Mixing it up with authentic New Orleans gumbo

A bowl arrive at the Gumbo Shop in New Orleans
A hearty bowl of gumbo is a powerful argument for open borders. It took four different cultures to create Louisiana’s leading contribution to American cuisine. French settlers contributed the cooking technique, while the Spanish brought bell peppers, onions, and celery—the so-called “trinity” of seasonings. Africans added okra for flavor and as a thickening agent. For variation, some cooks thicken their dish with the filé powder favored by the local Choctaw tribe.

Local choice

Dining room in the Gumbo Shop, New OrleansMade with sausage and either shellfish or poultry, gumbo is a forgiving dish that allows each cook to put a personal stamp on it. I sampled many versions when I was in New Orleans and was never disappointed. But I ate my favorite at the Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter Street, 504-525-1486, www.gumboshop.com). I shouldn’t have been surprised. The restaurant is a perennial winner in the Best of New Orleans readers’ poll conducted by the Gambit.

The Gumbo Shop was established in 1948 and features the traditional New Orleans style of ceiling fans, a large bar, big windows on the street, and decorative murals. It was hopping when I stopped in for a late lunch, but the waiters and waitresses were models of calm, even chatty efficiency. I opted for the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo over the seafood okra gumbo. While I waited for my bowl to arrive, I listened to the waiter at the next table chat with a couple of visitors. To relax, he said, “I’ll get a strong cup of coffee and sit outside and blow through a pack of cigarettes.”

My server Tyler (at top of the post) ceremoniously delivered my bowl, along with a hot loaf of crusty French bread. He also pointed to the array of hot sauces on the table. “Take a taste and then add a little hot sauce if you like.”

My gumbo was rich with okra, tomato, chicken, and sausage and had a pronounced green pepper flavor to the broth. I decided to forego the extra heat. The flavor was deep and satisfying. Initially it seemed a bit mild, but the heat snuck up on me. I was wiping sweat from my brow by the time I sopped up the last bit of broth with my bread.

CHICKEN AND ANDOUILLE GUMBO


Gumbo at the Gumbo Shop, New OrleansThe Gumbo Shop in New Orleans uses whole chickens in their gumbo, but I like to stick with chicken thighs because they impart an intense chicken flavor. Many cooks also use canned tomatoes, but I think fresh tomatoes make the dish brighter. The only tricky part about making gumbo is having the patience to brown the roux without burning it. Keep keep stirring and watch the color!

Ingredients

4 pounds chicken thighs
2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil plus 1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound fresh or frozen okra in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped celery
3 cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
12 ounces andouille sausage, sliced in 3/4” rounds
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt

Directions

Simmer chicken thighs in water with bay leaf for 45 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside to cool. Remove bay leaf and reserve cooking water as chicken stock. When thighs cool, strip meat from the bones and reserve.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and fry the okra for 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning. Cook until the stringy strands disappear and okra is lightly browned. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven with a heavy bottom, heat 1/2 cup olive oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir and cook until flour browns into a roux. When color reaches dark brown, stir in onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up brown bits from bottom of Dutch oven.

When vegetables are tender, add tomatoes, sausage, and sauteed okra and cook for 15 minutes. Add the spices and mix well. Pour in 8 cups reserved chicken stock, bring to slow boil, and simmer for an hour. Add cooked chicken and additional stock if necessary. Adjust seasoning and serve in large bowls with steamed white rice.

27

12 2016

New Orleans starts morning on the sweet side

Café du Monde in New Orleans
Beignets are the official state donut of Louisiana and perhaps the most famous of foods in New Orleans. (A later post will discuss gumbo, the other signature New Orleans dish.)

Beignets at Café du Monde in New OrleansBut back to beignets. The squares of yeasted pastry dough are vat-fried and then treated to a thick dusting of confectioners’ sugar. They are said to have originated in France and made their way to New Orleans with the Acadians who fled the Canadian maritime provinces when Britain took over in the mid-18th century. I’m not sure that the French would appreciate having their light-as-air pastries dubbed as donuts.

You can try beignets any time of day or night at Café du Monde (800 Decatur Street, 504-525-4544, www.cafedumonde.com). This city institution, established in 1862, is open 24/7 and sits right near the French Market. As you stroll the streets of the French Quarter, you’ll be able to tell who has enjoyed some beignets by the tell-tale dusting of sugar on their clothes.

