Tag Archives: New Orleans

PAIN PERDU – NEW ORLEANS-STYLE FRENCH TOAST

We have been spending several days in San Francisco, watching two of our grandsons while their parents are off to London and Paris for a cooking demonstration along with “professional observation and study” of some amazing restaurants in both cities. I have been in charge of packing lunches, and each evening I look at the lunch boxes to see what has been eaten. It is usually a big let-down but also a stimulus to pack something they will eat. Pirate’s Booty seems to be a sure-fire winner. Keep in mind that they are six and three years old. Still.

Susan and I have been sharing breakfast duties. Of course, there are always toast soldiers and dry (no milk!!) Cheerios to proffer, but that gets monotonous, even for the cook. So far, Susan has been the winner with plates that include maple syrup or – the kids’ favorite – Louisiana cane syrup from Shreveport. Taking a cue, and wondering what to do with a dried-out hard loaf of French bread that Sarah had left after using part of it for Thanksgiving dressing, I decided to make French toast.

“French toast” apparently got its name in England; there are other names for the dish in other countries. In France and New Orleans it is known as “pain perdu” i.e. “lost bread”. I’m not sure about Paris, but I am certain that it is a staple in New Orleans. Most of the cafes and bistros that are open for breakfast in the French Quarter feature it.

Honestly, I am not a big fan of French toast like my mother used to make. Slices of store-bought sandwich bread dipped in egg and fried always seemed like  a soggy egg and toast. But pain perdu is a totally different experience. Done properly the dish should be puffy and golden with a crisp outside and a custardy inside. The secret is to use good-quality dry bread and give it enough time to soak up the egg and cream bath.

RECIPE

Pain Perdu

Ingredients

  • slices of dried French bread
  • eggs (one egg for each slice of bread)
  • cream (½ cup for each slice of bread)
  • Vanilla sugar (1 tablespoon for each slice of bread) Note: you can make vanilla sugar by placing a vanilla bean in a covered container filled with sugar and letting stand overnight. Alternatively, you can substitute  plain sugar and ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract.
  • unsalted butter (1 tablespoon for each slice of bread)

Method

  1. Arrange bread slices in a pan large enough to hold them in a single layer
  2. Beat the eggs well and then combine with cream, sugar, and if needed, vanilla extract.
  3. Pour the egg mxture over the bread slices, turning the bread once before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight. Turn occasionally to make sure both sides of bread absorb the egg mixture.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium-low flame. Add butter and heat until the butter stops foaming. Add the soaked bread and fry until both sides are golden. Serve immediately with syrup or fruit compote.
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SHRIMP AND RIGATONI

As we continue our efforts to downsize and declutter, I am working on clearing out the freezer. I found a pound of shrimp that needed to be used, but I was at a loss for a recipe. With shrimp, I often make some of our Louisiana favorites like shrimp creole or seafood gumbo. Barbecued shrimp in the style of the famous New Orleans restaurant, Pascal’s Manale, also sounded like an option, but that recipe calls for really large and really fresh shrimp – and a bit more trouble than I wanted. Shrimp and pasta was another choice, but to tell the truth I am a bit tired of tomato sauces, and somehow the combination didn’t seem quite right. I thought of paella, one of my favorites, but maybe substituting pasta for rice would make a good alternative. All of those ruminations made me think of this combination of shrimp and rigatoni without tomatoes and without saffron. My other goal was to make it a truly one-dish meal. For that, I boiled the pasta in fish sauce in the same cast iron pan where the rest of the ingredients would be added. No pasta-boiling pot to clean up. I topped the finished dish with Parmesan – I know, I know, shellfish and cheese are not supposed to go together. Just try it.

So here’s the recipe.

RECIPE

Shrimp and Rigatoni

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fish stock
  • 2 cups dry rigatoni
  • water
  • 4 scallions, sliced diagonally
  • 6 snacking peppers, seeded and sliced into rings
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 1 pound large shrimp, cleaned and peeled
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • Parmesan cheese, grated

Method

  1. In a large sauté pan, bring the fish stock to a boil. Add the rigatoni and just enough water to cover the pasta. Boil for about 10 minutes until the pasta is al dente, adding more water as needed.
  2. Stir in the scallions, peppers, paprika and seasonings and cook at a simmer for about 5 minutes until the peppers are soft. Add the frozen peas.
  3. Stir in the shrimp and cook until the shrimp have become pink and have lost their translucency. Adjust the seasoning, stir in the chopped parsley,  top with grated Parmesan, and serve immediately in bowls.

