Hot Mustard

Many people serve a baked ham for Easter and with it mustard in degrees of heat and sweet. These confections are made in advance, best at least the night before, though always good to have on hand. This recipe is also good with any smoked meat, particularly turkey. Beat well three whole eggs, combine with a cup of Coleman’s dry mustard, a cup of herb vinegar—balsamic or tarragon—and a half cup of light brown sugar. Cook over low heat until thickened, chill and store. This preparation keeps quite well in a tightly sealed container.

Egg Salad: Art, Angst and Espionage

Egg salad and its culinary counterparts tuna and chicken simply reek of ladies’ luncheons and soda fountain sandwiches. Pimento and cheese once had similar associations, but now thanks to the same Southern machismo ethic that has established eating a Duke’s dripping white bread Vidalia onion sandwich over the kitchen sink virtually a rite of passage has now transcended such effete associations and often finds itself served in micro-breweries with an unassuming amber larger. Still and all, the South is nothing if not traditional, and egg salad perseveres as a staple at distaff functions and an essential at christenings, weddings and those inevitable funerals.

Egg salad in and of itself is a simple recipe, nothing more than chopped, cooked—usually boiled—eggs blended with a sauce or emulsion to make a spread, but as with most simple recipes, variations abound and additions are discussed, debated and occasionally disputed. For instance, olives seem to be a traditional addition throughout the nation, but most recipes from the South tend to include black olives whereas above the Mason-Dixon Line green olives with pim(i)ento stuffing is the general rule. Woody Allen trivialized egg salad in his 1966 feature film debut as the object of Phil Moskowitz’s search for the stolen recipe of the Grand Exalted High Majah of Raspur, giving heft to my argument that when it comes to egg salad people can work themselves into a froth over seemingly the most insignificant details, which puts food right up there with art and law.

Yes, use boiled eggs; though I’m certain some misguided if not to say unbalanced individuals actually do make egg salad with scrambled eggs, or horror of horrors compounded mangled omelets or even worse  God help us please not quiche, boiled eggs are traditional for a good reason; don’t even think about it, just use boiled eggs and don’t over-cook them. I mash mine with a wide-tined fork and add good mayonnaise to texture. Adjust the amount to your own tastes; me, I like it a little on the dry/chunky side as opposed to the creamy/smooth. Of course I use black olives, usually canned pitted jumbo, but Kalamata give it a nice salty kick and the olive oil is a nice touch. Finely-chopped celery and green onion give egg salad a better texture, a dash of pepper vinegar or lemon juice gives it a little bite, and I like mine peppery, served on rye toast with a light Pilsner.

Creamed Eggs Chartres

Very soon you’re bound to have a few boiled eggs left over, and here’s a great recipe for a light buffet any time of the day.

Brennan’s of New Orleans: Creamed Eggs Chartres

1 cup finely chopped/shredded white onions
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups of milk
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced (reserving 4 center slices for garnishment)
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon of paprika

In a large skillet sauté onion in butter until clear/transparent; stir in flour and cook slowly 3-5 minutes more. Blend in milk and egg yolk until smooth. Add salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, 8-10 minutes longer or until sauce thickens. Remove from heat, add sliced eggs and mix lightly. Spoon into 2 8-oz casseroles and sprinkle with paprika and Parmesan cheese mixed together. Bake at 350 degrees until thoroughly headed. Garnish with eggs slices; serves two. This is a wonderful breakfast or brunch recipe, and can be served in a casserole with toasted French bread slices.

Joe Ann’s Little Cornbread Wafers

You’ll find milled corn cooked all over the world now, in its simplest and still most popular—do any of you really like polenta? I mean, grits make sense, but come on—form as a bread among many of the hundreds that are a staple of several dozens of global cuisines, basic breads which aren’t anything but corn of some ilk, water and maybe grease, tricky recipes since they have to be handled properly, and there’s always a necessary procedure else you’re just making a mess. This recipe of Joe Ann’s is as they all are simple and time-consuming, but as Joe Ann says, “A labor of love, but worth it.”

