Daily Devotion

I’m not sure what they eat on Mondays in Atlanta or on Fridays in Houston, but many of us here in New Orleans will start our work week with red beans and rice and end it with seafood, not only this week but every other Monday and Friday of the year.

That is how we like it here in a city where tradition rules. It was pot roast or fried chicken on Sundays, and on other days we’d dine on stuffed peppers, panéed veal or gumbo. Your mama’s recipe was always the best.

I wonder if West-Coast high rollers and East-Coast stuffed shirts who sink their teeth into lavish presentations by great New Orleans chefs realize that much of the background for these dishes came from the kitchens of southern Louisiana home cooks.

“What we grew up with defines what we do as chefs,” said Frank Brigtsen, owner of Brigtsen’s in the Carrollton-Riverbend area and of Charlie’s Seafood in Harahan, near the neighborhood where Brigtsen grew up. For Brigtsen, it was those wonderful dishes prepared by his mom, Ernie, now 83.

“On my first trip to Europe, I called home and she asked what I wanted to eat,” he recalled. The answer was red beans and rice and catfish and grits. On his first night at home, she cooked both. Today, one of the most popular dishes on Charlie’s menu is catfish and grits.

Growing up in River Ridge, Brigtsen ate red beans every Monday and seafood at Charlie’s every Friday night. That was about four decades before he bought the restaurant because of the great memories attached to it.

“On Sundays, we had roast beef with green peas and mashed potatoes,” he says. That was often followed by bread pudding on Sunday nights. Some other signature dishes in Ernie’s repertoire were oyster dressing – the star of Thanksgivings – barbecued shrimp and gumbo, which she made on Friday nights when they didn’t go to Charlie’s. You won’t find her exact recipes on Brigtsen’s menus, but threads from the memories are shot through the upscale dishes at this fine-dining favorite.

If a United States president is visiting New Orleans, he’s likely to show up at Dooky Chase Restaurant on Orleans Avenue, where Leah Chase is almost always in the kitchen, even at 89 years old, cooking what she’s always eaten since growing up in Madisonville across the lake.

“We always had some kind of beans, or the field peas that Daddy raised, on Mondays,” she says. Red beans and rice are on the spread at her daily buffet that also features Creole gumbo, stuffed peppers, veal grillades with jambalaya and fried chicken.

“But we only had meat on Sundays,” Chase says. “You waited to get some panéed meat on Sunday like breaded veal round or 7 steaks used for gravy and grillades.”

Although the meals were simple, they were based on vegetables, most of which were straight from her father’s garden. Carrots, string beans, turnips and cabbage all went into the soup on Wednesdays and, if money was available, a beef knuckle or soup bone would be added to the pot.

“If there was no seafood on Fridays, we ate stewed eggs with Creole sauce over rice,” she said, or sometimes fish when a family member caught it. In keeping with Catholic tradition, no meat was eaten on Fridays. But seafood was served on Sunday, too. “When ingredients were available, we definitely had gumbo, but on Sundays only.”

“On Sundays we ate well,” she recalls. That was occasionally at her grandmother’s house in New Orleans, and then it was fried or stewed chicken. And, for holidays in the local black family  tradition, there are two special meals that stand out in her memories. They are cowan, a snapping turtle stew, always served on Easter when the spring turtles came out, and poached red snapper, served cold and decorated with mayonnaise, dill and eggs. It, too, was served at Easter as a fancy fish salad.

Talking with some New Orleans Magazine staffers with roots in New Orleans, all agree it’s red beans on Monday and seafood on Friday, but variations begin with whether your mother was French, German or Italian, or maybe from some foreign state such as Minnesota. Such was the case with Liz Scott Monaghan, creator of Modine Gunch, who got her Creole cooking education from school lunches and neighbors.

“My mother didn’t cook,” she said. “But in the 1950s, the St. Rita’s mothers cooked.” One of the cooks at the Uptown Catholic school was a Mrs. Reising of the historic Reising Bakery family. “We didn’t get a tray with a fruit cup. We got something wonderful – red beans and rice, fried chicken, corned beef hash. I still drool at the memory of grade-school lunches.”

On Fridays, her family went to the old Bruning’s Restaurant for boiled crabs. One day a neighbor took some children, including Monaghan, on a crabbing outing and afterward cooked a seafood gumbo.

