Cooking Locally to Impress Visitors

EUGENIA UhL PHOTOGRAPH; Tablecloth and napkins courtesy of Hazelnut

I love the title of John Besh’s new cookbook, My New Orleans. It is the way I felt when playing tour guide recently to two sets of out-of-town friends. I proudly showed them the Brad Pitt houses in the Lower 9th Ward and Musicians’ Village in the Upper 9th Ward, the National World War II Museum, houses along St. Charles Avenue and Frenchmen Street at night. We did so much you would think there was nothing left to do, but I guaranteed them that the next time they come back, we’ll have a whole new slate of activities. That is how much there is to show off in our great city – my city.

We ate barbecued shrimp at Pascal’s Manale, flaming desserts at Brennan’s, turtle soup at Commander’s Palace, poor boys at Mother’s and duckling with grits at Restaurant August. I cooked seafood gumbo, baked eggplant with shrimp, crawfish pasta and jambalaya. Everything we did – at home, in the French Quarter, along Magazine Street – was a new experience for first, a group of New Yorkers, and then, some friends from Memphis, Tenn.

Of course, the most memorable tourist spot for those who have visited us before is Jackson Square and Café du Monde. Whether children, seniors or somewhere in between, they love seeing the artists on the square and eating beignets. Like our unique architecture and endearing music, the atmosphere of the French Market area is ours alone.

Next time, we’ll choose another set of restaurants, maybe Galatoire’s and Cochon, or Parkway Bakery for poor boys. I will cook oysters Bienville because oysters will be back 100 percent, and I’ll find some time for a backyard boil.

 We are blessed to have so much to offer, and our timeless recipes continue to attract millions to our restaurants every year. Some of my friends request the same dishes every time they come. So I have cooked seafood gumbo and barbecued shrimp so many times, I think I could concoct them in my sleep. If there are any barbecued shrimp left over, my friend from Atlanta finishes them off for breakfast. Crawfish fettuccine is one of my favorites because it’s so easy.

Once in a while, especially in winter, I’ll spring a really old one on them, such as beef daube. That gives me a chance to explain the major Italian influence on our local cooking. Visitors love inside information on the history of New Orleans. Why, most have no idea that New Orleans is at the center of the world’s busiest port complex. New Orleans has the longest wharf – more than two miles – in the world. Or that the Crescent City was the American center of permanent opera companies in the mid-1800s. Or that St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continuous use in the United States.

Sometimes I think if I ever grow tired of writing about food, I just might become a tour guide.

Crawfish fettuccine
1 stick butter
1 bunch green onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Louisiana crawfish
      tails with fat
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt, freshly ground black
      pepper and cayenne pepper
      to taste
1 pound fettuccine
1/2 cup freshly grated
      Parmesan cheese


In a medium pot or large skillet, melt butter and sauté green onions and garlic for several minutes. Add crawfish and mix in. Stir in half-and-half, cream and seasonings, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, boil fettuccine according to package directions until al dente. Drain and place on a large platter. Pour crawfish sauce and cheese over and toss well.

Serves 6.

Seafood Gumbo
2 pounds small to medium
      shrimp
1 package frozen gumbo crabs
2 dozen oysters
1 pound fresh or frozen
      okra, cut
1 Tablespoon plus 3/4 cup
      vegetable oil, divided
3/4 cup flour
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions,
      chopped, green and white
      parts divided
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5-ounce can tomatoes
Salt, freshly ground black pep
      per and cayenne pepper to
      taste
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh
      flat-leaf parsley
4 cups cooked rice


Peel and devein shrimp. Boil heads and peelings in enough water to cover for about 30 minutes. Drain and reserve stock. Thaw crabs and rinse, making sure to keep fat. Drain oysters keeping liquid. Check each oyster for shells.

In a medium skillet, cook the okra in about 1 Tablespoon oil, stirring occasionally, until all of its liquid (stickiness) dries up. This eliminates slime.

In a large pot, stir together 3/4 cup vegetable oil and the flour. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, cook the roux until it is dark brown (the color of chocolate). Immediately add the chopped onions, white part of green onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Cook until vegetables are soft. Add crabs, tomatoes, shrimp stock, oyster liquid and all seasonings except parsley. Add about 2 cups water, or enough to maintain a good soupy consistency. Turn temperature to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add shrimp and cook 5 minutes longer. Add oysters, green onion tops and parsley and cook until oysters curl. Serve in bowls over rice. Pass hot sauce on the side.

Serves 6 to 8.

Barbecued Shrimp
3 pounds large shrimp,
      heads on
2 sticks butter
1 Tablespoon Italian
      seasoning
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup lemon juice
Salt, freshly ground black
      pepper and cayenne pepper
      to taste
1/4 cup Worcestershire
      sauce
1 Tablespoon liquid hickory
      smoke
8 large cloves garlic, minced

Rinse shrimp lightly. Be sure to keep heads on as the fat in the heads contributes heavily to the taste. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place butter in a large baking pan, 11-by-13-by-2 inches, and melt in the oven. Add garlic and let it simmer in the butter for several minutes. Take pan out of the oven and add all other ingredients. Mix well and bake for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Shrimp are done when they pull slightly away from the shells.

Taste to be sure. Do not overlook.

Serve shrimp and cooking liquid in bowls with French bread to dunk.

Serves 6 to 8.

Beef Daube
1 3-pound rump roast
5 cloves garlic, 2 slivered and
      3 minced
Salt, pepper and Creole
      seasoning
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup red wine
1 14-ounce can beef broth
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
      to taste, additional salt if
      needed and a pinch of sugar
2 Tablespoons finely chopped
      fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti or
      pasta of choice, cooked
      al dente

 
With a sharp knife or ice pick, punch holes in the roast about two inches apart and stuff with slivers of garlic. Rub roast generously with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning. Heat oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven and brown roast well on all sides over medium-high heat. When browned, take roast out of pot and set aside.

In the same oil, sauté onion, bell pepper and celery over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add minced garlic, and cook for five more minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, almost until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add tomato sauce and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for five more minutes. Add wine, beef broth, Italian seasoning, cayenne, salt if needed and sugar, and stir well. Return roast to pot fat side up, turn fire to low, cover and simmer for four hours or until roast is very tender. Stir well every hour and turn roast over half way through cooking. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with spaghetti.

Shortcut: Instead of making the red gravy, you can substitute your favorite spaghetti sauce. In this case, leave out the tomato paste, tomato sauce, onion, bell pepper, celery and minced garlic, and add a 26-ounce jar of prepared sauce when you add the wine and broth. Sauce may be slightly thinner using prepared sauce and can be reduced by uncovering the pot for the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Serves 6-8.

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