Lucretia’s Beans

“I grew up poor! We were so poor! Rupert, tell them!”

“They were so poor they had to piss in a bucket a block away!” Rupert said from the back porch, where he was working on the lawn mower.

“But we were proud!” Lucretia said. “My mother, she was the old Creole blood. She sold the calas on Dauphine, her apron white as an old nun, stiff as a young priest, and she’d go, “Belles calas! Mo gaignin calas, guaranti vous ve bons! Belles calas, belles calas!” And all the girls who worked up in their rooms, they’d come down to get Mama Diart’s cakes for their gentlemen who were sleeping it off in the beds like they’d get the strong coffee from Monsoir’s. The bottle they had already.”

“We ate the rouge ser riz, all the time! If we were lucky, Mama would get the ham joint that Hector Monsoir had saved for her because you see he was secretly in love with Mama from a long time ago when she was so beautiful and slender like a dancer with her laughing eyes.”

“They were so poor, she had to share her brassiere with her sisters!” Rupert tried to crank the lawnmower, but failed and he cussed.

“But not like those beans they make now!” Lucretia shouted. “Pah! Those beans they make now they taste like those little wads of dough the Italians boil to put in that red gravy they make. Beans that have no bones, no flesh, no . . . spirit. They use those big long-nosed beans, those . . . what do they call them, yes, them kidney beans, the light-colored ones like a bean the white people in the country use to put on their meal bread.” She made a face like spitting. “And they should be pissed on! No, she used the little red beans she bought from old Helene on Magazine.”

“They were so poor, if her brothers didn’t wake up with bones, they didn’t have anything to play with!” Rupert pulled the cord and the mower cranked, coughing and spitting. He pushed it into the yard and began mowing.

“She would bring the beans home when she sold her cakes, put them in the big pot on the back of the stove with water enough over the joint and start the laundry for the ladies in the Quarter. All afternoon they’d soak, and she’d start the fire. She had the herbs, too, from the market on Decatur, and pepper. When we all got home she made the rice, and we would eat while all around us we could hear music play and see shadows dancing in the pretty rooms where the ladies sprayed perfumes on the pink lampshades.”

French Market Bean Soup

Somewhere among the cuneiform tablets found scattered around Ur are bound to be recipes for bean soup, likely even soups using many types of dried beans. This particular recipe is far more recent—it’s only been around about as long as I have, which dates it to around the time Sputnik was launched—and its connection to the French Market in New Orleans is speculative at best. It’s a rich, hearty soup, good hot or cold.

No small degree of this recipe’s appeal is that you can easily make custom combinations of dried beans and parcel them out as gifts. A typical commercial mix contains calls for equal parts navy beans, pinto beans, split green and yellow peas, black-eyed peas, lentils, both baby and large limas, black beans, red beans, Great Northerns, soybeans and barley pearls, but you can use whatever combination you like in a somewhat similar measure and you call it whatever you like. My buddy Dan Vimes sends me a mix he calls Pelahatchie Peas Pot every year on the anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. Dan puts his bean blend in GI issue canteens. You can put yours in whichever moves your zen, just be sure to throw in a bouquet garni with each package.

You’ll also want to include the recipe: Place in a heavy pot a pound of beans and seasoning, with 2 quarts water, a ham joint/hock or smoked turkey neck/tail–a cup each chopped onion and celery, and a couple of dried cayenne pods. A lot of recipes will tell you to add a can of chopped tomatoes at this point, but don’t; if you do the acid in the tomatoes will take forever to cook. Bring to a boil and simmer until beans are soft, adding water if needed. At this point, you can remove meat from bone, chop and throw it back in the pot back to the pot. Sure, it’s a pain to do, but it’s a nice touch, it really is. Now is when you add canned tomatoes, either small dice or crushed, with a judicious amount of juice. Throw in two very finely minced toes of garlic, and stew for melding, about another half hour. Thicken or thin to your liking, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cornbread or crusty wheat.

Jesse’s Muffaletta Relish

Drain and chop a cup of giardiniera; combine with a cup each of minced/diced pimento-stuffed green and pitted black olives. Add a quarter cup each chopped white onion, minced celery, and chopped parsley/green onions. Mix well. In a separate bowl put a quarter cup of olive oil, add three finely minced  toes of garlic, and a quarter cup mild vinegar. (Don’t use use apple cider; it totally clashes with the vibe.) Add a tablespoon or so of Italian seasoning, maybe a teaspoon or two of coarsely-ground black pepper, and two tablespoons of smashed and minced capers. Blend vigorously with a small whip or shake in a jar. Pour over the olives and giardiniera mix and blend well. You can put this is a food processor if you want a smoother texture. Let sit for at least an hour and stir well before using. This will keep for about two weeks in the fridge.

Oysters Roffignac

You have the Roffignac cocktail, an effete, fruity drink with some appeal in CERTAIN CIRCLES, then for those with a rougher, more roguish–and, dare I say, more realistic–bent, you have oysters Roffignac, an astoundingly bravado dish.

This recipe comes by way of Howard Mitcham, who says the Roffignac, which occupied the corner of Royal and St. Peter Streets, was the most popular restaurant in antebellum New Orleans and was founded by the family of the French nobleman who became the city’s tenth mayor in 1820. Howard claims that oysters Roffignac was the first “baked” oyster dish in New Orleans, and if Howard says so, it’s so. You’ll not find many oyster recipes that use red wine, and even fewer using paprika for flavor as opposed to color, but you’re going to be immeasurably surprised at how wonderful this combination can be. Add this dish to your repertoire as a hearty alternative to a sissy Bienville or Rockefeller.

For four servings:
2 dozen fresh oysters in their shells
1/2 lb. peeled boiled shrimp (about a pound raw in the shell)
A half dozen scallions, finely chopped
About a dozen small button mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon paprika
A dash of cayenne
About a half cup of dry red wine

Clean oysters of mud and hangers-on, shuck and reserve liquid. Heat butter, add scallions, garlic, shrimp, mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are done through. Dissolve cornstarch in about ¼ cup water, add to pan, quickly add wine and oyster liquor as mixture thickens. Top oysters and broil until cooked through. Serve with lemon and parsley.

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, perhaps, 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. y of  you will recognize this combination as a platform for many 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.

New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp

You’ll find no simpler recipe for shrimp from the Crescent City and few with more pungency. Shrimp, butter and pepper—black pepper; lots of it, and fresh-ground—are the only ingredients; any additions will ruin it. Use a 16-20 count; I’m not saying you can’t make this dish with peeled shrimp of a smaller count, but I’d die first and go to hell shortly thereafter if I did. This should be obvious to most people.

Pat shrimp dry and place in the bottom of a buttered baking dish, skillet or casserole. Drizzle with melted butter—one stick to one pound of shrimp—and top with generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper. Place on the highest rack in your hottest oven for about 10 minutes.

 

Red Remoulade Galatoire

This essence of zest is via Howard Mitcham, who claims he received it from Justin Galatoire, the nephew of Jean Galatoire, in the 1950s. We have no reason whatsoever to doubt he did.

1/2 cup Creole mustard
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons finely minced scallion or parsley
Hot sauce and horseradish to taste

 

Brabant Potatoes

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 The Picayune’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.