Your oven should be hot, about 450, and the pan you bake these on should be oiled on the generous side and in the oven well beforehand. The batter should be thick, manageable with a spoon; think pancakes. Salt, a scant teaspoon to a cup of meal, two tablespoons oil; melted butter is best, but vegetable oil will do, mix cup for cup with hot water. There’s not a lot of batter involved, like a tablespoon for each 3 in. cake, but they take a while, so get on social media and vent for twenty minutes before taking a peek, and if the cakes are ever-so-lightly browned on the outsides—these are some of the prettiest little breads you’ll ever make—what I do is turn them over, return them to the oven and cut it off, then I can go back and rail at the world again. These should be served hot, directly from the oven, but reheat beautifully.

Spring Chicken

Rub inside and out a roasting hen with oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Place in a medium oven (325) in a covered container for at least two hours, uncover and bake at a high heat (400) until skin is crisp. Serve with new potatoes and early peas.

On Kale and Colcannon

According to the genius of ancient Greece, cabbages were engendered from the tears of the Thracian king Lycurgus, who was blinded and torn limb from limb by Dionysus “the raging god” for pulling up grapevines. Modern botanists have for the most part been unwilling to accept this perfectly rational explanation for the genesis of the cabbage tribe, which however widely consumed in the Greco-Roman world, probably came from the cool, moist climates of northern and central Europe, particularly the British Isles. Most botanists theorize that cabbages in their infinite variety are descended from the sea kale (Crambe maritima), and kale was probably the first variety of cabbage to come under cultivation. I’m sure there’s a line of thought that implicates Vikings in their diaspora.

All cabbages kith and kin belong to the genus Brassica: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy and sum, rutabaga, turnip and of course true kale (B. oleracea acephala), which translates as “non-heading cabbage”; this scientific tag covers collards as well, but collard leaves are straighter and smoother, whereas kale foliage is curled somewhat like parsley (kale in French is chou fries: “curly cabbage”.  To be quite honest (as is my habit) kale is what we once used as a garnish on the salad bar, scattering the parti-colored leaves of the ornamental varieties artfully between the containers of vegetables, pickles and whatnot in a pathetic effort to suggest the experience of grazing in a garden or meadow, which leads me to observe that even today more kale is fed to livestock than to people, hence the moniker “cow cabbage”. But kale has made a spectacular comeback lately, particularly among hipsters and millennials who cheerfully disdain culinary precedence by tossing the leaves on a sheet pan and baking them in the oven to make “chips”, which are just as dreadful as they sound.

This dish, thankfully, is far more edible, since the Irish—and more notably the Scots—have been eating kale in enormous quantities for centuries and consequently know how to cook it. Colcannon (note the first syllable is practically synonymous with that of another cabbage dish, cole slaw) is from cál ceannann, meaning “white-headed cabbage”, and the recipe is as simple as the dish is hearty. Use one large starchy potato (russet) to, say, a packed cup of raw, chopped kale for each serving. Cut potatoes into chunks and boil vigorously until very soft and whip with milk or cream and butter. These don’t have to be perfectly smooth; in fact, they’re better a little lumpy, if you ask me. Boil the kale until quite done—this is one recipe for which you don’t want to use blanched kale—drain and while still hot toss with a little butter. Mix the potatoes and kale together, season with salt and white pepper. Some people cook green onions with the kale, but I prefer them raw as a garnish. You can thin this basic recipe with milk or broth to make a soup or you can spoon it into a casserole and bake it topped with a semi-hard cheese. It is a traditional side dish with ham, though I’m certain it goes just as well with corned or stewed beef.

