Thursday, December 23, 2016.
Arnaud’s Is All That.
Mary Ann meets me after the meeting and we go to Arnaud’s with Mary Leigh. Usually I’m the one who encourages dining in the old-line restaurants. But this is the third time in the past couple of weeks that someone read my recommendations of Arnaud’s that they wanted to try it. The essence of it is that the Reveillon menu is very appealing, and that the dining room–always the best-decorated for the holidays–is beautiful as ever.
Most of the orders from our table stay with the Reveillon. It begins with an amuse-bouche of chilled daube glace–sort of the beef equivalent of hogshead cheese. Good start.
White remoulade from Arnaud’s
I push away my desire for oysters Arnaud–five baked oysters, each with a different sauce, perhaps the best appetizer in the city. Instead, I take up the Reveillon offering of of beef carpaccio–totally raw, marinated with herbs. Mary Ann balances that with a different kind ofshrimp remoulade. Instead of Arnaud’s famous, sharp, red-brown remoulade, they bring big shrimp with a white remoulade. I continue to prefer the old version, but MA likes the new one.
We have a three-way soup course. ML has an entree bowl of chicken-andouille gumbo, which she loves and Arnaud’s does well. The waiter tells me that I’d like the new asparagus and brie cheese soup, and I do. It’s not as creamy-rich as is sounds.
A great bread pudding with a familiar name.
The only disappointment thus far is the Creole onion soup. It’s an onion broth with a light roux. I’ve seen this before in some of the Brennan restaurants over the years, and I never warmed up to it anywhere, including here. Nobody’s perfect.
The Marys, both rather full from all the courses so far, split a flank steak from the Reveillon menu. The are not blown away, but flank steak is not for everybody. It tasted good enough to me.
Baked rabbit with French beans.
My entree is perfect for Reveillon. It’s half a baked rabbit, with beans made sort of cassoulet-style and some boudin strewn about. Rule Of Fine Dining #363D356: don’t eat boudin or anything like it in a fancy restaurant. A lemma of this axiom is: boudin must look ugly to taste good. Fancy restaurants don’t allow ugly food. The total dish, however, is very enjoyable.
MA orders a dessert! She almost never does. She says this is a sop to me, so I can have my namesake dish for the end course: bread pudding Fitzmorris. I an happy to see that Arnaud’s kitchen is returning to its very rich bread pudding, the one that brought about my name’s being added to it.
Archie Casbarian Jr.–co-owner Arnaud’s with his mother and sister, named for his brilliant late father–comes over to our table to give an update. It has been a busy fall. That’s obvious from the crowd in the main dining room. Not a lot of tourists right now. One can determine this by looking at the Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro’s population, which seems a little slack compared with the main room. It wouldn’t matter to me. I love Arnaud’s in its every part. And the Marys are very pleased to be here.
Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433.
Roast Beef Poor Boys
The poor boy sandwich is one of the essential flavors of New Orleans, and the roast beef is the king of the poor boys. The sandwich was invented in the mid-1920s during a streetcar strike. Bennie and Clovis Martin, owners of a busy restaurant on the corner of Touro and St. Claude, helped the “poor boys” on the picket lines by making a sandwich on French bread of roast beef gravy and all the little bits of beef that came with it. It was filling and delicious, and at a nickel apiece affordable. After the strike was over, sliced beef was added to the gravy and the price went up to a lofty dime. All that was left was for the John Gendusa Bakery to devise an extra-long loaf of French bread, uniform in cross section, specifically for making poor boys. The sandwich–soon stuffed not only with roast beef but about anything else you can imagine–became so popular that the restaurant renamed itself “Martin’s Poor Boy Restaurant” (not po-boy, although that has become the more common spelling).
Roast beef poor boy.
Making roast beef for poor boys is more about making gravy than roasting beef. Inside round seems to taste best, but some cooks like eye of round or even ribeyes. It’s best to cook the beef the day before, because it will throw off lots of good juices for the gravy, and the cold beef will be easier to slice. You can keep the gravy in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator for a few weeks, or freeze it for even longer storage.
The most critical step in making a roast beef poor boy is to put the whole, assembled sandwich into a hot oven for two or three minutes before serving it. The flavor and aroma of the toasted French bread doubles the goodness.
4-6 lbs. inside round of beef, trimmed
1 large onion, quartered
4 rib celery, cut up
1 whole bulb of garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 medium carrots, cut up
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 to 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
3 loaves poor boy bread, or 6 French baguettes
1 head lettuce, shredded coarsely
8 tomatoes, sliced thinly
Dill pickle slices
1. Season the beef round with salt and pepper. Put it in a Dutch oven or kettle filled about half way up with water. Add the onion, celery, garlic, carrots, bay leaves, thyme, marjoram, and peppercorns. Roast it, uncovered, at 350 degrees for four to five hours, turning the roast and adding water every hour or so. The water level should slowly drop, but don’t let it get less than about two inches deep. The beef is ready when a meat thermometer pushed into the center of the beef reads 160 degrees.
