Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Bookshelf: New Orleans Home Cooking

September 1st, 2008 · 2 Comments

As all thoughts are on New Orleans, I’m drawn to a new cookbook that just crossed my desk from the Crescent City.

My good friend and former Times-Picayune food editor, Dale Curry, has just released the important New Orleans Home Cooking (Pelican Publishing, 2008). The 192-page cookbook represents a great record of traditional recipes that most cooks in the New Orleans region had in their files — prior to Katrina.

Curry and other food writers in that state, including Judy Walker — the current Times-Picayune food editor — have spent a great deal of time researching and relocating heirloom recipes that residents lost in the storm. Her book reflects the work she’s done since Katrina, though in her forward, she notes that it wasn’t just the 2005 hurricane, but a lack of interest by modern cooks in traditional recipes that threatened the unique American fare.

Here you’ll learn about daube— a meat served in aspic — and how it was traditionally served at holidays, and frequently made use of leftovers.  You’ll learn of the laborious process of making crawfish bisque from scratch, and how the hurricanes cause cooks there to scramble to save their precious frozen crawfish shells (heads) — dilligently saved up for this velvety soup. You’ll read about “baked” macaroni — basically, macaroni and cheese, a dish famously served at Rocky and Carlo’sin Chalmette, where the secret’s in the prep – and maybe in your choice of red or brown gravy.

What I love about the book is what I love about all cookbooks written by food writers and historians rather than chefs. Not all chefs can tell the stories and relate the histories of the foods as these writers with regional roots can — and to me, that’s the bigger part of enjoying a cookbook. Recipes are a dime a dozen now, thanks to the internet. But for the stories, you often have to go to many sources.

There are many of us, industry reports show, who read cookbooks for the sake of reading; many times, they go untouched at the stove. That’s OK by me: food knowledge, vicarious or practical, keeps it alive, evolving, and above all, keeps us all connected.

Here’s the recipe for Grillades. Dale Curry describes it as the “quintessential Creole brunch dish, dating as far back as the mid 19th-century” when Mmes. Begue and Esparbe prepared them for the riverfront market workers. It’s a meal worthy of company today. It’s traditionally served with grits, or a baked grits souffle.

Grillades

2 pounds veal or beef round steak, about 1/2 inch thick

Salt, pepper and Creole seasoning

2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup flour

1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 bunch green onions, chopped with white and green parts divided

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (or 3 large fresh Creole tomatoes, peeled and diced, when in season)

2 cups water

1/2 cup red wine

Salt, freshly ground pepper and Creole seasoning to taste

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon thyme

Few dashes Tabasco

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley

Trim round steak of fat and bone and rub with seasonings. Pound to 1/4-inch thickness and cut into pieces about 2 by 3 inches.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy pot. Brown meat pieces on both sides a few at a time being careful no to overcrowd the pot. Set meat aside. (Brown bits in pot will be absorbed when as other ingredients are added.)

Add 1/2 cup of oil to pot and stir in flour to make a roux. Stir constantly over medium heat until roux is dark brown but not burned. Immediately add onion, bell pepper, celery and white part of green onions. Reduce heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring. Add garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in tomatoes, water and wine. Add remainder of ingredients except green onion tops and parsley. Stir well and return meat to pot. Simmer, covered, until meat is fork tender — about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. When finished, add 1/4 cup green onion tops and parsley. Serve over grits or grits souffle.

Serves 6.

Shortcut: Buy ready-chopped onions, bell pepper and garlic from produce department. Buy boned and trimmed round steaks.

Tags: Recipes: What's Cooking!

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lurch // Sep 2, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    The grillades sound tasty. I predict a very nice lunch in my future.

  • 2 Ben // Sep 2, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Of all the places I traveled for work in the past ten years, New Orleans has to be one of my favorites… I love that cajun cookin’!

    Pralines, bread pudding, gumbo, jambalaya, and beignets are all on list of ‘One Last Meal’ foods. I love them and find that no place offers them in such grand style as “Nawlins”.

    I will certainly check out this cookbook!

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