 

Crechale’s Oysters Bienville

Nowadays most discussions—more often polemics—about culinary authenticity involve terms such as “the salience of ethnic identity” and “aligning broader socio-political representations”. These investigations certainly have their place in this global franchise we call a world, but when it comes to a specific restaurant recipe, we’re on less esoteric footing. We know that at some point in time, at this particular place, a recipe was formulated, prepared and served, a recipe that became an archetype for any that followed, and our best means of replicating such dishes is to find recipes written by people who are thoroughly familiar with the original and have the wherewithal to replicate it with authority. Such is the case with Arnaud’s signature recipe for oysters Bienville in Bayou Cuisine that’s credited to Jackson restaurateur Paul Crechale, which rings with authenticity in the use of a beige roux to thicken, cream and egg yolks to enrich, mushrooms, shrimp and a hard dry cheese.

Prepare the sauce by browning lightly in 3 tablespoons butter 2 minced onions. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is lightly browned. Be sure not to let it burn. Add gradually 1 ½ cups chicken consommé, ½ cup white wine, 1 cup minced raw mushrooms and 1 ½ cups chopped cooked shrimp. Cook slowly, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. Open 3 dozen oysters and put them in their deep shells (my italics, jly) on individual baking dishes. Bake the oysters in their own juices in a moderate oven (350) for about 6 minutes. Thicken sauce with 2 egg yolks beaten with 2 tablespoons heavy cream and heat the sauce without boiling. Cover each oyster with some of the sauce and sprinkle lightly with equal parts of dry bread crumbs and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Return the oysters to the oven for about 10 minutes, until the topping is browned.

Shrimp Creole: Back to Basics

Without a doubt, the most maltreated recipe to come out of New Orleans cookery is shrimp Creole. The reason for this is that most people simply don’t have an understanding of how the roux functions as a basis for such a complex dish. Much more often than not the roux is simply disregarded as a component altogether, and what you’ll find served as shrimp Creole is little more than a handful of mealy shrimp drenched in a cayenne-infused Italian-style tomato sauce loaded with bell peppers and ladled over a pile of gummy Minute rice. Yes, tomatoes are an essential component to a shrimp Creole, but not a tomato sauce as such. The tomatoes give flavor to a much more complex stew that includes (of course) onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic and liquids. And sure, à la Creole to most people means piquant, but this does not mean hot; spicy, yes, but not hot.

Shrimp Creole is not a difficult dish to make; as with any recipe, you simply have to follow the proper procedure and proceed apace. First make a roux with a quarter cup each of flour and oil—not butter, not olive oil, just a light vegetable oil will do fine—cooking it to a rusty brown; some people will tell you to use a very dark roux for a Creole, but I prefer one a bit lighter (sue me). To this, while still hot, add two cups finely chopped white onion, one cup finely chopped celery and a half cup finely diced bell pepper. Do not over-do the bell pepper! I firmly concur with Justin Wilson who said time and time again that bell pepper is “a taste killah”, and we both agree that you can never use too much onion. Many of  you will recognize this combination as a platform for any number of Creole/Cajun dishes.

For a basic shrimp Creole to feed six people, sauté two pounds peeled shrimp–I recommend a 26-30 count–in a light oil with plenty of garlic, about four cloves crushed and minced, and a little pepper (do not salt). Add the shrimp (with the liquid) to the roux/vegetable mix, then immediately add two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes with juice. (In a perfect world, you’d use four cups of home-canned tomatoes, but I do not live in a perfect world, and chances are you don’t, either.) Add a little water to this if needed to give it the consistency of a thick soup, season with a two tablespoons dried basil, two teaspoons thyme and a teaspoon each of oregano and ground cumin. Understand please that these are relative ratios that you can adjust with neither guilt nor effort. As to pepper, some cayenne, yes, and yes to some black pepper, too, but when it comes to pepper, the best rule of thumb is to add just enough to make a statement and provide a good Louisiana hot sauce on the table. Let this stew for at least an hour (I put it in the oven uncovered and stir it two or three times), then adjust your seasonings, particularly the salt and pepper. Serve over cooked long-grain rice; let me recommend Zatarain’s, and no, I’m not getting paid for that.