At my first Carnival parade party after moving to New Orleans, I enjoyed a well-seasoned meat and gravy dish served over grits. Upon saying goodbye to the hostess, I heard a guest say, “The grillades were delicious.” So I asked the guest what she meant, and that was my introduction to the wonderful brunch dish served often during Carnival.
The French word grillade (gree-yahd) means grill and usually pertains to meat. We have Creolized it to mean a dish of grilled or fried strips of veal or beef round steak, simmered in a roux-based gravy until tender, and served over grits.
Now, I’m a Southern girl from the Deep South (Memphis), and we ate plenty of meat and gravy, but like with many of our Creolized dishes, we just know how to cook it better in Naw’lins. That meaning the grillades gravy not only has flour, salt and pepper, but also onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic, tomatoes, herbs and hot sauce, not to mention that the flour is browned.
Now that I have cooked grits and grillades about 100 times, I’ve added red wine and sometimes serve it over grits soufflé or cheese grits. I think plain grits are best, however, since you don’t want to compete with the divine flavor of the grillades.
By grilling, the Creoles meant rubbing the meat with seasonings and letting it set for a while before melting a tablespoon of lard in a hot pan, making a roux and frying the meat and veggies. The dish was served often at breakfast with grits or at dinner with red beans and rice.
For a small dinner party, veal might be used, requiring a shorter cooking time. For a crowd, beef is the most economical choice and should be pounded first and cooked longer.
In the mid-1800s, Madames Begue and Esparbe served grillades for an early lunch for farmers and fishers at the French Market. They were wives of the market workers and operated small riverfront cafes that became some of the city’s first restaurants. Even in the poorest homes, grillades were affordable family food.
Luckily, New Orleanians still love them. Kings and queens of Carnival continue the tradition of serving grits and grillades at krewe breakfasts late into the night following their krewes’ balls.
3 pounds beef or veal round steaks, about ½ inch thick
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 large onions, chopped
1 1/2 bell peppers, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped with green and white parts divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups beef stock, homemade, canned or made from beef base
½ cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Grits, cooked according to package directions and the number you are serving
1. With a sharp knife, cut steaks into strips, about ¾-by-2-inches. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pound to about ¼ inch thick. In a large, heavy pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil and fry meat over high heat just long enough to brown on both sides. Fry in batches one layer at a time, and remove to paper towels. You may need another tablespoon of oil in the last batch or two. Set aside, leaving all brown bits in the bottom of the pot.
2. In a medium skillet, heat the ½ cup of oil, and add the flour, stirring to combine over medium heat. Continue stirring constantly until a chocolate-colored roux is made. When ready, remove from fire and spoon the roux into the large pot. Set pot on medium heat and add white onions, stirring and cooking for several minutes. Add bell pepper and celery and saute a few more minutes. Add garlic and saute one more minute.
3. While garlic is sautéing, remove whole tomatoes from can and chop well. Add tomatoes and juice from can to the pot. Add stock, wine, thyme and cayenne. Return meat to the pot. Mix well, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 2 hours until meat is tender, stirring every half hour. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in green onion tops and parsley.
4. Serve over hot grits. Serves eight.
When serving grits, cook them as close to serving time as possible. Lumpy or cold grits are unappetizing so they should be stirred well into the boiling water, simmered very slowly in a covered pot, and placed in a hot serving dish over a warmer while still slightly thin. After cooking, melt a chunk of butter in the pot of grits to make them tasty and keep them smooth.