In August this past summer, Vickie and I were asked to teach a series of three classes in Orinda, California (near San Francisco). We try to combine some history, culture and good stories along with the recipes we are attempting to pass on to those in the class. We thought our www.lacraftbutchers.com readers would enjoy this taste of our effort too.
This class included recipes and stories for our Crawfish Cup appetizer, Grillades & Grits, Pain Perdu, Bananas Foster and Café Brulot.
If you are interested in local New Orleans/Louisiana cooking classes or sausage making classes, please contact us at email@example.com or call us at 504-466-9788.
The Creoles and The Cajuns
Louisiana can be called a culinary museum if you like. Our food culture is a blend of each wave of immigrants who have passed through the second largest point of European immigration in the United States. You will hear the term Creole used in our area to signify any number of meanings. The definition of Creole has evolved along with the food culture of southern Louisiana.
Originally the Creole’s were the colonial inhabitants of the colony of Louisiana. This would include Native Indians, French Colonist, Spanish Colonist, free African and enslaved African residents. The term Creole derives from the Spanish term for the original French Colonist of Louisiana, or Crillo, later Criado then in turn changed by the French to Creole. The Creoles considered themselves sorti de la cuisse de Jupiter or a piece from the thigh of Jupiter.
Creoles were predominantly French, though much Spanish blood was absorbed. Later German and Irish blood was added but all lineages became so Frenchified they appeared as all to be of Gallic parentage. Even family names were corrupted to the French form.
This is important to understanding the culture and the food of Louisiana and New Orleans. All things Creole represented the very highest one could aspire to experience. Something as simple as a garden grown tomato, even in today’s time is elevated by its status as a Creole Tomato. The appellation applied to all things, horses, chickens, vegetables and food. The genesis of Gumbo is debated even today but there is an almost certain conclusion all of the cultures in the melting pot of the Creole arc making contributions to what we now know as Creole Gumbo.
Creoles were resentful and contemptuous of the Americans who began to settle in New Orleans and the surrounding areas in the early 1800’s. They refused to speak English and the Americans refused to speak French. The city of New Orleans literally grew divided with the Downtown area including the French Quarter and Esplanade Corridor, including the Bywater retaining its Creole lineage with the Uptown area of New Orleans including the Garden District becoming the area of settlement for the Americans. For some time, virtually all forms of business and worship were divided as well. Banks, suppliers and social gatherings were held separately. By the middle of the 19th century The Creole’s time was fading and the meaning of Creole had begun to evolve to focus more on the African American descendants of the original settlers.
In 1755 The British Military triggered Le Grand Derangement or the Great Expulsion. The British banished nearly 18,000 Acadians from Nova Scotia or as it was referred to at the time, Acadie. These farmers, fisherman and trappers became known as Cajuns. Over half of their numbers died from disease and starvation. Six thousand were resettled to France, England, American Colonies, the Caribbean Islands and other faraway places before nearly 3,000 were moved again to Louisiana. Between 1785 and 1795 most of this migration passed through the port of New Orleans on their way to settlement to the south and west areas of Louisiana. The New Orleans Creoles were cordial to the new provincials and allowed them to recuperate in the city but encouraged them to make their new homes in the area around Bayou Lafourche below New Orleans or the uncultivated prairie, marshes and wooded lake areas of Western Louisianan inhabited by the Attakapas Indians.
Isolated in these regions of Louisiana the Acadians foraged for squirrel, deer, ducks, rabbit and other wild game. Many of these animals didn’t have a name in their dialect but over time this group of resourceful transplants seasoned and added ingredients into their cast iron pots developing their own versions of Creole dishes. Without refrigeration, using seafood was problematic for Cajuns in many areas and a different variation of Gumbo came into being.
In 1721 there were 125 German immigrants who passed through the port of New Orleans and settled upriver and west on the Mississippi bringing their knowledge of sausage making to what became known as the German Coast. This area today is known as St. John Parish. Their Andouille, the heavily seasoned and heavily smoked French named German pork sausage is the mainstay of most rustic country Gumbos.
