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Where Y’Eat: Silver Linings in Food for a Blistering New Orleans Summer

Watermelon and crabmeat at High Hat Cafe in New Orleans vividly show the pleasures of summer food.
Ian McNulty

Summer here can test the souls of strong women and men, mine included. But I’ve learned to take some silver linings from the harshest season we face here, especially around the table.

Gulf shrimp, heaped on a boil tray or dabbed with remoulade, will only get better as the summer season progresses. And is there anything better than cool, large lumps of sweet crabmeat, not covered in sauce, blessedly un-messed with and dressed just as lightly as we all want to be on a summer day?

These days even oysters count as a summer thrill. The traditional, familiar reef oysters are still rolling in, of course, now in their somewhat scrawnier summer fashion. But there are many new types of local, specially cultivated oysters that stand up just fine in the summertime, giving varied flavors and textures and giving us something new, different and cold at the oyster bar. Just look for Louisiana and Gulf Coast place names indicating these oysters and explore.

Summer is time for the fastest homemade meal in the South, the tomato sandwich. All it takes is good tomatoes, cheap white bread, mayo, salt and pepper and a sense of humor about the juice you will spill on your shirt.

The tomato may be the star of local summer produce, but it has plenty of company. Go to a farmers market or a well-supplied grocery. Look at the colors and shapes of the fruit and vegetables, so resplendent now. And you know what goes well with crisp, fresh vegetables? A crisp, cold glass of wine. Remember, this is about balance.

One more move: summer brings the shank of the offshore fishing season in the Gulf. With the right catch, a little salt, a dash of chile oil and a sharp knife, you can make your own cool crudo plate any old time.

I would never taunt a New Orleans summer. I respect its power too much. So I am not about to say bring it on. But here we are living through it anyway, we may as well trace those silver linings on the plate.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.