Bayou La Batre’s Avery Bates Talks Fall Food

Bayou La Batre, Alabama – For generations, the seafood industry in and around Bayou La Batre has pleased both paychecks and palates.

“We’ve always said a man starves to death in the bayou only if he doesn’t have a cast net,” said Avery Bates, vice president for the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama.

Bates, a fifth-generation oysterman, can talk for hours about how anything related to his city or his coast. That’s understandable if you have his breadth of experience with the waters of the Gulf.

“From generation to generation, our family has just depended on the bounty of the sea,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing to be born in the areas that you have a little of both: You can have a little country and a little water bounty. Just think if my grandfather and them had not moved here from Yorkshire, England, many generations ago, I might be eating mutton now.”

When fall rolls around, oyster stuffing is a special recipe that rises to the top of many people’s minds. But there’s another that Bates is especially fond of: chicken and oyster gumbo.

Chicken and oyster gumbo is a mainstay for him and many others. And just as recipes have their own seasoning, there’s often a dash of jokes to go along with it. A while back, Bates said an old-timer tried to tell him how to make it, explaining how important it was to use a little black hen.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Black hen? I know what you’re doing–You’re twisting my leg,’” Bates said. “It doesn’t make a difference what color the chicken is!”

A recent trending fish has been smoked mullet, Bates said. There are a number of woods to smoke a fish. But according to Bates’ grandfather, all you have to do is use any wood with a nut: hickory, pecan, or Bates’ favorite, Miracle Bush.

As the diversity of the population has shifted along the Gulf Coast, so has the creativity of the recipes. Now that there is an influential number of Asians in Bayou La Batre’s fishing community, Bates says a number of Vietnamese recipes have grown more popular.

“Some of these shrimp egg rolls are out of this world,” he said.

The same is true of residents of northern states coming down to escape the cold. Bates said he didn’t know if “snowbirds” would like fish stew, but after trying it, they asked for more.

As for the trendy Turducken – a Cajun dish with a deboned turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck – Bates says it was “alright.” However, he prefers the more traditional route.

“We’re surprised with some of the things people have come up with over the years.”

To find Gulf seafood recipes from our community for your holiday table, visit our recipe section and learn how to make your own Herbed Gulf Oyster Stuffing.