An African inspired breakfast treat


The Old Coffee Pot in New Orleans

Finding the city’s other fried breakfast dish takes more effort. Callas, a deep-fried ball of rice mixed with sugar and egg, was most likely introduced to New Orleans by enslaved Africans. In fact, slave women often sold them on the streets of the French Quarter on their one day off each week. These days, callas are not as ubiquitous.

The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant (714 St. Peter Street, 504-524-3500, www.theoldcoffeepot.com) is the only place I found in the French Quarter with callas on the breakfast menu. The restaurant opened in 1894 and is a charming place to start the day. It features an open kitchen, long wooden bar, murals of old scenes of the French Quarter, and a wrought iron chandelier with cascading roses.

Callas at the Old Coffee Pot in New OrleansAfter correcting my pronunciation (the accent is on the second syllable, as in “call-OSS”), my waitress Shirley told me that very few people know about callas these days. She remembers them as a treat that children would eat before they made their First Communion. For a filling breakfast, the Old Coffee Pot serves two callas with powdered sugar and optional syrup along with a big helping of grits. Diners need only decide whether they want the cook to mix chopped pecans with the rice. Shirley assured me that both options are equally good. So I went all in. I opted for the extra crunch of the pecans—and added a healthy pour of syrup. It was a satisfying breakfast with a bit of city history on the side.

25

12 2016

Chef Slade Rushing puts zing back in Brennan’s

Brennan's dining room
If you favor a light breakfast, you will have to adjust your thinking in New Orleans. Every meal, it seems, is an excuse for excess. French Quarter stalwart Brennan’s (417 Royal Street, 504-525-9711, www.brennansneworleans.com) epitomizes the local penchant of beginning the day with a celebratory breakfast. The meal might start with a glass of sparkling wine mixed with pear and cinnamon purée and proceed through a couple of courses—and then dessert. After all, Brennan’s is credited with introducing Bananas Foster.

In 1946, family patriarch Owen Brennan opened the restaurant that launched a dining dynasty. Brennan’s has been housed in an instantly recognizable bright pink building since the 1950s. It had fallen on hard times before Ralph Brennan and partner Terry White purchased it in 2013. “I played here as a child and worked here in high school and college,” Brennan recalled when he stopped at my table in the Chanteclair Room to chat. “I was afraid it was going to leave the family.”

The restaurant closed for an 18-month renovation. The new owners refurbished the bar and relocated the kitchen to create a dining room with windows on Royal Street. They painted the walls of the Chanteclair Room with murals depicting 1895 Mardi Gras scenes of the Proteus parade.

A gastronomic leader once again

Chef Slade Rushing of Brennan's Of even more interest to diners, Brennan’s hired Slade Rushing (right) as executive chef. (Ralph Brennan’s son Patrick is sous chef.)

“I’ve always wanted to take over an institution in the French Quarter,” said Mississippi-born Rushing. “Here in the South, food is a way of life, a reason to celebrate.” Rushing has tweaked a few classic dishes and introduced some new ones that are probably destined to become classics themselves.

For the traditional New Orleans dish of Eggs Sardou, Rushing replaced English muffins with breaded and fried artichoke bottoms as the base for poached eggs. His sauce features tomato, chervil, and champagne vinegar.

Edd Yolk Carpaccio at Brennan'sRushing’s additions to the menu include Egg Yolk Carpaccio, his restaurant-elegant version of a Spanish bar food classic (left). It features grilled shrimp dabbed with an andouille vinaigrette and swimming in a brilliant yellow puddle of egg yolk. (The warm plate half cooks the yolk.) On top is a vertical tangle of crisp shoestring sweet potato fries. He also put a Southern spin on North Atlantic lobster by serving shelled barbecued lobster tail and claw with spiced butter, lemon confit, and thyme.

He is most excited about Rabbit Rushing, a dish that speaks of his Southern roots. “That’s my background on a plate,” Rushing says of the fried Mississippi rabbit served with creamed collards, eggs over easy, and pickled pork jus. “My dad would wake me up at 3 a.m. I’d get my shotgun and we’d shoot a rabbit in the collard patch. The meat was so fresh it was jumping in the pan.”

The dish has proven immensely popular. “It’s elevated soul food,” says Rushing of the dish he is holding in the photo above. “Taste memories are the most important thing that chefs can bring to the kitchen.”