“I distinctly remember my first spoonful. I was 6 or 7 years old and I loved gumbo from the beginning. My neighbor felt so sorry for me because I hadn’t had gumbo. I had never eaten anything like that. It was so wonderful.”

If the daily food traditions were influenced by any one entity, it was the Catholic church.

Errol Laborde, editor-in-chief of New Orleans Magazine, recalls eating fried fish, most always catfish, on Fridays. One exception was Good Friday when dinner was always fried oysters. “As though the Bible demanded it,” Laborde says. “On special occasions, my mom made great stuffed mirlitons – always two versions, one with shrimp, the other with ground meat.” Sunday was roast day at the Laborde home, and it was served with rice dressing or “dirty rice,” long before Popeyes popularized it.

Growing up in the Irish Channel, New Orleans Magazine Cast of Characters columnist George Gurtner had so many food experiences it would take a book to cover them all, a job he should eventually take on. Here is my favorite:

”Chicken fricassee was my favorite dish, prepared endlessly by the mother of my friend, Roger Tiffany. This was a frequent treat and because Mrs. Tiffany knew I enjoyed it so much, she always invited me over to eat. She consistently cooked the same, fantastic puffy rice, covered in brown gravy with parsley, potato salad, green peas and biscuits. This meal never varied. And it was (and still is) my all-time favorite. I always joked that if I were walking the last mile, this would be my ‘last meal.’ In fact, on one visit to Angola (I was doing a newspaper piece on convicted murderer Dalton Prejean who was on Death Row waiting for his sentence to be carried out), we were talking food and I suggested Mrs. Tiffany’s chicken fricassee to him. I was told that was Prejean’s request.

While stewed or fried chicken were regulars in some 20th-century New Orleans homes, panéed veal, stuffed peppers and eggplant were musts in others. Also popular were smothered 7 steaks and beef daubé.

“I grew up eating my grandmother’s food,” says Carolyn Kolb, Chronicles columnist for New Orleans Magazine. Her grandmother was German, and some of her specialties were a German spinach dish with onions, garlic and hardboiled eggs, Kolb’s favorite, and noodles with mushrooms and sausages. Complaining about canned mushrooms, she often went to City Park and picked cèpes for her buttered noodles.

“My grandmother made a wonderful red gravy to put over spaghetti. We often had spaghetti and daubé. She said for the best flavor for any kind of daubé you really needed 7 steaks that are bony, fatty and gristly. “She was right. They do add great flavor,” Kolb says.

Why people pick one day over the other to serve certain foods is mostly up to the cook. Legend says Monday was washday and a pot of beans cooked themselves while the wash was done. Kolb didn’t realize she cooked spaghetti every Wednesday until a football coach trying to recruit her son always called on Wednesdays. She talked to him a lot when her son was still at practice and he would ask what she was cooking. Once he asked if she cooked spaghetti every Wednesday night. It must have seemed that way although she hadn’t realized it before. Perhaps her grandmother served it on Wednesdays and it was a subconscious decision. Who knows?


Daily Devotion

Red Beans and Rice

1    pound dried red kidney beans,
      local brand
2    Tablespoons vegetable oil
1     large onion, chopped
1     bell pepper, chopped
2     ribs celery, chopped
4     large cloves garlic, minced
1     ham bone, preferably, or 1 pound cubed
      smoked ham
6     cups water
Salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne pepper
      to taste
2     bay leaves
1     teaspoon Italian seasoning
1     pound smoked sausage
3     Tablespoons chopped parsley
2     cups rice, cooked according to
      package directions
Hot sauce to taste

The night before cooking, rinse beans and place in medium bowl with water 4 inches above beans. Soak overnight or for at least 6 hours before cooking.

In a large, heavy pot, heat oil and sauté vegetables until wilted. Drain beans and add to pot along with ham, water and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and simmer for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. When beans are done, mash some on the side of the pot with a heavy spoon to thicken the beans. Remove bay leaves.

Slice sausage into 1/4-inch circles, or into 3-inch lengths. In a heavy skillet, cook sausage until browned. Add to pot of beans. Stir in parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve over rice and pass hot sauce at the table.

Serves 6 to 8.

