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NEWORLEANS-- Turkey isn't the only must-have on Louisiana Thanksgiving tables. Oyster dressing goes right along with it, and this week, the rush is on to get fresh seafood.

'I'm makin' oyster stuffing or oyster dressing, the same thing. Just one is in the turkey one is in the pan,' said Drago's Seafood Restaurant Kitchen manager Maria Jones.

She whipped up a big vat of her favorite recipe Wednesday afternoon.

'This is enough for 20 people. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less if you got some people who like to eat a lot,' she said.

Both Jones and Drago's Owner Tommy Cvitanovich said using 'oyster water' to bind the dressing is the secret.

'It adds flavor. It adds that unique Louisiana seafood taste to it. It adds love too. It's just the perfect ingredient,' Cvitanovich said.

'Oyster water' is the juice that comes out of an oyster when it's shucked. Most packing plants save it and sell it.

'This is our busiest time of the year,' said one of those oyster packers, Sal Sunseri, co-owner of P&J's Oyster House in the French Quarter. 'Every year, you never know what October, November, December are gonna look like for the season. This year is very scarce but the quality of product is fantastic.'

This year, Sunseri said oyster fishermen are producing less, but the quality of the oysters is improving just in time for the holidays.

'They still are a little bit small. We still need a few more cold fronts to fatten 'em up a little bit,' he said.

'This past summer, it was probably one of the most difficult summers we've had in a long, long time with oysters,' Cvitanovich said. 'They were real, real skinny. They didn't have a whole lot of taste to it. But I've gotta tell you. They've rebounded really well.'

But oysters aren't the only things in demand for the holidays. Louisianians also search for fresh crabmeat, shrimp and other seafood for other traditional dishes in their thanksgiving feasts.

'We have fresh alligator meat that just came in. Louisiana alligator!' shouted one of the vendors at the Westwego seafood market on the Westbank.

'I'm getting' some shrimp for some barbecue shrimp for tonight and some flounder for tonight, and tomorrow we'll have the oyster dressing,' said New Orleans-area resident Barbara Gregorie as she stood in line.

The Westwego market was packed Wednesday for what vendors called their second busiest day of the year, next to Good Friday.

Even though oysters and seafood aren't exactly cheap, even in Louisiana, families look at it like a must-have in their yearly budgets.

'If you want to eat it, you gotta pay it. And I wanna eat it,' Gregorie said.

The experts also said the good news for the consumer is that oyster prices haven't gone up much, even though they're in shorter supply.



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