23

12 2016

Commander’s Palace lives up to the legend

Dining room at Commander's Palace in New Orleans
Enjoying a leisurely four-course Reveillon dinner (see previous post) is probably the best way to revel in the holiday spirit in New Orleans. But a fine meal is by no means limited to dinner—or to the historic French Quarter.

St. Charles streetcar in New OrleansFor office parties and ladies who lunch, many restaurants also offer midday holiday menus. Among them is Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221, commanderspalace.com). This dining institution is housed in a bright blue building in the Garden District, where American interlopers shunned by French Creole society built their own grand mansions in the 19th century. The St. Charles streetcar carries passengers from the edge of the French Quarter to the Garden District in trolleys decked with garlands.

Emile Commander opened Commander’s Palace in the 1880s. It was already a landmark when the Brennan family acquired it in 1969. In truth, it’s nearly impossible not to eat in a Brennan restaurant in New Orleans. The extended family has bred great restaurateurs the way the Bourbon family bred kings and queens. I’ll admit, though, that trying to decipher the family tree and follow the twists and turns of family disagreements could give anyone dyspepsia.

“This is a holiday lunch at Commander’s Palace,” the maitre d’ told me as he led me through a maze of dining rooms. “We can’t guarantee what’s going to happen.”

Dining at a grande dame


servers at Commander's Palace in New Orleans

Actually, they can guarantee a fine meal, which should start with a glass of Commander’s Palace Cuvée Brut Blanc de Noir. It’s made for the restaurant by Iron Horse Vineyard, a sparkling wine specialist in Sonoma’s Green Valley. The Christmas Celebration lunch starts with turtle soup, followed by Sugarcane Lacquered South Texas Quail. I opted instead for the soup of the day. I figured that roasted pumpkin soup with whiskey and toasted pumpkin seeds seemed like a pot I could try to recreate back home in New England.

Some of New Orleans’ most famous chefs have honed their skills in Commander’s kitchen. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both served as executive chef during the 1970s and 1980s. Prudhomme created the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle that remains the restaurant’s signature dessert (available à la carte or with the Christmas Celebration Lunch). For a dramatic end, it’s finished tableside with warm whiskey cream.

ROASTED PUMPKIN WHISKEY SOUP

roasted pumpkin soupThis isn’t the restaurant’s recipe, but it tastes very much the same. Any of the winter squashes can be substituted for pumpkin, though a nice sugar pie pumpkin makes a sweet, rich soup. Butternut squash also works well, and tends to be available all winter. I’ve given the directions here to make your own roasted pumpkin seeds, but snack jar pepitas are a lot less trouble.

Serves 8 as a soup course

Ingredients

3 pound pumpkin or butternut squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
2 leeks, washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin rounds
1 onion, roughly chopped
8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 cup buttermilk
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced parsley

Directions

Set oven at 375°F.

Trim off the stem and base of the squash or pumpkin. Cut top to bottom into six pieces. Remove seeds and reserve. Paint the flesh with olive oil and place on a roasting pan. Roast in oven 15-20 minutes or until flesh is tender and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 300°F.

To prepare pumpkin seeds, rinse thoroughly to remove all pulp, then place in pan with water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Toss with remaining olive oil and spread in single layer on a baking sheet. Salt generously. Roast in about 45 minutes until crisp and brown. Reserve.

In large soup pot, melt half the butter. Add leeks and onion and sprinkle with pinch of salt. Cover pot and sweat leeks and onion over low heat about 20 minutes. Add a little water if needed to keep them from sticking to pan.

Scoop roasted pumpkin flesh away from skin and add to leeks and onion. Pour in the stock, season and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then let the soup cool. Add whiskey, buttermilk, and remaining butter and stir to dissolve. Purée in a blender and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper. Reheat for serving.

Serve sprinkled with a few roasted pumpkin seeds and minced parsley.

Panna cotta Christmas style

Peppermint panna cotta
As I mentioned in the last post, Broussard’s served a dynamite version of panna cotta tweaked for the holiday season. Not only was it an intense pink and redolent of peppermint, it also had a luscious chocolate topping. While my homemade attempt doesn’t indulge in some stray raspberries as a garnish, it does boast that winning combination of peppermint and chocolate.

Many restaurant chefs offer panna cotta as a dessert option because making it doesn’t require a pastry chef’s skill set. In fact, it is about as easy as making Jell-O. Still, it’s rich and satisfying and can be made to look fabulous. This recipe is a simple adaptation of the restaurant classic, but scaled down to dinner-party volume. To make it even easier, the chocolate layer is a commercial ganache in a jar. It’s just the right texture.

