Friday, November 4, 2016.

Speaking And Singing For My Supper.

I get a dozen or so requests to speak before groups that range from clubs like Rotary to business meetings from out of town whose organizers want something light in their programs. I deliver a mix of anecdotes and advice on how to get the most out of eating around New Orleans.

I begin these presentations with three stories I have used for this purpose for over forty years. They get the biggest laughs of the evening. I ask if anyone in the audience has heard them before. Nobody ever has, unless Mary Ann is in the room. She claims that she can finish all my sentences, so well does she know what I am thinking.

The group I address today is high caliber. A lady who looks to be about thirty-eight is celebrating her fiftieth birthday. Her gift is to be with forty friends from all over the country for a few days of enjoying New Orleans. They have done this in good style. I don’t know what the whole agenda is, but tonight it begins with a cocktail party in that handsome, masculine private bar on the third floor lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. This is where I deliver myself of my talk. After the Three Stories comes a short Katrina tale, then a report on New Orleans food in general.

In it, I introduce the concept of Theoretical Cuisine. This is what you get when you go to a classy restaurant for a dinner of ingredients you’ve never had before, prepared in ways you’ve never imagined. Another aspect of Theoretical Cuisine is that it doesn’t always satisfy one’s appetite for, you know, like. . . eating.

My part of the program complete, the group walks the seven blocks from the Ritz to the restaurant where dinner will be served. It was chosen well: Restaurant August. The party room is on the third floor–the very same place where my son Jude had his wedding reception two years ago. That was a spectacular evening of food, drink, and music, and it was again tonight, in a more formal way. Six tables each had an an empty chair for me, so I could move from table to table all night–just like I do with the Eat Club dinners.

The wines were certainly a strong start: Pouilly Fuisse for the white, Chateauneuf du Pape for the red. These two were chosen by sommelier and friend Erin White, who has been part of the New Orleans wine scene for at least thirty years.

I imagine that some of the people attending this dinner made a connection between Restaurant August’s menu and my Theoretical Cuisine. I didn’t mean that to happen, if it did; I find August quite satisfying, and few of the people I spoke with were any more puzzled than I was.

Example: the first course was smoked swordfish with a crudo quality. Among three kinds of citrus and other tropical fruits in the recipe, one was “finger limes.” New to me. These look like little elongated spools, with juice and oils at the highest imaginable level of acidity and astringency. The persimmons lower the sharpness.

Second course: Roasted garlic tortelli pasta, with pink-eye peas (not contagious). Now grilled octopus with roasted tomatoes, chiles and green beans, with some brilliant, crispy farro grains. Cooked then fried, the chef told me.

By this point I learn that most of the guests are in one way or another in the financial business. But they all seem to have curiosity about my occupation, and how a radio show about nothing but food three hours a day six days a week could possibly be viable.

Round four: roasted duck breast glazed with sugar and spices, peaches and seared foie gras. Ah, I knew that last item would be coming. Foie gras is rarely absent from August’s larder. In somewhat the same vein, we now have roasted lamb loin and shoulder with, for the third time tonight, a kind of pasta. The Chateauneuf du Pape bottles get a good workout in this course.

The Joe Simon five-piece band plays at perfect tolerable level all evening long. One of the members knows me and I him, and that connection winds up with my taking the microphone and delivering “Laura,” into which the band had already launched. That’s one of my favorite songs. The birthday girl was at least little impressed.

I don’t remember getting dessert–too many good conversations going on. But it’s a dirt cake, a refugee from Halloween. Chocolate pudding and coconut sorbet, among other things.

The dinner has no slack spots, and persists until after midnight for a very happy group. The hubby of the celebrant brushes past me with something in his hand. My price is whatever the buyer thinks it’s worth. Further evidence that I can get away with performing in public.

Restaurant August. CBD: 301 Tchoupitoulas. 504-299-9777.

Chicken Clemenceau

This once-popular old Creole dish is kept alive almost single-handedly by Galatoire’s. I think its decline is more about the unwillingness of chefs–for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with flavor–to serve chicken. Chicken Clemenceau seems so homestyle a dish that it’s hard to imagine that at one time it was considered the kind of thing you’d get only from fancy restaurants. (It’s named for the World War I French premier.) Maybe this says how far we’ve come. It also says to me how many good, forgotten dishes there are out there.

The best possible way to prepare the chicken is on a rotisserie, in the standard way. (You may consider buying a rotisserie chicken from a good store or restaurant if you’re short on time.) This recipe is for a standard oven. An excellent, smaller variation on this dish can be made with Cornish hens. The only difference in the preparation is that they’re not as long in the oven. When the internal temperature in the rear half of the bird is 180 degrees in your meat thermometer, you’re good to go. Another idea: same dish with rabbit. Why has no restaurant tried that?

Chicken Clemenceau with shrimp–another good combination reminiscent of clemenceau..

1 cup salt

2 whole chickens, preferably free-range, 3-4 lbs. each

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed

2 stems fresh rosemary, or 1 Tbs. dried rosemary

1 large onion, cut into chunks

1 tsp. black peppercorns

2 cups vegetable oil

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice

1/2 stick butter

8 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/2 cup frozen small peas

2 green onions, chopped

1. Dissolve the salt in one gallon of cold water. Remove and reserve the necks and wing tips. Put the chickens into a small plastic bucket or a large food storage bag (you’ll need two gallon-size). Cover with the salt brine solution. Squeeze the air out if using bags. Refrigerate eight hours or overnight. Dump the brine, and rinse the chickens thoroughly to remove all trace of the salt water.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pat the chickens dry with paper towels. Stuff the cavities with the artichoke hearts, rosemary, and onion.

