Louisiana

Shopping for signature tastes of New Orleans

The New Orleans School of Cooking (524 St. Louis Street, 504-525-2665, www.nosoc.com) is located in an early 19th century molasses warehouse in the French Quarter. Every day of the week, its hands-on and demonstration classes introduce folks to the fine points of such Louisiana classics as jambalaya, shrimp remoulade, pralines, and bread pudding. Its Louisiana General Store, located in the same building, is also the most convenient place to peruse a carefully curated selection of food products essential to Creole and Cajun cooking. The shelves are packed with the products preferred by—and in some cases developed by—the school's instructors. I stopped in one afternoon and soon found myself engaged in conversation with staff member Cierra Briscoe (above). She is equally fascinated with food and fashion...Read More

Mixing it up with authentic New Orleans gumbo

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 Made 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,...Read More

New Orleans starts morning on the sweet side

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.) But 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...Read More

Chef Slade Rushing puts zing back in Brennan’s

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....Read More

Commander’s Palace lives up to the legend

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. For 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...Read More

Panna cotta Christmas style

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...Read More

Eat, drink, and be merry in New Orleans at 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...Read More

What to buy in a Cajun grocery store

Usually Pat and I write about buying specialty foods in overseas grocery stores, but Cajun cooking stands so far apart from most other American regional food that the grocers have developed lines of goods we can rarely find anywhere else. The pickled tabasco peppers, gumbo file powder, and various hot pepper sauces shown above are cases in point. In fact, I was once told by a northern grocer that file powder was illegal. (Not true, but it is allegedly mildly carcinogenic. If you eat three pounds at a time, you might develop a tumor in 20 years.) Needless to say, file powder can be hard to find up here in the chilly north. The ingredients immediately above are even more local. Dried shrimp might be...Read More

Making crawfish étouffée

There are as many recipes for crawfish étouffée as there are cooks in Louisiana, but that's probably because the basic recipe is so simple that everyone wants to add something to give it a personal touch. As part of my instruction at Crawfish College in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, I had the good fortune of meeting chef Dustie Latiolais of the hugely popular restaurant Crawfish Town USA (2815 Grand Point Highway, Breaux Bridge, LA 70517, 337-667-6148, www.crawfishtownusa.com). He showed my class how to prepare a classic crawfish étouffée at home. The key elements are the so-called “Cajun Trinity” of chopped onion, celery, and green pepper, and (of course) the crawfish. Latiolais thickens his with a red roux, which includes paprika as well as flour kneaded into...Read More

Peeling Louisiana crawfish

Crawfish might look like little lobsters, but getting to the meat takes a whole different approach. For starters, a meal of lobster is one lobster. A meal of crawfish contains several dozen. Because they are smaller, the meat in the claws – let alone the legs – is of little consequence. The tail's the thing. But crawfish, unlike lobster, don't have a carapace anywhere near big enough to poke your finger through. When I attended Crawfish College and the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the first thing I had to learn about crawfish was how to get at those tails so I didn't go hungry. Fortunately, there's a time-honored technique that also yields a nice clean tail without the animal's alimentary tract. Start by grasping the...Read More