PEPPERMINT PANNA COTTA

serves 6

Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream
3/8 cup (75 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6-8 drops red food coloring
Hershey’s Spreads chocolate
whipped cream
crushed Starlight mints or candy canes for garnish

Directions

Pour the cream into a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin on top of the cream. Let it dissolve on the surface for at least 10 minutes.

Move pan to burner over medium heat. Begin stirring with a small whisk. When cream is warm, add the sugar and the two extracts. Continue stirring until the lumpy gelatin is completely dissolved and cream is smooth. Stir in food coloring and stir to distribute evenly. At no time should the mixture boil.

Remove pan from heat and pour warm cream into six juice glasses or clear tulip cups. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate six hours to overnight to fully set the panna cotta.

Warm the Hershey’s Spreads chocolate in a pan to liquefy. Pour a thin layer atop each glass of panna cotta and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with crushed peppermint candy.

Eat, drink, and be merry in New Orleans at the holidays

New Orleans is always ready for the holidays
As a New Englander, I always secretly pitied people who had to celebrate Christmas in a warm climate. But after one day in New Orleans, I realized the error of my ways. Even in December, potted trees and ferns flourish on wrought iron balconies and poinsettias and camellias bloom profusely. All it takes are a few red bows and some twinkling white lights to deck the city for the holidays.

With decorating out of the way, New Orleanians can spend more time at the table. Great food is a city birthright and I can’t think of another place where you can eat better—or at a more reasonable price—than New Orleans at Christmas.

Until the Civil War, Creole families enjoyed lavish feasts after Mass on Christmas Eve and again on New Year’s Eve. Today’s chefs have improved on that tradition. Now more than 50 restaurants—including many of the city’s best—offer four-course, fixed-price Reveillon menus throughout the holiday season. (See holiday.neworleansonline.com for a full list.) The term “Reveillon” refers to a late night meal. But today’s diners don’t have to wait until after midnight to feast. Moreover, they can choose between contemporary cooking or the city’s signature Creole cuisine, which blends French technique, African tradition, and Spanish spices. Reveillon menus are almost evenly divided between the two.

Tujague's is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans

Celebrate at venerable Tujague’s

For tradition, it’s hard to beat Tujague’s (823 Decatur Street, 504-525-8676, www.tujaguesrestaurant.com). Founded in 1856 by immigrants from Bordeaux, Tujague’s is the second oldest restaurant in the city. The long wooden bar in the front room was brought from France that same year. The bar is a lively place for a drink, but the dining room with historic photos on the walls is a better choice for a leisurely meal. The Reveillon menu hits on many of the city’s classics. Fresh local seafood finds its way into bacon-wrapped oysters en brochette or crawfish and goat cheese crepes. One of the entree choices is Chicken Pontalba, a city favorite featuring a chicken breast on a bed of crunchy fried potato cubes, ham, and mushrooms—all topped with Béarnaise sauce, that piquant daughter of Hollandaise.

Making Café Brûlot at Arnaud's

Drink to the season at Arnaud’s

Tujague’s was into its seventh decade when Arnaud’s (813 Bienville Street, 504-523-5433, www.arnaudsrestaurant.com) was founded in 1918 by a French wine salesman. An attention to fine libations has always been part of the Arnaud’s experience. The best way to start a Reveillon dinner is with a French 75 cocktail: cognac and lemon juice topped with champagne. Menu choices usually include a version of Arnaud’s signature dish of shrimp in remoulade sauce. (Made with mayonnaise, Creole mustard, paprika, chopped pickle, and a slew of spices, Arnaud’s remoulade is the standard by which all Creole versions of the French sauce are measured.) The most satisfying and dramatic way to end a meal is with a cup of Café Brûlot. The mix of black coffee, lemon and orange rinds, cinnamon sticks, and orange Curaçao is prepared tableside and flamed with brandy (above).

