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More Big Easy... (August 3, 2006)

Yes, we're on a crusade to help New Orleans!

Much of the city is still a horrible mess; whole neighborhoods destroyed with little hope for the future of these once vital, old – and much-loved – areas.

Economics is one key to recovery, and in past columns you've read about efforts to jump-start the city's restaurants; tourists will return to eat and party, locals will be working again, and the spirit that is New Orleans will pour out of those kitchens like a fresh, spicy remoulade... helping to get it all going again.

Just to remind you of how wonderful those restaurants were, and will be again, Random House Canada sent us a lovely bunch of New Orleans cookbooks, and we just had to share them with you!

An old favourite now reprinted is Rima and Richard Collin's simply named The New Orleans Cookbook. This classic is one of the most authentic and reliable collections of great Cajun and Creole recipes from the city's grand restaurants and modest cafés, from mansions and from country kitchens. The Collins include stories and history as well, and they tell us that from its earliest days New Orleans was prosperous with valuable sugar and rice crops and unparalleled supplies of seafood and game. The site on the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico linked New Orleans with the other French outpost in the New World – Canada – and it became a magnet for those French driven out by the British, both city dwellers and the Acadians, farmers and fishermen who resettled in southwestern Louisiana and quietly developed a cohesive, authentic French provincial "Cajun" culture with its own customs and language that has remained intact for over two hundred years. New Orleans also absorbed exiled Haitian refugees, Spaniards seeking wealth, Frenchmen in pursuit of religious freedom, blacks driven from their Caribbean islands by revolutions, and other Europeans moving west across the continent in search of new lives.

The Creoles of New Orleans, those who settled here before the Louisiana Purchase, were a mixed group, economically and socially. Creole culture had many of its roots in French culture, but it developed on New World soil. New Orleans food as we know it today originated with the Creoles, who combined French cooking traditions and techniques with seasonings and new ingredients introduced to them by the Spanish, the Indians and the many blacks who lived in the old part of the city.

It all evolved into the New Orleans we know and love today, and the cuisine is a result of a couple of hundred years of wildly successful mixing and seasoning!

You want genuine Red Beans and Rice or a Creole Jambalaya? Crawfish Pie or the best Boudin Blanc sausage you ever ate? These and loads more are The New Orleans Cookbook. The background paragraphs starting each chapter make fascinating reading, and if you can tear yourself away for a moment, get some fresh oysters and try the Oyster Soup!

Another classic, Galatoire's Restaurant, has published the eponymous Galatoire's Cookbook, and it's a honey. Loaded with their own recipes, many with photographs, the book is liberally sprinkled with delightful candid shots of the staff and patrons having a grand old time!

Nestled in the heart of the French Quarter among the stately townhouses and ornate iron balconies is where you'll find Galatoire's. The simple bentwood table chairs sit atop 100-year-old black-and-white tile floors, yet you'll find the waitstaff all in formal attire. It's a wonderful old place, and we personally can attest to its charm and talented kitchen.

Treat yourself and get back to New Orleans this year and jump start your planning with these recipes...

On today's menu:

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (100 KB)


 

Oyster Soup

From The New Orleans Cookbook comes this obscenely rich Oyster Soup recipe. There are two basic forms of oyster soup eaten in the city; one is a simple broth... and the second is this version made with milk and cream which resembles Eastern oyster chowders.

New Orleans has always had such an abundance of oysters that mid-nineteenth-century city directories listed eight or ten restaurants specializing in cooked oyster dishes and three pages of oyster houses or bars. Early in their history, New Orleans French restaurants discovered that oysters were a fine substitute for snails... and gradually New World French cooking evolved an immense repertoire of cooked oyster dishes. This is one of the best.

Serves 4

  • 1½ cup milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1½ pint fresh shucked oysters (about 2½ dozen, medium), liquor (about ¾ cup) reserved
  • 1½ tsp salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 3 Tbsp salted butter
  • 2 Tbsp thinly sliced green scallion tops

Combine the milk, cream, and oyster liquor in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, and warm over low heat. Add the salt, pepper and cayenne and raise the heat to high. Bring just to a boil, then quickly lower the heat and add the oysters. Cook just below a simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, just until the oysters begin to curl at the edges. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and scallion tops. Stir to mix thoroughly and serve immediately.

Tony's wine recommendation:
A New World oak-aged Chardonnay from Chile or Ontario.