Daily Devotion

Stuffed Peppers

6     large bell peppers
1     small bell pepper
1     large onion
3     large cloves garlic
2     Tablespoons olive oil
1     pound lean ground beef
1     pound Italian sausage, removed from casings
1     Tablespoon Italian dried herb seasoning
1     14.5-ounce can Roma tomatoes, diced,
       or 1 cup chopped fresh ripe tomato
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and
        Creole seasoning to taste
1    cup Italian breadcrumbs, divided
1/4    cup grated Parmesan cheese
1    egg
1    Tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
2    Tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Slice the 6 large peppers in half, lengthwise. Trim off white parts and stems. Half fill a medium saucepan with water. When boiling, place pepper halves in pot, reduce heat to simmer and parboil the peppers for about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Chop small pepper and onion and mince garlic. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and sauté pepper and onion until translucent. Add garlic and sauté a minute more. Add ground beef and sausage. Sauté, stirring, until meat is cooked. Add seasonings and tomatoes with juice, cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove mixture from heat, cool a few minutes and stir in 1/2-cup of the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, egg and parsley. Stuff into the 12 pepper halves. Sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs and dot with butter pieces.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until browned slightly on top. If not browning, place under a broiler for a minute or two until lightly browned.

Serves 6.

Note: I usually use green bell peppers, but other colors are just as good. Mix 3 or 4 colors and serve on a pretty platter.

Daily Devotion

Spaghetti and Meatballs

1    pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound Italian sausage, removed from casings
1    large onion, chopped
1    large bell pepper, chopped
2    stalks celery, chopped
4    large cloves garlic, minced
1/2    cup Italian breadcrumbs
1    egg
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
      and optional cayenne pepper
2    Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2    6-ounce cans tomato paste
1    15-ounce can tomato sauce
1    Tablespoon Italian dried herb seasoning
1    teaspoon sugar
1/2    cup red wine and about 2 1/2 cups water
1    pound spaghetti
2    Tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

In a large bowl, mix ground beef and sausage. Take one third of the onion, bell pepper and celery and chop more until almost minced. Mix into the meat, along with 1/3 of the garlic, all of the Italian breadcrumbs, the egg and a sprinkle of salt and peppers. Mix well. Roll into 1 1/2-inch balls.

In a large heavy pot, heat the oil and brown the meatballs on all sides. Remove from pot. Add remaining onion, bell pepper and celery and sauté until wilted. Add remaining garlic and sauté a minute more. Add tomato paste and sauce and simmer stirring until all is mixed well.

Add Italian seasoning, sugar, salt, pepper and cayenne. Add red wine and about 2 1/2 cups water until sauce is desired consistency. Put meatballs back into the pot and simmer for 1 hour, covered, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions. When al dente, drain and add about 1/2 cup sauce to spaghetti to keep it from sticking. Heat when ready to serve.

To serve, place servings of spaghetti on plates and top with sauce. Sprinkle each serving with parsley. Or, mix spaghetti and sauce together and serve in large bowl sprinkled with parsley. Serve with Parmesan.

Serves 6.

Daily Devotion

Shrimp Creole

2    pounds medium to large shrimp
1/4    cup flour
1/4    cup butter, bacon drippings or vegetable oil
1    medium onion, chopped
6    green onions, white and green parts
          divided, chopped
1    bell pepper, chopped
2    stalks celery, chopped
3    cloves garlic, minced
1    8-ounce can tomato sauce
1     16-ounce can tomatoes (or 4 large Creole
          tomatoes in season, peeled and chopped)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Creole seasoning, salt, cayenne pepper, basil,
          and Worcestershire to taste
2    bay leaves
1    Tablespoon sugar
2    Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Peel and devein shrimp. Cover shrimp heads and shells in water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes for stock. Strain and set aside.

Make a roux with the flour and your choice of butter, bacon drippings or oil, stirring over medium heat until peanut butter-colored. (Butter will give a rich flavor, bacon drippings a stronger flavor and oil, such as canola, is a more healthful choice.) Add chopped vegetables except green part of green onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, seasonings, bay leaves, sugar and about 1 cup of stock and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Add shrimp and cook 5 minutes longer.

Consistency should be slightly thick. Turn off fire and stir in parsley and green onion tops. Serve over white rice.

Serves 6 to 8.


