5 Seafood Myths—Busted!
Louisiana chefs help separate fact from fiction when it comes to buying and dining on Louisiana Seafood.
1. You should only eat oysters in months ending in “R.”
You’ve probably heard this one already: That warmer months (May through August) are the worst time of year to eat oysters.
Experts disagree. “You can absolutely still eat them outside the months that end in ‘R,’” Lafayette chef Patrick Mould says. “The quality may not be as good, because that’s the time they’re going through their mating process, which makes them ‘milky.’ But they’re fine to eat.” Also keep in mind that, during spawning season, an oyster’s energy is being focused more on reproducing then growing itself, so they may be a little smaller than in cooler months.
According to chef Austin Kirzner of New Orleans restaurant Red Fish Grill, there’s a historical precedent for the myth of warm-water oysters being less safe. “It goes back to when refrigeration was a luxury and you couldn’t eat them right out of the water,” he says.
Oysters harvested and left unrefrigerated during the warmer months are more likely to spoil, but these days, domestic oystermen ensure that their product is quality-controlled from the time they’re pulled from the water until they arrive on your plate. So go ahead and order a dozen raw—any time of year.
2. Don’t eat crawfish with straight tails.
At Louisiana crawfish boils, you may be advised to not eat crawfish with straight tails. The myth is that straight-tailed crawfish were dead before they were boiled, and are therefore unhealthy or less flavorful than their live counterparts.
The truth is that they’re fine to eat. According to crawfish researchers at the LSU AgCenter in Baton Rouge (yes, “crawfish researcher” is a legitimate job title in Louisiana), straight-tailed crawfish are the result of pure physics.
Echoing the AgCenter’s research findings, chef Mould says, “crawfish come in 40-pound sacks, right? The weight of all the other crawfish may have caused the tail to turn straight,” or they may have been straightened when wedged between other crawfish in the pot.
3. Consuming too much fish, especially while pregnant, is dangerous for your health.
This one has been disproven countless times, and yet the myth persists. Chef Brian Landry of New Orleans restaurant Borgne, when asked whether seafood’s mercury content is harmful, says succinctly: “You’d have to just about eat your own weight in fish for mercury to become an issue!”
Scientists agree. In 2010, a federal study of moms-to-be resulted in recommendations that they eat two to three servings of seafood per week during pregnancy, to help with babies’ eye and brain development. The average pregnant woman in the U.S., as well as the public in general, are eating less fish than this, with more harmful consequences than any fictional mercury-poisoning stories you may have heard. In fact, low seafood consumption—not high—is among the highest dietary contributors to preventable deaths in the U.S.
4. Eating fish and dairy together is harmful to your health.
According to chef Ryan Prewitt of New Orleans seafood restaurant Borgne, “That’s just patently false.” This myth goes back generations, with rumors of skin conditions resulting from consuming seafood and milk at the same time.
Ever heard of lox and cream cheese on bagels? Crawfish bisque? Clam chowder? Those delicious dishes alone should be enough to put aside your fears of eating fish and dairy products in the same meal.
5. Imported seafood is just as good as domestic.
Au contraire. You might assume that seafood you find at the restaurant or store was caught on our shores, but the reality is that 80 to 90 percent of seafood you’ll find in the U.S. is imported.
Why’s that important? For starters, imported seafood’s country of origin may not have the same strict guidelines that cover the domestic commercial fishing industry. American seafood is responsibly raised which has everything to do with its quality and safety.
And that’s just for starters. With responsible raising comes better flavor. The difference in taste and texture between a wild-caught Gulf shrimp and a farm-raised imported shrimp, for example, is so distinct its remarkable. The same is true for American oysters and crabs.
Don’t be shy about finding out where your food came from. When you’re at the restaurant, says chef Prewitt, “make sure they’re serving fresh domestic seafood. Ask questions, get to the bottom of it.” Make friends with your fishmonger and ask the folks behind the seafood counter at the grocery store where their fish came from. Learn more about the importance of buying and dining local at LouisianaSeafood.com.