 

Broiled Pompano with Meunière Butter

In 1885, a homesick New Orleanian, quoted by William H. Coleman's Guide, lamented, "Oh... if I could get back home and eat a dinner of soft shell crabs and pompano once more, I'd be willing to eat blue meat all the rest of my life!"

Herewith, an object of his dreams. This is the simplest possible dish to prepare – once you are lucky enough to find the pompano. It may seem too simple, even... it is truly all about the fish. The oily flesh of the pompano has incredible flavour and this preparation allows it to stand alone without distraction. If you are unable to find pompano, consider another member of the jack family, which includes amberjack.

Serves 6

  • Six 10-ounce pompano fillets with skin on or three 1¾-pound pompano, split in half; discard bone)
  • 1 cup clarified butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1½ cups Meunière Butter (recipe follows)
  • 3 lemons, cut into wedges

Preheat the broiler on the low setting.

Lay the pompano fillets flat in a heavy pan, flesh side up. Brush the fillets with clarified butter and season them with salt and pepper. Broil the fish for 6 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the broiler.

Plate the pompano and nap ¼ cup of Meunière Butter atop each fillet. Serve with lemon wedges.

 
Meunière Butter

This is really a beurre noir (black butter) or beurre noisette (nut-brown butter), and Galatoire's uses it by the gallon. While it should be made in individual portions, the restaurant simply could not keep up with the demand. This recipe will keep, refrigerated for two weeks and offers a fine finishing touch for all varieties of fish and shellfish.

Makes 2 cups

  • 1 pound salted butter
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, whisking constantly for 8 to 10 minutes, until the sediment in the butter turns dark brown, almost (but not quite) to the point of burning, and the liquid is a deep golden colour. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to whisk slowly, adding the lemon juice and the vinegar to the browned butter. The sauce will froth until the acids have evaporated. When the frothing subsides, the sauce is complete.

Tony's wine recommendation:
A medium-bodied, dry white wine – Muscadet, Chablis, Soave.


 

Fried Soft-Shell Crabs

There are no substitutes for soft-shell crabs; they are one of the world's great delicacies. The crabs must be harvested during the very brief time when the crustacean has cast off its shell in order to grow one that's larger, leaving it with a soft, edible shell. Galatoire's says "As brutal as it sounds, the crabs must be purchased alive as close to cooking time as possible. They should be cleaned just moments before they hit the pot. "

Many of the restaurant's patrons enjoy their soft-shell crabs served "avec Meunière amandine." For this variation, simply sprinkle each crab with about one-quarter pound toasted sliced almonds before adding the meunière butter.

Trust us; there is nothing as wonderful as soft-shell crabs... except foie gras.

Serves 6

  • 12 large soft-shell crabs
  • 1 gallon vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 recipe Meunière Butter (see above)
  • 3 lemons, cut into wedges

Clean the crab by paring off the eyes and trimming the tails with kitchen scissors. Gently pull back the shells from the pointed ends and remove the gills underneath on both sides. Lay the shells back flat. Refrigerate the crabs until ready to use.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot suitable for frying, heat the oil to 350°F.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and milk. Place the flour in a separate large mixing bowl. Dust the crabs in the flour, then submerge them in the egg wash. Gently remove the crabs from the wash and allow the excess to drip off. Put the crabs back into the flour once again. Test the readiness of the oil by sprinkling a pinch of flour over it. The flour will brown instantly when the oil has reached the correct temperature. When the oil is ready, gently shake off any excess flour on the crabs and fry them in the hot oil for 4 to 5 minutes, turning halfway through, until they have formed a golden crust. Remove the crabs from the oil with tongs. Place the crabs on a platter lined with paper towels to drain for 2 minutes.

Put 2 crabs on each dinner plate and nap each with warm meunière butter. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve immediately.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Riesling Kabinett or white Burgundy.


We wish to thank

Random House Canada for permission to publish material and photographs from The New Orleans Cookbook, by Rima and Richard H. Collin. © 1975, 1987 by Rima and Richard H. Collin. Photograph by Glade Bilby II. © 1982 by Glade Bilby II.

and

Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of /Random House, New York, for permission to publish material and photographs from Galatoire's Cookbook, by Melvin Rodrigue with Jyl Benson. © 2005 by Galatoire's Restaurant. Pompano and soft shell crab photographs by Eugenia Uhl.

For more information on how to contribute to the rebuilding of New Orleans and its restaurants, go to www.neworleanscvb.com.

 

Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (100 KB)

 

 

 

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