake Charles does it well. Aside from the fresh redfish, you can get same-day shrimp, crawfish-stuffed deep fried french bread pistolettes, and rich, dark seafood gumbo. Steamed fresh blue crabs come heaped by the half dozen.
Redfish, Take Two
At La Provence, John Besh's restaurant outside of New Orleans, redfish gets a more elegant treatment: crisply breaded with panko and topped with a heaping pile of fresh blue local blue crab and shrimp.
If you make it here, the rice-stuffed quail gumbo is killer.
The Rice Capital of America
It's not seafood, but where would gumbo be without rice? The city of Crowley is home to some of the largest rice operations in the country. When flooded, the paddies double as crawfish farms: the crawfish feed on any fallen rice grains, while in turn they fertilize the fields, getting them ready for the next years crop.
Here, a worker at the Falcon Rice Mill—still owned and operated by the original family—checks the rice as it comes out of the polishing machines.
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Gumbo, the traditional meat or seafood soup of Louisiana can be flavored with chicken, sausage, or seafood, served with rice mixed right into it or on the side. It can be as thick as pancake batter, or as thin as chicken soup, with thickeners ranging from filé to okra. But all of them start the same way: with a slow-cooked, dark, flour and oil roux to give it its signature color and smoky flavor.
Louisiana blue crabs are significantly larger and meatier than the Maryland variety—indeed, a lot of the "Maryland" crab you see on menus there are actually trucked in from the Gulf.
Here, a hard-shelled blue crab is halfway through its molting stage. Over the course of a day or so, it'll back out of its old hard shell, exposing a new one that has yet to harden. Catching them at the right time is what makes softshells so sought after.
Golden Brown and Delicious Softshell
Gulf seafood is the name of the game at Landry's Seafood House in New Iberia. The buffet, as with most buffets, is mostly skip-able, but the a la carte menu is top-notch. Local softshell crab comes coated in a light, ultra-crispy golden-brown coating. Traditional bayou music (think rockabilly but with an accordion) and dancing round out your meal every weekend night.
Blue Crab Bisque
The same Louisiana blue crab makes its way into a much more elegant preparation: a rich, heady blue crab bisque at La Provence, studded with slick pearls of tapioca.
Oysters all Around
At W&E oysters in Houma, it may look like the oil spill hasn't affected their business judging by the massive mountains of shucked shells behind their warehouse on the bayou. Despite the fact that not a single one of their farmed oysters have suffered from the spill, public perception has kept them from selling.
A Classic Louisiana Pairing
It doesn't get much more Louisiana than fresh shucked gulf oysters and a squirt of hot pepper sauce. Though familiar with Atlantic and Pacific varieties, I'd never tasted a Gulf oyster before and was shocked at how clear and briny the flavor was. The oysters were meaty, even in October.
Another Louisiana classic, this time with a small Italian twist. At Cristiano's in Houma, the oysters are placed directly on a ripping hot grill, doused in a ladleful of garlic butter with red peppers, and served on a bed of rock salt. They come out just barely cooked with an intense smoky flavor.
Also fantastic was the housemade pasta—the gnocchi may have been best and lightest I've ever had—and I used to make gnocchi every day for a living.
The Best Po' Boys in Nola?
Parasol's used to have the best po' boys in New Orleans' Garden District until the chef left for Tracey's down the street. They're famous for the roast beef, but the fried shrimp and catfish are worth ordering too.
Not Quite Seafood
OK, it's not from the Gulf, but a muffuletta is impossible to pass up in New Orleans. Big enough for four people, it's a stack of three Italian cold cuts (capicola, mortadella, salami), provolone cheese, and the distinctive olive salad with peppers and pickled cauliflower. The whole thing is served on an olive-oil soaked focaccia-esque sesame seed loaf. Definitely a top five sandwich contender.