Tasso is a highly seasoned, smoked pork ingredient used in Gumbo, Jambalaya, green vegetables and beans. It originated in the Cajun Prairie and is most likely a borrowed Native American cooking practice borrowed and co-opted by the Acadian settlers to the area.
Boudin is a sausage like any other sausage. What makes it a sausage is simple. It is put in a sausage casing. Other than being put in a casing and linked, Boudin is a rice dressing.
In Cajun culture, as well as many others, it is said, “All that is not used in the la boucherie is the oink.” Pig jowls, snout, feet, liver all become part of the various products made from the pig. Traditional Boudin includes a mixture of seventy percent pork shoulder and thirty percent pig liver. In today’s world there is a movement away from liver in the recipe. Boudin is typically linked in a 34 mm natural hog casing. Another sign of the times is the movement away from the natural casing to fried Boudin Balls. Boudin Balls use the same rice dressing but dust a 4 to 6 oz ball in flour and then bread crumbs before deep frying. Boudin Balls stuffed with Pepper Jack Cheese are also popular.
Crawfish Boudin/Crawfish Cup
Crawfish Boudin originated down the bayou. The Bayou Cajuns combined their love for Boudin with an abundant Louisiana seafood source. At the origination of Crawfish Boudin, Louisiana Crawfish were plentiful and cheap. This is now a premium product locally with Louisiana Crawfish prices rivaling Beef at approximately $18.00 LB for peeled frozen Crawfish. Of the two types of Boudin, Crawfish Boudin can be Creolized, as we will explain.
Jazz Brunch Origins
The very first jazz brunch was held at Commander’s Palace, the Garden District gem presided over by Ella Brennan following a schism in the Brennan family.
The introduction of brunch service altogether at Brennan’s was a response to New Orleans’ author Frances Parkinson Keyes’ 1948 book Dinner at Antoine’s. The story, about a dinner party held at the real-life Antoine’s restaurant in the French Quarter, was a local sensation that reinvigorated the New Orleans dining scene and the restaurant itself. A second writer, Lucius Beebe, prodded Ella’s brother Owen to create something of a spiritual sister meal to capitalize upon the newfound interest by locals and tourists alike in French Quarter dining. Brunch at Brennan’s was born.
While traveling in London in 1974, Ella’s brother Dick curiously watched as a group of diners sat silently during breakfast service in his hotel. The lobby of the hotel meanwhile had a three piece Dixieland jazz trio softly playing the lively New Orleans music that had become so en vogue across Europe at the time. Dick, for the first time, connected the two; what if jazz were played in the dining room itself during their new restaurant’s brunch service? He telephoned Ella, asleep in New Orleans, at 3 am her time, and the two began fleshing out the idea.
Commander’s Palace hired a team of local musicians to begin performing during the restaurant’s first weekend brunch services. The combination was a defining success – so much so, that the cover of Ella Brennan’s memoir features the quote, “I don’t want a restaurant where a jazz band can’t come marching through.”
3 LB Frozen Crawfish Tail Meat
1 Stick Butter
2 8oz Cream Cheese
1 TBSP chopped Garlic
1 Cup chopped Onions
1 Red Bell Pepper chopped
1 Yellow Bell Pepper chopped
1 Orange Bell Pepper chopped
¼ tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper
1 Bunch of Parsley chopped
In a large skillet, melt a stick of butter and sauté Onions, Bell Peppers, Garlic and Parsley until onions are translucent. Add Cream Cheese and allow to melt. Stir ingredients well. Add Crawfish and allow to simmer.
12 Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells Baked.
Set plates with baked Pastry shells for service. When pan mixture is to temperature and seasoning to preference, spoon mixture into Pastry Shells.