Filet Wellington at Broussard's

Broussard’s strikes French pose

Broussard’s (819 Conti Street, 504-581-3866, broussards.com) was founded in 1920 by chef Joseph Broussard, who merged his classical Parisian training with the flavors and flair of Creole cuisine. Still located in a mansion owned by his wife’s family, Broussard’s is formal enough to make a meal feel special and casual enough to make diners relax. The Reveillon menu includes such classics as Creole Turtle Soup—a rich, almost gumbo-like soup always topped with sherry—and such celebratory dishes as Filet Wellington accompanied by blue cheese puff pastry and wild mushrooms. Broussard’s also served my favorite dessert of my Reveillon dining: peppermint stick panna cotta topped with chocolate ganache, a few raspberries and a dab of whipped cream. (Next post will have a recipe!)

appetizer sampler at Tableau

Tableau makes holiday stage set

The latest venture from Dickie Brennan (a scion of New Orleans’ dominant restaurant family) is Tableau (616 St. Peter Street, 504-934-3463, www.tableaufrenchquarter.com). Brennan purchased part of the Jackson Square property of the historic Le Petit Theatre (www.lepetittheatre.com), renovated the building and created a contemporary restaurant with an open kitchen in the main dining room. The renovated theater space presents all manner of performing events. Tableau is a great spot for a pre-theater dinner or for dining on a balcony overlooking Jackson Square on a warm evening. It’s also a perfect place to enjoy a contemporary interpretation of time-honored Creole cuisine.

Chef John Martin makes the most of local products. His rich Gulf Oyster Stew, which gets a sassy anise hit from Pernod, comes topped with a Southern black pepper biscuit. His mixed grill of Gulf pompano and Gulf shrimp (with a side of roasted root vegetables) pops to life on a base of citrus gastrique and satsuma gazpacho.

The inventive pairings certainly give diners a lot to talk about. In fact, wherever you choose to eat, expect to be drawn into conversation with diners at neighboring tables. The holiday season only enhances New Orleanians’ gregarious nature and the Reveillon menus are such a good deal that many locals dine out as often as possible in December.

Château La Nerthe delivers warmth, finesse, and power

Turkey lentil cassoulet with 2012 Château La Nerthe from Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Châteauneuf-du-Pape might be the ultimate late autumn comfort wine. At its best, it’s rich, nuanced, and warm. It has a gentle power that responds to those hormones that surge when the days get shorter. It also plays very well with food.

Château La Nerthe from Châteauneuf-du-Pape on tableThe 2012 Château La Nerthe is the very model of what Hugh Johnson once called “a glowing, roast-chestnut warmth” characteristic of good Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Admittedly, good wines from this southernmost portion of the Rhone cost enough to be out of our league for everyday drinking. But this bottle comes in at a reasonable $65 suggested retail price—closer to $55 at discount wine shops. Just entering its drinking years (now through 2023, we’re told), it blossoms when double-decanted and served at around 60° F. We opened the bottle two hours ahead of dinner and found it tannic and tart. Placed back in the bottle after decanting and rested on a cool windowsill, it was spectacular with a classic cool-weather cassoulet.

Great Châteauneuf-du-Pape in tough year

Châteauneuf-du-Pape had a difficult year in 2012. A severe winter froze a lot of buds and some entire vines. Grenache was afflicted with coulure (a tendency not to develop grapes after flowering). Plus the region had a very dry summer. The 225 acres of vineyards at Château La Nerthe weathered these vicissitudes better than most.

Château La Nerthe vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape Certified organic since 1998, the vineyards depend on a thick layer of glacial cobbles (galettes) that seal in moisture and radiate heat up to the vines at night (see photo at right, courtesy of Château La Nerthe). The vineyards were harvested on schedule in late August. The vintage ended up with a blend of 44% Grenache Noir, 37% Syrah, 14% Mourvedre, and 5% Cinsault. That’s about a quarter less Grenache than usual for Château La Nerthe, but Grenache still dominates the finished wine. The nose is rich with blackberries, dark cherries, and aromatic spices. Hints of oak remain on the palate, and just a hint of leathery Syrah comes through.

It was the ideal wine for the dank weather that followed Thanksgiving in New England. Low turkey prices inspired the following cassoulet using Puy lentils, roasted garlic, and charcoal-roasted turkey thighs in place of duck confit.

POST-THANKSGIVING SMOKED TURKEY CASSOULET

cassoulet-for-recipeTurkey is ridiculously cheap in the weeks running up to Thanksgiving. We butcher the birds, saving the breasts to brine and roast separately. The backs and wings go into stock. We slow-roast the thighs and legs in a charcoal grill to produce the next best thing to duck confit without the fat. Rub the legs with 2 teaspoons ras al hanout and 1 teaspoon sea salt and refrigerate in a plastic bag overnight. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the bag and rub well to coat. Roast about 15 minutes per side in closed but vented Weber grill with fire built on the other side of the grill. This produces smoky, overcooked turkey. Let cool and strip the meat. It should yield 12-14 oz. of stringy, smoky pulled turkey.