Daily Devotion

Seafood Gumbo

1     pound frozen gumbo crabs
3     pounds medium shrimp
1     quart oysters with their water
1     Tablespoon vegetable oil
2     cups sliced okra, fresh or frozen
1     large onion, chopped
1     bunch green onion, chopped with white and
      green parts separated
1    bell pepper, chopped
2    stalks celery, chopped
4    large cloves garlic, minced
1    16-ounce canned tomatoes with juices or 2 large
      fresh Creole tomatoes in season, peeled and chopped
1    cup vegetable oil
1    cup flour
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and Creole
      seasoning to taste
2    bay leaves
1/2    teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4    teaspoon celery salt
2    Tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

Thaw gumbo crabs and wipe clean, if necessary. Peel and devein shrimp, tossing the shells into a medium pot. Cover the shells with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes to make shrimp stock. When done, strain liquid and discard shells. Place oysters in a bowl, making sure no shell is on them. Strain oyster water to use as stock.

Place 1 tablespoon of oil in a wide skillet and sauté okra over medium heat until all stickiness disappears.

In a large, heavy pot, mix 1 cup of oil with flour and heat, stirring until smooth. Over medium heat, stir mixture constantly until roux is dark brown, the color of chocolate. Add white onions, bell pepper and celery, stirring. When translucent, add garlic and sauté a minute more. Add tomatoes and up to 7 to 8 cups of liquid (oyster water, shrimp stock and water if needed) until a slightly thickened and smooth consistency remains.

Add okra, crabs and seasonings except for parsley; cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Add the shrimp and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add oysters and simmer until they curl, about 3 minutes.

Turn off heat and stir in green onion tops and parsley. Serve over rice.

Serves 6 to 8.

Daily Devotion

Panéed Veal (or Chicken)

1 1/2 pounds veal round or cutlets, baby or calf
      (boneless chicken breasts can be substituted)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2    eggs, beaten
1/2    cup milk
2    cups flour
1/4    cup olive or vegetable oil
Juice of 2 lemons
Parmesan cheese
Parsley, minced
1/2    cup white wine, broth or water

Pound veal (or chicken) with mallet on waxed paper until thin – about 1/4 inch thick. Cut any large pieces into 4-inch strips. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Mix eggs and milk in a medium bowl, and place flour in another.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat oil to hot. Dip veal scallops into egg wash, let it drip off and dredge them in flour, shaking off excess. Put into hot skillet and brown for about 1 minute on each side. Take up briefly on paper towels and place on a hot platter. Keep warm until all pieces are cooked. Squeeze lemon over veal then sprinkle lightly with Parmesan and then with parsley. Pour oil from pan and deglaze pan with wine, broth or water. Pour this over veal and decorate platter with lemon wedges.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Daily Devotion

Garlic-stuffed Pot Roast With Vegetables and Gravy

1    3-pound roast such as rump, chuck or shoulder
About 4 large cloves garlic
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and
      Creole seasoning
2    Tablespoons vegetable oil
1     large onion, chopped
1/2     cup Worcestershire sauce
4    medium-large potatoes, peeled and cut into
       2-inch cubes
4     carrots, scraped and cut into 3-inch lengths
2     Tablespoons flour
2     Tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

Trim roast of any excess fat. Peel and cut garlic lengthwise into matchstick pieces. Use a sharp, pointed knife to make 3/4-inch holes in roast about 1 to 2 inches apart. After making each hole, insert a garlic stick and try to close opening on top. After roast is stuffed, sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning.

In a large, heavy pot, heat oil to hot and brown roast on all sides. Reduce heat and place roast fat-side up. Top with chopped onions. Some will fall to the bottom of the pot. Sprinkle top of roast with Worcestershire and cover pot. Let roast simmer for about 30 minutes before checking. It should make its own juices. If not, add a 1/2-cup water. Continue to simmer for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours until tender, turning roast over after the first hour. Add potatoes and carrots, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If bottom of pot dries, add small amounts of water. Do not boil roast.

When roast is tender and vegetables done, remove roast and vegetables from pot and place on a plate while you make the gravy. Add flour to the pot, stirring rapidly until flour is smooth. Continue stirring until thoroughly mixed and gravy is thickened. Add about 1 cup of water or more to thin gravy to desired consistency. Return roast and vegetables to pot and keep warm – or reheat when ready to serve.

To serve, place roast on a large serving platter and slice into 1/2-inch slices. If possible, slice across the grain. Surround meat with potatoes and carrots and drizzle all with gravy. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve remaining gravy in a gravy boat to pass at the table.

Serves 6 to 8.

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