Grillades & Grits
Grits and Grillades is one of those old Creole dishes that simmers in the background of New Orleans cuisine lore. All over town during the Mardi Gras season medallions of beef, veal or pork, braised in a rich gravy with the trinity (Yellow Onions, Green Onions & Bell Peppers), tomatoes and beef broth, are ladled over grits. Grillades (say GREE-ahds, if you’re new to town) and grits is a staple at late-night queen suppers (also called queen breakfasts) served at Carnival balls after debutantes are presented. Perhaps grillades became interwoven with Carnival because it’s traditionally made with beef or veal. In the Catholic calendar, Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday mark the annual break from meat, the Lenten fast until Easter.
The boeuf gras, or fatted bull, is a very old symbol from French Carnival, representing the fast. Until 1909, the Rex organization led a live animal through the streets on Fat Tuesday. By then, grillades, or “Fried Meat a la Creole,” were recognized as one of the “famous, relishable and most digestible dishes,” according to the 1901 edition of The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book. The recipe for Grillades with Gravy, made with tomato and onion, “is very nice served with hominy, or with red or white beans and rice at dinner.”
The Picayune Creole Cook Book also points out that grillades are a favorite among the “poorer classes of Creoles, especially, being served not only for breakfast but also at dinner.” In that, it’s similar to red beans and rice. Even if consumed at all levels of society, grillades could be considered a peasant dish: inexpensive, easy to prepare, ingrained in the popular taste. And, as every food scholar knows, peasant dishes are the ones that persist through time.
Grillades & Grits
2 LB Veal or Beef round or Pork Loin
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp freshly ground Black Pepper
½ tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 TBSP minced Garlic
2 TBSP Flour
1 Cup chopped Onion
1 Large Ripe Creole (beefsteak or Jersey) tomato, coarsely chopped
1 Cup of water of more if necessary
21/2 to 3 Cups Cooked Grits
Cooking oil for browning
Trim any fat from meat and remove any bones. Cut meat in pieces and pound to 4” medallions. Rub Salt, Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper and Garlic into the pieces of meat on both sides. Once seasoned, rub with flour.
In a large heavy skillet or sauté pan, warm a small amount of oil to medium heat for browning Grillades on both sides. Lower heat to low and add Onion, Tomato and Water. Bring to a simmer and cover loosely. Cook over low simmering heat for thirty minutes. Check every ten minutes. A brown gravy will form. If too thick add water a little at a time.
Prepare Grits according to package directions. The meat and gravy should be ladled over a bed of warm grits for serving.
The origin of this famous French dish actually goes back to Ancient Rome. It became popular in France in medieval times when cooks needed to use all produce on hand, such as stale bread – hence the name, ‘pain perdu’, meaning lost bread.
New Orleanians have had a taste for French-style bread since colonial times. As the late historian Michael Mizell-Nelson wrote in New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories, “By 1820, almost sixty bakers—most of whom were French—ran small- to medium-sized businesses. A few bakeries were large enough to afford horse-and-wagon delivery, but the majority continued to dispatch slaves carrying bread loaves in wicker baskets.”
New Orleans-style French bread, which is less dense and has a thinner crust than traditional French baguettes, is still in heavy production, partly owing to the city’s obsession with po-boy sandwiches. If anything defines the po-boy, it is the bread that gives it form. These days, however, it’s often the hands of German and Italian bakers—descendants of other prominent immigrant populations—that mix, knead, and form the “French” loaves in New Orleans. Now, the loaves are delivered by bread truck, in some cases twice a day, to the city’s many groceries, restaurants, po-boy shops, and corner stores with sandwich counters.
The combination of our local French Bread, French Creole Culture and Mardi Gras have made Pain Perdu a regular staple for culinary special occasions from the colonial period of our history until today. We still use the lost bread for a special part of our menu.
4 to 6 eggs beaten
1 Cup Heavy Cream
½ Cup Sugar
¼ tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Vanilla
French Bread Loaf or other bread
In a large bowl combine Eggs, Sugar, Heavy Cream, and Vanilla.
Cut French Bread in ½” pieces.
Soak bread pieces in liquid for 1 to 2 minutes.
Use a griddle or large skillet heated to medium heat. Coat the surface with butter or oil. Cook the bread for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
Set aside. Sprinkle it with Powdered Sugar.