8 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces smoky thick sliced bacon, cut in 1-inch strips
12 ounces chicken garlic sausage
1 head of garlic
white wine to deglaze pan
meat from charcoal-roasted turkey legs

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme

1 bay leaf
2 cups French green lentils (lentilles du Puy)
8 cups chicken or turkey broth, preferably homemade
3 cups breadcrumbs made from day-old white bread (or panko, if necessary)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted, or equal amount of olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Set oven at 350ºF. Place half the bacon strips, sausages, and whole head of garlic in heavy-bottomed roasting pan or 12-inch cast iron skillet. Roast 25-30 minutes, turning sausages at least once, until sausages are browned, bacon has rendered its fat, and garlic is roasted through. Remove sausages and bacon to a plate to cool. Place garlic on separate plate to cool. When garlic is cool, cut head in half horizontally and squeeze out roasted garlic for use later with vegetables.

Drain fat from roasting pan into a Dutch oven. Deglaze pan with wine and reserve liquid.

Add remaining bacon to Dutch oven and heat over medium-low until bacon begins to color but is not yet crisp. Remove bacon to plate with sausages and other bacon.

Turn up heat in Dutch oven and add turkey meat. Cook, stirring often, to crisp up edges. Remove from pan and reserve.

Add olive oil to Dutch oven and add onion, carrots, and celery. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to become translucent and vegetables are al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add cayenne, fresh herbs, and the mushy garlic squeezed from roasted head. Cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Remove from pot and reserve.

Turn oven up to 375ºF.

Deglaze Dutch oven with a little chicken stock. Then add lentils and bay leaf. Add remaining stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook about 15 minutes, until lentils are tender but not mushy. Remove bay leaf. Stir in vegetable mixture and turkey. Cut cooked sausages into 1/2 inch slices and stir in. Add reserved deglazing liquid.

Assemble and finish

At this point you can transfer everything into a 4 quart casserole, if desired, but the Dutch oven will work fine as well. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter and spread evenly over surface. Place lid on Dutch oven or casserole (or use aluminum foil) and bake in oven about 30 minutes. Remove lid or foil and continue cooking another 20 minutes until breadcrumb topping has turned dark gold.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Let rest about 15 minutes before serving with a green salad topped with pear slices and dressed with a mustardy, garlicky vinaigrette.

15

12 2016

Jawbox Gin embodies the spirit of Belfast

Gerry White and his Jawbox Gin
Gerry White has spent his career in the bar trade and has been manager of the John Hewitt (thejohnhewitt.com) for the last 12 years. He has pulled many a pint of Guinness and poured countless shots of Black Bush. “But the only spirit I’ve ever enjoyed,” he says, “is gin.”

He is, in fact, passionate about gin—and about his native city of Belfast. For several years he had been mulling over a project to create his own gin. He even had the taste profile he was seeking in his head. “Two and a half years ago, I told myself I’ll kick myself if I didn’t try,” he recalls, taking a seat at our table at the John Hewitt to relate the story.

“Belfast is a big industrial city. I wanted a gin with a big blast of juniper,” he says, “followed by the heat of pepper and then a clean lemon flavor.” He joined forces with Echlinville Distillery (echlinville.com) in Newtownards. Launched in 2013, Echlinville was the first new licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in more than 125 years. Moreover, the founders shared White’s passion for quality products that would reflect their place of origin.

Spirit, show thyself!

Jawbox Gin bottleOn the 15th try, the distillers finally realized the flavors White had been carrying in his head. Jawbox Gin was born. It’s distilled from malted barley grown on land owned by the distillers and other family members. Among the botanicals White added was Belfast heather, which produces an earthy, herbaceous note. White chose the stubby, rounded bottle because it reminds him of Victorian medicine bottles. The label is likewise styled to emulate a heritage marque.

He had a little fun with the name. “A communal wash area with a big sink used to be called a jawbox,” he explains. “People would stand around it and tell stories while they washed up. That’s also what people do in pubs. They meet and tell stories.”