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NEW ORLEANS STYLE BREAD PUDDING WITH WHISKEY SAUCE

Our daughter who lives in Los Angeles paid us a short but welcome visit last week. My wife asked her if she had any food requests.  Without hesitation, Carol said, “Bread pudding.” She grew up in Louisiana and so she loves Southern, Cajun and Creole cooking. Bread pudding is one of the classics. Other cuisines and cultures have other versions of bread pudding. Mexican capirotada comes to mind. But New Orleans style bread pudding with whiskey sauce may be in a class on its own.

The best restaurant version of the dessert I have ever eaten was served at Stephen & Martin, a New Orleans neighborhood restaurant on Saint Charles Avenue in Uptown. It was hidden in the back of a building that faced the street. The place was popular with locals but not greatly frequented by tourists because it was a bit out of the way and somewhat hard to find. They served everything from po’boys to fancy Creole specialties, but I believe that the best dish on the menu was the bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Unfortunately the restaurant has been closed for many years, so the bread pudding is a thing of the past.  My wife took all of that as a challenge to create her own version of Stephen & Martin’s masterpiece. The whole family enjoyed participating in her experiments, and that’s the bread pudding that our daughter remembers and requested.

This is not Sue’s Bread Pudding. I would be out on the street if I shared her hard-earned recipe. My version is, however, a fairly close resemblance of the real thing. Enough so that I think you might enjoy giving it a try. You should use the very best French bread you can find. That is not hard in New Orleans, but it may be a challenge elsewhere.  The usual supermarket version is not a good substitute. When you serve the bread pudding, it should be warm. Ladle over a generous amount of whiskey sauce. If you are averse to whiskey, you can substitute lemon sauce. A generous dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream is the perfect finishing touch.

RECIPES

New Orleans Style Bread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 medium loaf good quality French bread
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 2 cups half and half

Method

  1. Cut bread into ½ inch cubes and spread out in a baking pan to dry overnight. Stir occasionally. You should have about 8 cups.
  2. Mix dried bread cubes with raisins and chopped nuts. Transfer to a well-buttered  8 x 11½ inch glass baking dish. The pan should be about half full.
  3. In a large bowl and using an electric beater, beat the eggs until foamy. Then add the sugar and continue to beat until completely mixed. Add the vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Beat in the melted butter and half-and-half.
  4. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the bread cube mixture and let soak for at least ½ hour, pressing down occasionally to make sure the bread absorbs the milk.
  5. Place the pan in the middle of an oven that has been preheated to 350°F. Immediately turn the temperature down to 300°F and bake for 40 minutes. Then increase the temperature to 425°F and bake for 10 more minutes or until the pudding is well browned on top. Be sure to watch closely so that it does not burn.
  6. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes and then serve while still warm. Top with whiskey sauce and, if desired, whipped cream.

Whiskey Sauce

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup whiskey
  • whipped cream (optional)

Method

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth (note: the sugar may not melt completely until the whiskey is added)
  2. Add the whiskey and stir until completely combined. The sauce should become translucent.
  3. Serve immediately. A perfect topping for bread pudding. You can gild the lily with a dollop of whipped cream.  If the sauce cools, the butter may set up and the sauce will lose its translucency. To correct that, just reheat gently.

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DAUBE GLACÉE

This is one of the most traditional of all Creole dishes not only in New Orleans but also in much of southern Louisiana. According to Emeril Lagasse, the recipe first made its way to Louisiana when royalists escaped the French Revolution and settled in the town of St. Martinsville, called “petit Paris” and located just a few miles south of Lafayette. I have been unable to confirm or refute this claim.

Daube glacée has become less and less popular and is no longer common on restaurant menus. Perhaps part of the reason is that it is really a party dish, served with toast points or other bread. It can also be sliced to make an excellent sandwich. Most recipes make a LOT – often enough to serve 50 people.