Serve hot with Steen’s Cane Syrup or your favorite syrup
New Orleans has played an outsized role in making Bananas one of the most popular fruits in the United States. The fruit only became commonplace in the United States starting in the 1870s, thanks to improvements in shipping and botany. By the turn of the century, the banana trade was a million-dollar industry.
Big fruit companies were based in New Orleans. Freighters bursting with bananas clogged the Mississippi River. A huge network of trains stretched out like a spider web to transport bananas across the country. The Cuyamel Fruit Company, was one of two fruit importers based in New Orleans. The company was founded by Samuel Zemurray, a Russian immigrant who, while working at the docks one day, noticed piles of quickly ripening bananas marked for the trash. He began buying them up at bargain prices and selling them locally.
The idea was a hit. Zemurray earned enough to buy some land in Honduras and began operating banana plantations himself. He even famously helped restore General Manuel Bonilla to the Honduran presidency in 1912, solely to protect his own business interests. Meddling in the political affairs of so-called “banana republics” was only one of his many controversial business practices, however.
“It was a huge product for the port,” explains Ralph Brennan, owner of Brennan’s, Bourbon Street’s legendary restaurant. The Bananas Foster dessert — bananas, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, rum, banana liqueur and vanilla ice cream — was invented there in 1951. “A lot of people worked on the docks at the time and unloaded the bananas from the ships.”
At the time Owen Brennan, Ralph Brennan’s uncle, owned Brennan’s Restaurant, and his sister Ella managed it. Owen told Ella to come up with a special new dessert for a dinner that night in honor of the New Orleans Crime Commission chairman, Richard Foster.
“Damn you, Owen,” Ella replied. Feeling a mixture of frustration and panic, she dashed into the kitchen.
“While fussing and carrying on, she just grabs the bananas,” explains her daughter Ti Adelaide Martin, now co-owner of Commander’s Palace, also in New Orleans. “[They] were probably just sitting right there, readily available.”
Ella decided to sauté them, remembering a dish of caramelized bananas that her mother often made for breakfast. She was also inspired by the popular baked Alaska dessert at a rival restaurant and thought, “Why don’t we flame it like Antoine’s?” says Martin. The newly christened “Bananas Foster” was a huge hit at dinner that night.
For 2 or 4
1 Ounce Butter
½ Cup Light Brown Sugar
¼ Tsp Cinnamon
1 ½ Ounces Banana Liqueur
1 ½ Ounces Aged Rum
½ Banana Per Person
Combine butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a flambé pan.
As the butter melts under medium heat, add the banana liqueur and stir to combine.
As the sauce starts to cook, peel and add the bananas to the pan.
Cook the bananas until they begin to soften (about 1-2 minutes)
Tilt back the pan to slightly heat the far edge. Once hot carefully add the rum, tilt the pan toward the flame, to ignite the rum.
Stir the sauce to ensure that all of the alcohol cooks out.
Serve cooked bananas over ice cream and top with the sauce in the pan.
Café Brûlot Diabolique, or “Devilishly Burned Coffee,” was invented at Antoine’s Restaurant in the late 1880s by Jules Alciatore, the son of the restaurant’s founder. According to Phillip Collier’s Mixing New Orleans, Alciatore was inspired by French bon vivants who would drown a sugar cube in Cognac and place it over an open flame before extinguishing it in a cup of hot coffee. Today, you can still find the drink in New Orleans at restaurants including Antoine’s, Galatoire’s and Arnaud’s.
When it comes to the most classic way to finish off a fine meal in New Orleans, there is nothing more iconic that the theatrical and storied brandy and coffee drink, Café Brûlot. Other legends indicate it was either created (or made popular) by pirate Jean Lafitte, who made the drink during his swashbuckling days here in New Orleans as his pals pickpocketed an enrapt audience. In legendary fashion, voodoo queen Marie Laveau was said to have suggested the addition of cloves, that when glowing acted as “the eyes to the spirit world.”