2. Remove the roast from the pot and place in a pan that will catch all the juices that come out as it cools. If you’re cooking a day ahead (recommended), wrap the beef and refrigerate it as soon as it’s cooled to room temperature. In any case, wait at least an hour before slicing.
3. Strain the solids from the stock in the pot. Bring the stock to a simmer. After removing excess fat, add all the juices that come from the roast, as well as the crumbs of beef that fall off as you slice it. Skim off the fat that rises to the surface. Cook to a light gravy consistency. (This also benefits from being made a day ahead, and cooling in the refrigerator.)
4. When you’re ready to make sandwiches, bring the gravy to a simmer and whisk in the flour (but only if the gravy appears to need thickening). Add salt, pepper and Worcestershire to taste. (It’s a common practice in New Orleans to add Kitchen Bouquet to darken the sauce, but I never do.)
5. Slice the roast beef as thin as possible and put as much as you want on fresh French bread with lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and dill pickles. Spoon on all the gravy the sandwich can hold. After assembling the sandwich, put the whole thing into a 400-degree oven for about a minute to toast the bread.
Makes twelve to eighteen poor boys.
Turkey Breast And Chopped Liver Sandwich @ Kosher Cajun Deli
Chopped liver is the pate of the kosher-style deli. It’s usually made with chicken livers and chicken fat, among other ingredients. Not everybody likes it, but those who do (and I’m one of them) love the stuff. Here is a sandwich that stands out among Joel Brown’s array of deli works. It’s not only delicious but also rare in these parts. It’s served cool (not cold) on first-class rye bread and sliced red onions.
Kosher Cajun Deli. Metairie: 3519 Severn. 504-888-2010.
This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.
December 26, 2016
New Year’s Eve: 6.
The First Day of Christmas
Today, various people gave their various loves a partridge in a pear tree, a song for the Christmas tree, a Japanese transistor radio, and a crawfish they caught in Arabi. I woke up this morning thinking about this song (which has till January 6 to run, even if you’re quite done with it already), and how I would write the words from the perspective of a New Orleans cook and eater. The results are below.
On the first day of Christmas I’d like to cook for you:
A filé duck-andouille gumbo.
On the second day of Christmas I’d like to poach for you:
Two eggs Sardou.
On the third day of Christmas I’ll sugar-dust for you:
On the fourth day of Christmas I’d like to cut for you:
Four quarters of a muffuletta.
On the fifth day of Christmas I’d like to fry for you:
Five soft shell crabs!
On the sixth day of Christmas I’d like to roast for you:
Six char-grilled oysters.
On the seventh day of Christmas I’d like to flame for you:
Seven bananas Foster.
On the eighth day of Christmas I’d like to grill for you:
Eight links of sausage.
On the ninth day of Christmas I’d like to steam for you:
Nine cups of rice.
On the tenth day of Christmas I’ll slow-simmer for you:
Ten cups of red beans.
On the eleventh day of Christmas I’ll barbecue for you:
Eleven jumbo shrimp.
On the twelfth day of Christmas I’d like to dress for you:
A twelve-inch dressed hot roast beef poor boy.
This is the first day of Kwanzaa, a celebration of African heritage first celebrated in 1966. It runs through January 1, with glad tidings every day and gift exchanging on New Year’s day. The word Kwanzaa is from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits.” We who enjoy the unique pleasures of Creole cooking ought to note this holiday, regardless of our backgrounds. Without the African influence on our food, it would be nothing like it is, and not nearly as delicious.
Today is Boxing Day, a holiday in England and the Commonwealth (Australia, Canada, and a few other countries. It is traditionally the day on which servants were given their Christmas gifts. So it’s was the day the chefs and waiters got their bonuses. The origin of the name is not agreed upon, and none of the theories are interesting enough to go into.
On this date in 1865, the coffee percolator won a patent for James H. Nason (sometimes noted as Mason). The percolator automates the task of pouring hot water over coffee grounds. It works by isolating a small amount of water near the heat source, so it will come to a boil quickly. When it does, the boiling forces the water up a tube to the top of the pot, where it spilled into a compartment filled with ground coffee. The water then percolates through the grounds to brew the coffee. The percolator has fallen into disrepute among coffee purists, who note that toward the end of the process brewed coffee is boiled as it cycles through the system. I think this effect actually adds something to coffee. But then again, I drink coffee and chicory, which coffee purists also decry.
Annals Of Food Writing
Today in 2005, a man who inspired me to search for fabulous, little-known restaurants passed away. He was a sixty-four-year-old comic strip character named Steve Roper. His serial adventure strip had been in newspapers since 1940. Roper was a magazine reporter and photographer who covered the tough stories, so he was always involved in high adventures. When I was about ten, one of the episodes intrigued me. Roper’s boss asked him to show the new fashion editor around the city and take her to dinner. The woman was beautiful and sophisticated, and was disdainful of Roper’s apparently rough lifestyle. Especially when Roper drove her to the back of a warehouse in a bad neighborhood.