3. Put the chickens breast-side down on a roasting pan with a rack. Put the pan into the center of the oven. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Do not use the convection feature.

4. Put the chicken necks, wing tips, and the peppercorns into a small saucepan with just enough water to cover. Bring to the lightest simmer and cook, uncovered, while the chicken is in the oven. Strain and hold. (Or skip this step if you have a cup of chicken or turkey stock around.)

5. About 45 minutes into the roasting of the chickens, heat the vegetable oil to 375 degrees. Fry the potatoes until medium brown around the edges. Remove and drain. Try not to eat more than five or six of them.

6. When the chicken is 165 degrees in the breast or 175 degrees in the thighs (temperature taken with a meat thermometer, not touching bone), remove it from the oven and place on a cutting board. Let it cool while you work on the garnish.

7. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat until it bubbles. Add the garlic and mushrooms. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, then add the white wine. Bring it to a boil and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Then add 1/2 cup of chicken stock, salt, and pepper, and reduce to a simmer.

8. Remove the artichokes from the chicken cavities, and add them to the pan. (It’s okay if some of the onions and rosemary get in there, but not much.) Add the peas, green onions and potatoes. Reduce the liquids until the mixture is quite wet but not sloshy.

9. Cut the chickens into halves, removing the rib bones and backbone. Place on a warm plate and spoon the pan contents over the chicken. Serve immediately.

Serves four.

Tagliatelle With Rabbit Ragu And Porcini @ Domenica

This is the kind of dish that Chef Alon Shaya spent a few months cooking in Italy to learn before opening Domenica. The wide noodles wrap around a thick, big-flavored sauce with nubbins of the absurdly tender white meat that is rabbit. The porcini fill in the rest of the harmony, and there you are, gobbling this up with abandon. It’s lusty almost to the point of being musky (that suggestion comes from the mushrooms, not the very mildly-flavored rabbit). Great cool-weather dish.

Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

November 8, 2016

Days Until. . .

Thanksgiving: 17.

Christmas: 47.

New Year’s Eve: 54.

Annals Of Spirits

Today in 1789 is supposed to be the day that a Baptist minister named Elijah Craig distilled the first whiskey made from corn mash. This was in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Craig was quite a businessman. It is not known, really, what year he started his distillery, let alone the day, but this date is traditional as the birthday of Bourbon. There’s an expensive, eighteen-year-old, single-barrel Bourbon named for him that’s pretty good.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Wellington, population 8700, is in south central Kansas, thirty-five miles south of Wichita. It’s named for the same Duke of Wellington as the famous dish pastry-wrapped beef tenderloin. It has been the county seat since its founding in 1872. It’s a center for cattle and wheat shipping, both of which have also gone on since the town’s earliest days. The best restaurant in town is–what else?–Wellington’s Beef House.

Edible Dictionary

Gibson cocktail, n.–It is unanimously agreed what makes a Gibson: it’s a gin martini with a pickled pearl onion instead of an olive. That’s the only difference. But the stories about how it came to be are so numerous that I think it’s safe to say that nobody knows for sure. They involve lots of different guys name Gibson, who wanted the onion in there for a wide variety of reasons. If you ask a San Franciscan, he’ll say it was created there. New York-based writers say it came from there. Speaking for New Orleans, I would like to say that the Gibson was absolutely not created in the French Quarter. However, here’s an idea: let’s pickle pieces of bell pepper and celery, line themup with the onion on the toothpick, and call the drink The Holy Trinity.

Today’s Flavor

This is National Cappuccino Day. The combination of espresso coffee with foamed milk is often had after dinner, which is the wrong time. It’s really a morning beverage, with the milk and all. It also works–if your system can stand the caffeine–as a late-night drink, in sort of the way we drink cafe au lait here in New Orleans.

Most cappuccino is made with far too much foamed milk. It should form a layer, not a pile, as it does in the contemporary American coffeehouses. Here’s my test for telling when the froth on a cappuccino is just right. Sprinkle two packets of sugar over a circular area an inch in diameter. It will sit there for awhile, then slowly start sinking, while at the same time moving toward the center. The sugar ultimately falls through a small hole, rather suddenly. If the sugar just sits there interminably, the froth is too thick. If the granules fall right through, the froth is too thin.

The name “cappuccino” is a reference to the Capuchin monks, whose hooded habits were the same color as that of a well-made cappuccino. However, an alternative explanation is that “cappuccino” means “out of order” in Italian. (The early machines often were.) But that’s just a joke.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

Just as is true with wine, a coffee blended from several kinds of beans will always have more interesting flavors than all one kind.

The Saints

This is the feast day of the Four Crowned Martyrs: Castorus, Claudius, Nicostratus, and Simpronian. They were stone carvers, but they’re also patron saints of cattle for some reason.

Food Namesakes

Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on this date in 1977. He was openly gay, which was a big deal back then. . . Today in 1990, Darryl Strawberry signed a five-year contract with the Dodgers. . . Alan Berger of the rock group Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, was born today in 1949. . . Frank Gouldsmith Speck was born today in 1881. He was an anthropologist who specialized in Eastern Native Americans. (Speck is smoked prosciutto.)

Words To Eat By

“The truffle is not a positive aphrodisiac, but it can upon occasion make women tenderer and men more apt to love.”–Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French culinary author and chef.

Words To Drink By

“A drink is shorter than a tale.”–Unknown.

People With Sensitive Palates. . .

Are not always the most delightful of people.

Click here for the cartoon.

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