River Road Recipes, published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, bills itself as “The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine”, and indeed it has been the most authoritative source book for Louisiana home cooks for over 55 years. The recipe there calls for 10 pounds of boneless chuck roast and advises that you mold it in “a vegetable crisper or other large enamel pan.” Emeril Lagasse’s recipe in Louisiana Real & Rustic calls for 3 pounds of beef round and 3 pounds of veal rump roast along with some bacon. Roy F. Guste, Jr., of the family that has owned Antoine’s Restaurant for generations, includes pig’s feet in his version in The 100 Greatest Dishes of Louisiana Cookery.

I think there is little doubt why the dish has fallen into obscurity, and all the recipes I found were way beyond what I was looking for. All I really wanted to do was to use up the meat and broth from my effort with bouilli. As you will see, this is a very simplified version of daube glacée. Remember, when it is chilled it will need more salt than when it is warm.  Plan to decorate it with vegetables, fresh or cooked, in the gelatin and mayonnaise on top, if you wish. Serve with crackers or crostini. If you use it for sandwiches, season it with horseradish and whole-grain mustard. Delicious!

Daube glacée-1

RECIPE

Daube Glacée

Ingredients

  • ½ pound boiled beef, chilled
  • 2 cups strained, chilled  beef stock reserved from preparation of bouilli (see previous post)
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • ½ cup port
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Cut the chilled beef into bite-sized cubes. Set aside.
  2. n a small bowl, transfer ½ cup of the chilled beef stock and sprinkle the powdered gelatin. Allow to “bloom” for about 5 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, heat the remaining beef stock to boiling in a saucepan. Turn off the heat.
  4. Stir the fully bloomed gelatin mixture into the hot beef stock and stir continuously until the gelatin is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in the port and correct seasonings with salt and pepper. Stir in the cubed beef.
  6. Pour into a lightly oiled 1-quart mold. Cool to room temperature. Then cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
  7. Unmold by running a thin-bladed knife around the edge, dipping the mold into hot water for no more than 30 seconds and then covering with your serving plate and inverting to release the daube.
  8. Arrange garnish and small toasts around the daube and serve immediately with a knife or spoon for guests to serve themselves, or cut into slices and use for sandwiches.

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BOUILLI (BOILED BEEF)

When I wrote recently about Julia Child’s recipe for ratatouille, I reported that she suggested serving it with pot au feu. I was looking for something simple, but the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking served twelve to sixteen people and called for 4 pounds of beef, 4 pounds of pork, 4 pounds of chicken, 2 pounds of sausage, and vegetables. That was more than I wanted to tackle.

I had more in mind boiled beef, which sounded fairly simple and something that would not overpower the ratatouille. There is a traditional Creole dish, known as bouilli. It has been served for decades in most of the old-line restaurants of New Orleans. Perhaps the best known version is served at Tujague’s, which was established in 1856 and claims to be the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans. (The famous Antoine’s Restaurant dates to 1840.) Tujague’s sits on Decatur at the corner of Madison, a block from Jackson Square. Like the rest of the French Quarter, the restaurant survived Hurricane Katrina. It is still serving bouilli. I first enjoyed it in 1962. At the time, I thought it was pretty ordinary – stringy beef served in a watery broth. Since then, I guess my taste buds have matured, or at least changed.  Bouilli was exactly what I was looking for to serve with ratatouille.

This is not Tujague’s authentic version of boiled beef. For one thing, theirs is made with brisket. I am also certain that they use some secret herbs and spices that I don’t know about. Still, I think that my version makes a good, if a bit bland, foil for the Mediterranean flavors of ratatouille.

Beef and vegetables in broth starting the slow boil

Beef and vegetables in broth starting the slow boil

Bouilli with vegetables and ratatouille

Bouilli with vegetables and ratatouille

RECIPE

Bouilli (Boiled Beef)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds beef pot roast (chuck or round)
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • water as needed
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut in half crosswise
  • 2 ribs celery cut in thirds
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 medium turnips, peeled and quartered
  • bouquet garni of whole cloves, parsley, bay leaf, fresh thyme, garlic
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • salt to taste

Method

  1. Place beef in a soup pot and add broth and enough water to cover the meat.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce to the simmer for 3 to 4 hours or until the beef is tender.
  3. Remove the beef rom the broth, slice, and serve with some of the broth and the vegetables, if desired. Serve horseradish on the side.
  4. Strain and reserve, chilled, remaining broth for other uses.

