At last I've visited New Orleans. "You'll love it," said friends, but all the hype had not prepared me for the feast I found. Oysters by the dozen, and crawfish by the score, energetically trying to climb out of their reed baskets. And a wealth of full-bodied recipes specifically designed to tempt a traditionalist like me.
I could hardly wait to come home and try out Oyster Brochette--a luscious item of half-a-dozen oysters speared with bacon, coated in cornmeal and deep fried. Was the batter held together with egg? How did the oysters stay so juicy? It took two or three tries to get the recipe just right, but now it's a winner. For me a squeeze of lemon or a dash of hot-pepper sauce is sufficient accompaniment, but you could try a tartar sauce as well.
The next recipe is a Crawfish Pie, and it turned out right the first time. The restaurant trick of baking pastry separately so the crust stays crisp works particularly well with a moist filling like this.
An Extra-Fast Version
For authenticity, the pastry must be puff and made with butter. Here I'm suggesting an extra-fast version using the mixer. Don't be worried if the dough sticks during rolling--simply chill it thoroughly and then continue.
The filling for the pie is a classic crawfish etouffe with plenty of vegetables and a touch of hot pepper. Etouffe means smothered in French and that's exactly what happens to the crawfish, which are smothered in sauce and simmered just a few minutes until tender. Shrimp can take the place of crawfish, and the filling is equally good served New Orleans style, on a bed of rice.
Artichokes are a local favorite; this includes Jerusalem artichokes, sometimes called sunchokes. The nobby little roots are tiresome to peel, but you'll be rewarded with crisp, nutty flesh, resembling a water chestnut, which is delicious in salads. The dressing I had was quite sweet, suiting the lemony bite of the artichokes, which were set on a background of baby spinach leaves.
Louisiana bread pudding is legendary. I came across it in several guises, sometimes with whole slices of bread but more often in this light bread-crumb version soaked with raisins. For moistness the pudding is baked with a pan of water at the bottom of the oven. Best of all is the accompaniment--a potent whiskey hard sauce which is a cinch to make and adds generous bounce to the delicate custard on which the pudding is based.
SUPPER IN NEW ORLEANS FOR 8
Jerusalem Artichoke and Spinach Salad
Bread Pudding With Whiskey Sauce
Suggested wine: Vintage domestic white Chardonnay .
Like so many traditional dishes, these are prepared ahead, leaving little cooking at the last minute.
Up to one week ahead bake puff pastry rounds for pie. Make whiskey sauce.
Up to two days ahead cook Crawfish Pie filling. Make salad dressing. Bake bread pudding. Chill wine.
Up to four hours ahead prepare artichokes and spinach.
Up to two hours ahead prepare brochettes.
About 15 minutes before serving coat and fry brochettes.
After serving brochettes reheat pastry and filling then assemble pies. Whisk dressing and toss salad. Reheat pudding in oven. Scoop hard sauce into bowl.
8 slices thick bacon, each cut into 7 pieces
4 dozen shucked oysters
Ground black pepper
1 medium bunch parsley
Oil for deep-fat frying
1 cup cornmeal
4 lemons, cut in wedges
Cook bacon in skillet until fat is translucent and edges are lightly browned. Drain bacon on paper towels. Dry oysters and season generously with pepper. On each of 8 skewers, thread 8 oysters alternating with bacon pieces, beginning and ending with bacon.
Wash parsley and dry thoroughly. Tie stems with string. Parsley and brochettes can be refrigerated up to 2 hours.
To finish, heat oil in deep-fat fryer to 350 degrees. Pat oysters dry with paper towels. Coat brochettes in cornmeal, shaking to remove excess. Fry half brochettes at time in hot oil until light brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain brochettes on paper towels and fry remaining.
Let oil cool slightly, then fry parsley until leaves are dark green, about 30 seconds. Stand back to avoid spattering oil. Lift out parsley, cut off sprigs with scissors and discard stems.
Set brochettes on 8 individual plates and remove skewers. Sprinkle with fried parsley sprigs, add lemon wedge and serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.
1 1/2 pounds Rapid Puff Pastry
1/4 cup butter
2 onions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 dried red chiles
1/4 cup flour
3 cups fish or chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 pounds peeled crawfish tails or peeled and deveined medium raw shrimp
Divide pastry dough in half. Roll out 1/2- to 1/4-inch thick. Using edge of soup bowl as guide, cut 4 pastry circles. Set circles on baking sheet, then chill. Using remaining dough, make 4 more circles. Chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.