She was on the verge of panic when Roper knocked on the door. A maitre d’ in a tuxedo opened it up, welcomed Roper as a regular customer, and walked them through a spectacular dining room to the best table in the house, set with flowers and fine napery. Over the next few strips, the fashion editor was astonished by the food, service, and wine at this unheard-of location.
“Not too many people know about this restaurant,” said Roper. “And the management likes it that way.”
Then and there, I decided that the ultimate restaurant would be one that not only served great food very well, but which was not well known. I’ve looked for such places all my career, and taken delight in finding them. All because of Steve Roper.
More Career Influences
Today is also the birthday (1921) of Steve Allen, the first host of The Tonight Show and a major influence on my broadcasting style. As is the case with many early television stars, Steve Allen’s work is largely lost, so his genius is not widely realized. Hi-ho, Steverino. . . Another hero of mine came to an end today in 1954. The Shadow was the first radio drama I ever heard, when episodes from the 1940s reappeared on radio in the early 1960s. The stories about the man who could cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him grabbed my young imagination when I was ten or eleven.
Fork, Maryland is a suburban crossroads with a country feeling, eighteen miles northeast of downtown Baltimore. It’s named for the Gunpowder River, which forks into two waterways nearby. It’s an affluent area of impressive houses with large open lawns. A curiosity is that a former Nike missile launch pad left over from the earliest days Cold War is in the area. To wield a fork in Fork, go to the Sunshine Grill, right on Fork Road.
mincemeat pie, n.–Usually made in the standard two-crust, nine-inch-diameter round form, a mincemeat pie is filled with a mixture of chopped fruits, almost always including apples. The fruit mixture is seasoned with aromatic spices like cinnamon, cloves, and mace, and often spiked with a bit of rum or brandy. It is of British origin, and is still popular around Christmastime. It dates back to medieval times, and was popular enough that by the 1600s Oliver Cromwell made a law against serving mince pie (its alternative name) it on Christmas Day–probably because of the alcohol content. Originally, mincemeat actually included meat. That practice has all but disappeared, although some recipes still call for beef suet to be used in cooking down the fruits. Butter is more common now.
It’s Roast Beef Poor Boy Day. In many homes, prime rib is left over from the Christmas feast. Even the scraps of that are the makings of a great sandwich, to say nothing of the gravy. In the spirit of the season, we refrain from insisting that it be a poor boy sandwich. Philly cheese steaks, subs, hoagies, and French dips all qualify for fulfillment of your obligation on this day. However, much more about the New Orleans roast beef poor boy is in our Recipe section.
Remember eating emu? The big, flightless, ostrich-like bird appeared as a special on menus around town in the early 1990s. It’s a red meat, very low in fat, and seemed to have enough promise that emu farms were started by many people persuaded that it was soon to be a big business. It all collapsed on this day in 1997, when it was reported that emus were running around free in Texas, where many of the failed farms were. Problem: no taste, tough texture. I didn’t like any of the samples of it I tried. Didn’t any of these people eat the stuff first? Dishes made with emu and ostrich have been turning up on a few menus around town lately, but I don’t think they’re exactly taking off.
Speaking of exotic foods, on this date President Bill Clinton signed a measure banning the practice of capturing sharks, cutting off the fins, and throwing the now-helpless fish back into the sea. The fins were destined for Asian markets, mostly for shark’s fin soup. Which tastes like nothing to me.
Annals Of Food Writing
This is the birthday of Alan King, a stand-up comedian whose greatest popularity was in the 1960s through the 1980s. He wrote a book in 1991 with New York restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton, entitled Is Salami And Eggs Better Than Sex? It begins this way: “As life’s pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except for salami and eggs. Now that’s better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced.”
Music To Drink By
The song Escape–better known as The Pina Colada Song–is about a couple in an evaporating relationship. They find one another again through a personal ad, in which the guy asserts his liking for pina coladas, the taste of Champagne, and other first-date issues. It made Number One on the pop charts today in 1979. Rupert Holmes was the singer.
Elisha Cook, Jr., an actor who appeared in The Maltese Falcon, among other movies, was born today in 1902. . . Susan Butcher, a multiple winner of the Iditarod dog-sledding race in Alaska, hit the Big Trail today in 1954.
Words To Eat By
“It may not be possible to get rare roast beef, but if you’re willing to settle for well done, ask them to hold the sweetened library paste that passes for gravy.”–Marian Burros, food writer for the New York Times.
The End (Let’s Hope) Of A Trend.
When this idea of flavored foams started showing up in restaurant cooking, I wondered how soon the obvious comparison would be made. Here it is, and not for the first time.
Click here for the cartoon.