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OYSTER AND ARTICHOKE SOUP

While working on my recent post about baked oysters New Orleans style, I got to thinking about all of the food I have enjoyed focused on oysters: oysters on the half-shell, oysters Rockefeller, oyster po’boys, etc., etc. I also got to thinking about all of the good meals I have enjoyed in New Orleans.

One outstanding oyster dish from New Orleans immediately came to mind: Potage Le Ruth, invented by Chef Warren Leruth and served at his fabled Le Ruth’s Restaurant on the West Bank in Gretna. Before he opened his restaurant, Leruth had gained recognition  as a baker, chef and food innovator. He had been personal chef to General Clark when he was in the army in Korea, and he helped to develop the famous Duncan Hines cake mixes at Proctor & Gamble. So it was not surprising when he decided to open his own place in his home town.

New Orleans is one of those cities where everyone wants the latest gossip about new restaurants and hot places to go. When Le Ruth’s opened in 1966, it caught everyone’s attention with its creative cuisine. Food critics at the time said that Leruth rescued New Orleans dining from itself because all of the old-line restaurants had started to rest on their reputations and the food had become more or less the same. Le Ruth’s changed all of that and soon gained the reputation as being undoubtedly the best restaurant in the city. That was evidenced by the difficulty in snagging a reservation.

It was not the easiest place to get to. You could use the bridge over the Mississippi River, but it was far easier to ride the Gretna ferry from the foot of Canal Street and then catch a cab to the restaurant.

I remember clearly the first time I ever ate at Le Ruth’s. A group of colleagues and I were attending a business meeting in downtown New Orleans. We had made our reservations well in advance, and everyone was looking forward to the experience. We found our way to the restaurant, took our seats at the table and, ordered wine. One of the group stuck two of the corks from the wine bottles in his nostrils  when they were offered to him. He announced that the wine was perfect. We all laughed, but two distinguished ladies at the next table raised their eyebrows. I don’t exactly recall, but I believe that at least the wine taster had spent a sizeable part of the afternoon on Bourbon Street.

It is a good thing we didn’t get tossed out. Le Ruth had the reputation for responding to critical letters with scathing rebukes from an “anonymous” diner. For folks who gave real offense, he would assign four waiters to the corners of the tablecloth of the miscreant. At a signal, they would lift the cloth to form a sack of food, dinnerware, and wine while Leruth would announce that he “had picked up the check” and summarily declare, “Get out of my restaurant!” I am certain that Warren Leruth would know how to handle the current generation of whiners on Yelp.

Le Ruth’s served many delicious and unique dishes, but perhaps the most famous was Potage Le Ruth. Unfortunately, to my knowledge there is no extant authentic recipe. Leruth said that he had  the original locked up in a vault. Nevertheless, imitations – none as good – soon showed up on the menus of most of the other high-end restaurants in New Orleans. Then recipes for oyster and artichoke soup began to appear in local newspapers. Many of the knock-offs used cream, but Leruth bragged that his recipe contained no cream.  The soup is a sort of rich velouté based on a blond roux, so you really shouldn’t need cream.

Surprisingly, some food writers say that Leruth used canned artichokes. My version does, too, although respected New Orleans chefs insist that only fresh artichokes, properly cooked and prepared, will do. If you want to use fresh artichokes, probably four medium are about right. My version is adapted from a recipe that appeared in one of the Shreveport newspapers of the time. Be advised that it is not the real thing. I have taken the additional liberty of adding some whole oysters in the style of an oyster stew. Even though it lacks authenticity, I think you will find it a most delicious soup.