Mixing it up

03-jawbox-and-ginger-ale Jawbox launched in February 2016 and has been well received in a fairly crowded field. It’s smooth enough to enjoy as a sipping gin. The heat and spiciness also pair well with ginger ale, a product that White says was invented in Belfast. He combines a shot of Jawbox with Fever Tree ginger ale to taste and adds a squeeze of lime. The sparks of ginger hit the palate first, followed by the complex herbal notes of the gin. The flavor finishes with a pucker of lime.

Other bartenders have been more creative. Muriel’s (see previous post) adds a small piece of molasses honeycomb candy to a glass of gin and ginger ale. Hargadons (www.hargadons.com) in Sligo goes them one better by adding a small piece of natural bee’s honeycomb. “It’s stunning,” says White.

Chefs are also putting the product to good use. Michael Deane (www.michaeldeane.co.uk) has featured citrus and gin cured trout on his various menus. Niall McKenna of James Street South (jamesstreetsouth.co.uk) has used it to cure salmon.

White hopes to find U.S. and E.U. distributors for Jawbox, but for now you will have to pick it up in Northern Ireland. It’s for sale in Belfast at all three Marks & Spencer locations (marksandspencer.com) and most good liquor shops.

14

12 2016

Steak and Guinness Pie a pub standard

Steak and Guinness pie on the table
Pretty much wherever you go in Northern Ireland, chances are good that the pub has steak and Guinness pie on the menu. In recent years, many places have taken to plopping a piece of separately cooked puff pastry on top of the beef stew. This version is deliciously retrograde. It uses a classic butter pastry crust. The dish is traditional but every cook adds a personal touch. This version is adapted from several sources. Don’t be surprised by the inclusion of sharp cheddar cheese. It makes a real difference in the flavor and the crust.

STEAK AND GUINNESS PIE


Steak and Guinness pie servedServes 4

Ingredients


For Stew

4 tablespoons butter, divided
large red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
8 oz. button mushrooms
2 pounds chuck shoulder or round, cut in bite-sized pieces
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
3 cups (1 1/2 cans) Guinness or other stout
1 teaspoon Gravymaster
6 ounces coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese, separated

For Pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, diced
ice water
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Directions

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

In Dutch oven or cast-iron chicken cooker, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic. Sauté until soft.

Add rest of butter, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Stirring frequently, cook over medium heat until mushrooms darken and mixture loses its moisture.

Season beef lightly with salt and pepper, then toss with flour. Add meat and rosemary to pan and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often to keep from sticking.

Add sufficient Guinness to submerge the beef and vegetables. Cover pan and place in oven for 2 1/2 hours. Check periodically and stir. If mixture is thin at end of cooking, reduce the liquid on stove top. Fold in half the cheese.

While stew is cooking, start making pastry since it needs to chill for a few hours. Place flour, baking powder, and salt into food processor. Pulse to blend. With motor running, add diced pieces of butter slowly. Process until mixture has the texture of coarse meal. Add ice water, a splash at a time, until a firm dough forms. Remove from food processor and wrap dough in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

When stew is done, spoon into souffle dish that is 2 inches deep and 8-inches in diameter. (An 8×8 baking pan can be substituted.) Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to circle about 2 inches broader than circumference of cooking dish. Place dough over the stew and pinch the edges to seal. Make three wide slashes in top to vent. Paint the crust with egg yolk. Place dish on baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, or until the pastry is puffy and golden.

13

12 2016

Pub crawl reveals Cathedral Quarter riches

The Guinness Creation mural in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
After falling on hard times, Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter has been enjoying boom years of late. The district is named for St. Anne’s, a grand structure of the Church of Ireland though not technically a cathedral since it is not a bishop’s seat. The church anchors the 18th century warehouse district north of the city center. The “cathedral” was erected 1899-1903 as an expression of Belfast’s industrial wealth and power at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Historic Guinness sign in Belfast's Cathedral QuarterThese days the Cathedral Quarter is an area more for fun than the backbreaking labor of teamsters and longshoremen. Its atmospheric warren of narrow streets, alleys, cul-de-sacs, and byways is studded with small shops and pubs. Ancient city walls are splashed with colorful murals (like the Dali-esque Guinness Creation above) and old signage (like the Guinness placard at right) has been preserved as part of Northern Ireland’s cultural heritage. As a result, the Cathedral Quarter has emerged as one of the liveliest parts of Belfast for nightlife. Here are some of the congenial gems where it’s easy to while away an evening with a pint or two.

