Visitors and New Orleans Cooking

I am very fortunate to have friends all over the place. I’m not just talking about Metairie, either. I have friends all over the place, even New York City. Recently, one of these friends came to New Orleans for a long weekend.

It feels like I only met my friend Miguel a few years ago, but that’s because in my advanced age, 1998 seems like yesterday. He had a busy weekend, as one of the guys who came down with him set an ambitious agenda, so I didn’t get to see him until Sunday, when he and another friend came over for dinner.

Side note: if you think one of your friends is probably a vegetarian, you should probably ask one way or the other, even if you also think you should probably know, and it would be embarrassing to ask, because you’re friends.

Anyway, I was thinking about what to cook for dinner, and after asking Miguel whether he or his friend Gregory had any food allergies (eggs, liver and seafood were out), I decided on making a dish that I remembered as chicken bonne femme, but which in fact was closer to chicken Clemenceau.

If you are thinking, “that is a mighty esoteric error,” you’d be right, because chicken bonne femme (at least as it is usually prepared) includes sliced potatoes and onions, whereas Clemenceau involves diced potatoes, bacon, peas and mushrooms. My kids will not eat fungus, so I omitted them from the dish. I also did not follow the advice of the Galatoire’s cookbook to use canned petit pois. Yes it’s how they do it at the restaurant, and yes I love the dish there (though I generally order it with sweetbreads instead of chicken), but no, I don’t think you lose anything by using frozen green peas.

In the past, I’ve made the dish by browning a cut-up chicken, then roasting everything more or less together, keeping everything moist with a little chicken stock. This time, I decided to cut one whole chicken and two breast halves into smaller pieces, including the meaty portions of the back, and roast them separately with some fresh herbs olive oil and garlic. You’ll see what I mean by “smaller pieces” from the image that accompanies this piece.

I fried up some slab bacon cut into batons, then cooked a bag of frozen peas and frozen pearl onions in the fat with some chicken stock. I fried the diced potatoes, then added them and the peas/onions to a roasting pan with the reserved bacon to finish. When the chicken was just about done, I finally mentioned to Miguel that I’d thought he was a vegetarian. He was, but since he’d been down here, he’d been less than completely observant, so he was kind enough to look the other way as I picked pieces of bacon out of his peas, potatoes and onion entrée, and ultimately he ate some chicken as well. Fortunately I’d also bought a baguette at Gracious, and I’d made a salad of apple and Belgian endive, too. We ended up with just about enough food, I think.

When I was in NYC in 2006, I spent a few hours with Miguel, just walking around and getting a feel for his neighborhood. It was great to be able to host him, even briefly. It was also nice to see how much he and his friends had enjoyed their stay, and a reminder that there are a lot of people who really do “get” New Orleans, even if they only visit once or twice.

I hope when I travel to Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, New York or anywhere else I have friends, that I am as open to the experience. I hope I make my friends in those places appreciate their home towns as much as Miguel’s visit made me appreciate mine.

Here’s to friends from elsewhere.




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