RECIPE

Oyster and Artichoke Soup

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ medium onion, chopped finely
  • 1 rib celery, chopped finely
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and chopped finely
  • 14 ounce can artichoke hearts, quartered
  • 3 cups hot fish stock
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground bay
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pint oysters
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice (about)
  • 1 pinch sugar (about)
  • ¼ cup madeira

Method

  1. Melt butter in the bottom of a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and sauté until the onions are translucent and the other vegetables have wilted. Do not brown.
  2. Add the flour and continue cook over medium heat and stirring frequently until the flour is completely incorporated and the raw taste has disappeared, about 2 minutes.
  3. Drain the artichokes and add to the sautéed mixture.
  4. Stir in the hot stock, thyme, bay, cayenne, salt and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer partly covered for 45 minutes.
  5. Strain the oysters in a fine-mesh strainer to remove any bits of shell and sand, saving the liquid. Set aside about half the oysters to be stewed later, and chop the remainder. Add the chopped oysters to the oyster liquor and then stir into the simmering soup, cooking for another 10 minutes below the boil
  6. With an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Correct seasoning with vinegar and sugar. Add the madeira. If you wish, at this point you may strain the soup through a chinois for an especially smooth soup, or you can omit that step.
  7. Return the soup to medium-low heat and stir in the remaining oysters, cooking until they are firm and the edges are curled.
  8. Serve immediately or cool to serve later. Then, reheat to the boiling point and serve immediately. Grilled farm-style bread makes a good accompaniment.

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BAKED OYSTERS NEW ORLEANS STYLE

At the end of our train trip from Seattle to Los Angeles, we spent a few days with our daughter, Carol, and her family. She is an excellent cook, and she always tries to make some interesting food during our visits. She also knows that Susan loves oysters, and since she grew up in Louisiana, New Orleans style baked oysters seemed perfect – even though it is May. The recipe in her recipe box is called Oysters Mosska, undoubtedly so as not to get in trouble with Mosca’s restaurant in the New Orleans suburb of Westwego and home to the eponymous Oysters Mosca.

Mosca’s is one of the old-line favorite restaurants of local residents, having opened in 1946 and operated by the same family ever since. Part of its charm is that it is not easy to find. It is on Highway 90 a ways after you cross the Huey P. Long Bridge, but it sits back from the road, is a low-slung white-painted clapboard building that looks more like a house, and has only a small, dimly lit sign. When we were living in Louisiana, I drove right by it more than once. An interesting story is that the place was where everyone went after a night spent in the gambling houses that populated this now-lonely stretch of road. As well, rumor has linked the restaurant to the local Mafia, but the Moscas have neither confirmed nor denied that rumor.

Once inside, you are struck by the liveliness of the place. It is brightly lit and filled with families enjoying themselves. Even with a reservation you may have to wait on the straight-backed chairs lined up against the walls.

Th menu is fairly limited but filled with Italian standbys that all have a full quota of garlic. Virtually every table has at least one order of Oysters Mosca. In the old days, the dish would be served in a metal cake pan, and each diner would fish out his or her helping of succulent oysters.

To my knowledge the family has never provided an authorized version of the recipe for Oysters Mosca. We have a made-up version in our family cookbook that is a close approximation. As I mentioned above, this version comes from Carol’s recipe collection and is labelled “Oysters Mosska”, I suspect to protect against any accusations of copyright infringement.

If you do decide to visit the restaurant, be advised that they do not accept checks or credit cards – cash only. But they do have a convenient ATM inside the dining area.

Oysters cooking in liquor/beef stock sauce

Oysters cooking in liquor/beef stock sauce

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Baked oysters New Orleans style

Baked oysters New Orleans style

RECIPE

Baked Oysters New Orleans Style

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1½ tablespoons garlic, chopped
  • 1 pint shucked oysters with liquor
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • Creole spice
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 tablespoon basil chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Method

  1. n a saute pan over mediu heat, cook onions untile translucent. Then add garlic and stir for about 1 minute.
  2. Add the oyster liquor and the beef stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until the liquids are reduced to about one-half.
  3. Add the oysters and parsley. Return to the boil and then remove from heat. Adjust seasoning with Creole spice, salt, and pepper.
  4. Transfer to a metal cake pan or a shallow baking dish.
  5. Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, chopped basil, 1 teaspoon of Creole spice, and olive oil. Sprinkle over the top of the oysters.
  6. Place under a pre-heated broiler for 8 to 10 minutes or until the top is brown and bubbling.
  7. Serve immediately. 2 or 3 servings

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