The Dirty Onion

Peat fire at Dirty Onion in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
Belfast’s oldest timber-framed building was constructed around 1750 as a warehouse. It held bonded spirits from 1921 to 1991. Literally tens of thousands of Jameson whiskey cases passed through “Stack N.” A fair bit is still consumed at The Dirty Onion, which now occupies the old warehouse space. The bar also hosts live traditional music every night and two afternoons a week. Its upstairs sister, Yardbird, serves rotisserie chicken. But on a cold damp night, nothing beats pulling up a chair and a pint to a downstairs fireplace (above). The bar burns traditional peat turf. Its smoke is as sweet as a sip of Scotch whisky.
The Dirty Onion, 3 Hill Street, 28 9024 3712, www.thedirtyonion.com

The Duke of York

Duke of York in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
There’s been a pub at the site of the Duke of York since the mid-18th century, and the collection of antique mirrors, hotel furniture, and woodwork inside attests that the current pub has outlasted many another business in the neighborhood. It’s located on Commercial Court, which is protected by the Commissioners of Public Works under the National Monuments Act. The Duke has an impressive collection of more than 100 Irish whiskeys, many of which ceased production decades ago. For all the high spirits, it’s a bar for the well-behaved. An inscription on the half rail of the exterior sets the tone. It reads, “Come in soberly, drink moderately, depart quietly and come again.”
The Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Court, 28 9024 1062, dukeofyorkbelfast.com

Muriel’s Cafe Bar

Muriel's Cafe and Bar in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
Located in a former millinery, Muriel’s exudes a certain feminine charm with its ironic displays of bygone women’s fashions and its ever so twee downstairs stage set. (Upstairs is more in line with the masculine, wood-paneled bars of the rest of the neighborhood.) Known as much for its coffee, pastries, afternoon tea, and Sunday brunch as for its alcoholic libations, Muriel’s injects a spritz of whimsy into the historic streets of the Cathedral Quarter.
Muriel’s Cafe Bar, 12-14 Church Lane, 28 9033 2445

Harp Bar

Muriel's Harp Bar in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The back of the Harp shares the Commercial Court alley with the Duke of York. The pub is nearly as decorous and glamorous, with tufted red leather banquettes in one room, red velvet chairs, and Victorian antiques all about. Glass display cases behind the bar hold a stunning collection of Irish whiskeys, although the rare tipples are not for sale. The building used to be the headquarters and bonded warehouse of The Old Bushmills Distillery Company. Black Bush is the whiskey of choice.
Harp Bar, 35 Hill Street, 28 9032 9923, www.harpbarbelfast.com

John Hewitt

The John Hewitt in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The John Hewitt has the demeanor of a pub that’s seen at least a century of Belfast imbibers. But the handsome spot only opened in December 1999. It’s a cash generator for the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre. It was named for the late poet, socialist, and community activist who founded the Centre in 1983. With such a sterling left wing pedigree, the bar is hugely popular with poets, musicians, journalists, and artists. The John Hewitt also hosts events for Belfast arts festivals and programs live music most nights. (Wednesday nights are usually devoted to charity fundraisers.)
The John Hewitt, 51 Donegall Street, 28 9023 3768, thejohnhewitt.com

Bert’s Jazz Bar

Bert's Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The Merchant Hotel spearheaded the Cathedral Quarter revival when it opened a decade ago. Its fine, polished bar off the lobby remains the model of an Edwardian whiskey bar. But much of the action has shifted in recent years to Bert’s, located downstairs with a separate street entrance. It’s Belfast’s only dedicated jazz bar, programming live music every night from 9 p.m. The bar specializes in Jazz Age cocktails and the kitchen features affordable French bistro fare.
16 Skipper Street, 28 9026 2713, themerchanthotel.com

Sunflower Public House

Exterior of The Sunflower in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The security cage at the entrance to this disarmingly charming pub on the corner of Kent and Union streets is a remnant of the 1980s, when the Troubles kept everyone wary. Now it’s just a bit of social history that predates half the student and backpacker clientele who flock in for traditional music sessions—or for Gypsy Swing or Hot Jazz on Thursdays. On Tuesday nights, a somewhat more seasoned crowd of ukelele players gathers for a jam. Pipers come on Wednesdays.
Sunflower Public House, 65 Union Street, 028 9023 2474, www.sunflowerbelfast.com
Ukelele jam at The Sunflower in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter

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12 2016