This old New Orleans side dish is different from most pan potato recipes such as hash or fritters, which usually call for waxy potatoes because they hold their shape better than starchy russets. This one, however, does use white/baking potatoes, and the result is a pan full of golden cubes with a crunchy outside and a fluffy inside. The recipe for Brabant potatoes in ThePicayune’s Creole Cookbook (1901) doesn’t include garlic, but most contemporary recipes use about a clove, minced or slivered, per potato. Oh, by the way, Brabant is a region in the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands); how this Crescent City side came by the name is unknown . New Orleans is a full of mysteries.
For two servings, scrub and cut into large dice (about a half inch) two russet potatoes. You can peel them if you like. Place potatoes in a colander and rinse until the water runs clear. You want to get rid of the surface starch. Dry thoroughly between paper towels. Heat about a half inch of vegetable oil in a skillet. I don’t recommend olive oil because it has a lower burn, and you want the oil very hot to flash fry the cubes. Stir the potatoes vigorously to ensure that the cubes are a uniform nice light brown. Then drain the oil, add about three tablespoons butter and two finely diced cloves of garlic. Reduce heat to simmer until garlic is fragrant and potatoes are coated with butter. Chopped parsley and/or green onion are traditional toppings.
Most recipes for this old buffet dish involve pepperoncini, though there’s no reason not to use pickled cherry peppers, banana peppers or another pickled vegetable such as okra or green tomatoes, but not cucumbers. I mean, think about it.
Marinate a lean cut of beef in the pickling solution or vinegar and water (2:1) overnight or longer if you like, place meat in a covered baking dish with the pickled vegetables, plenty of garlic, freshly-ground black pepper and enough water to cover half the meat; you shouldn’t have to add any salt to this at all. Cook in a slow oven (300) until the beef is quite tender, chop or shred, add reduced liquid and serve warm or cold with hard rolls, a mild horseradish sauce and/or a good mustard of your choice. It should go without saying that this is one of those dishes that’s better the next day, but I’ll mention it.
Later in the season, when the cucumbers, okra, and tomatoes have almost petered out, you can put up those special pickles for the holiday table, but peak summer vegetables make great quick pickles to have with your fresh vegetables. Do not–I repeat NOT–attempt this with vegetables you’ll find in a supermarket. The vegetables should be young and very firm. Slice or cube cucumbers, small okra, green tomatoes or squash. For every two cups of vegetables, add about a half cup of finely sliced white or yellow onion (red will bleed). Pack into a quart jar. In a bowl, mix a cup of water, about a third a cup of vinegar (apple cider, white, and rice wine are all good), 2 tablespoons sugar (optional), and 1 to 2 teaspoons salt and stir until dissolved. You can include a clove or so of slivered garlic, if you please. Let these sit for at least three hours before serving, overnight is better. They will keep in the refrigerator for a week, but they rarely last that long.
Making quick breads is such a basic culinary skill that at one time those persistent legions of people who spend their time minding other people’s business sniffed their disapproval of a newly-wed husband’s wife by saying, “He married a woman who can’t even make biscuits.” Those were more genteel times. Nowadays, of course, those same people would just say he hooked up with a tramp and be done with it.
Like many short bread recipes, the one for biscuits is more technique than ingredients. Getting the biscuits to rise well is the key, and if you don’t follow a reasonable procedure, you’re going to end up throwing away a pan of hockey pucks. Your ingredients work best if chilled. Biscuits shouldn’t be worked a lot; excess kneading makes the dough so dense that it won’t rise. Biscuits should also be cut out quickly while the dough is cool, and with a clean, sharp edge that will not pinch. Crowding the biscuits a bit also helps them to rise, but if you get them too close together the centers won’t bake through. Also make sure the oven is hot (450/475) before you put them on a rack in the upper third of the oven. So for all you floozies out there who need a bonus the morning after, here’s how to make biscuits. And if you don’t carry a skillet with you, well, you’re on your own.
Take two cups of self-rising flour (I use Martha White) and sift in dry a scant teaspoon of baking soda; activated by the buttermilk, this helps the rise. Work thoroughly into this about 1/3 a cup of cold vegetable shortening or butter. Mix with the fingers until it has an almost granular texture. Then, working quickly, stir in enough cold buttermilk to make a sticky dough, about 3/4 cup. Throw this dough out on a generously-floured surface, sprinkle with a scant more flour and knead a couple of times, enough to coat the dough with flour. Then roll out the dough very thick, about a half-inch, and cut into rounds. You can make them as big or small as you like, just be sure to cut them with a sharp edge: a Mason jar just won’t work. Again, work quickly so that the dough doesn’t get warm. Place biscuits just touching in a lightly greased skillet and pop them into a hot oven for about a quarter an hour. You want them golden-brown and fragrant; brush lightly with butter while hot right before serving.