Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017.
Back To Work.
“We are rid of February, and good riddance, if you ask me.–E.J. Kahn, Jr.
I have long believed that if you want to get anything accomplished in New Orleans, you have to begin on Ash Wednesday, and keep at it until you and the people who contribute to your projects run out of gas, invent a new holiday, and have an extra drink.
An advantage I have this year is that my radio imperatives are very clear. I host four hours every weekday to an audience which largely doesn’t know how to tune in to our station. Except for serious radio fanatics, most of my potential listeners–especially the ones who listened to The Food Show before the new concept took over–find it hard even to identify “105.3 FM, HD2” as a radio station. That phrase of letters and numbers is certainly unfamiliar.
Nevertheless, I see is a glowing future for this undertaking. For example, an article I read today says that Norway will soon ditch FM, to move its radio broadcasts to their equivalent of HD. It’s been a long time since Norway (or almost any other European country) used AM radio. Sweden and Finland are also considering this step into a better-sounding, less expensive future.
Now all I have to do is talk New Orleans listeners into it. But we hate to make changes, even when the benefits are obvious.
I go into town to make it appear I am working for real. The radio show is fairly busy, with many calls about how to rig a car radio so it can pick up my HD signal. That may seem a circular death (and dearth, too) of conversation. But in the early days of radio, listeners talked about the medium of radio rather that its content. That also happened in the early days of the Web. It almost didn’t matter what you put on your website or message board, because the site and the board were themselves Topic A.
After the program, I grab a couple of mini-mufulettas from the surplus that the radio stations brought in for people who worked Mardi Gras, as I did. It winds up being enough to stave off my appetite for the rest of the day. I am digesting the big sirloin strip I had yesterday at the Crescent City.
Speaking of which. . . yesterday, while we were both waiting for a tangle of cars that made it hard to exit the parking lot, I had a conversation with Henry Patout. Background item number one: he pronounces his last name with a hard final “t.” He says that when people call him by his nickname “Hank” without the final “t” of the Cajun style of saying his last name, it sounds like a noise you’d make when you’re in end days of a cold. I never thought about that until he pointed it out to me. I’ll never forget it now.
Henry (I’ll play it safe) is in the water business. After growing up in Slidell, where his parents had a well to supply water, he was put off by the industrial look of most faucets and pipes in buildings. When he bought his first house in the Rosedale section near City Park, he disliked the chlorine in the water so much that he decided to have a water well put in to his back year.
He found out that water wells are against city codes. It didn’t stop him. He found that one can buy all the pieces needed to drill a water well. The major part of it was a power drill about twice the size of the home-tool model. He got water flowing up without a pump when he was down about 175 feet. He kept going to about 740, sealed it off, added a pump and a filtration system, and didn’t tell anyone about it, not even his wife.
I have a water well at the Cool Water Ranch, but so does everybody around there. The water it supplies is very clean and lacks any peculiar tastes. Better than the Slidell water, I’d say. Henry wants to talk everybody in New Orleans to pump their own, as a post-hurricane resource. He says the flood has to rise above ten feet to contaminate his home well.
This talk got him excited. He started naming restaurants that had his wells. The steak house wasn’t one of them. “Chefs always talk about making everything they cook locally,” he says. “Why not their water, too?”
Thursday, March 2, 2017.
My Book Publisher Still Likes Me.
Yesterday I found a number of e-mails from Lisa Ekus, my literary agent in Massachusetts. She was instrumental in getting my cookbook picked up by a New York publisher after Katrina. Now, after ten years, the publisher (Abrams) is showing an interest in reworking the book, creating a new cover and adding twenty pages of photographs. I am invited to add or change things that needed updating.
A lot of this discussion took place outside my ken: I was fully engaged with Mardi Gras when the emails came through. Did I blow the deal? I spoke to the publisher herself, and she was pleased to tell me that the project had been accepted and my cookbook will be in the spring promotional calendar. She seemed to be pleased with sales through the ten years, and thinks the momentum may well go on a long time.
Something to pass down to my grandson (and, I hope, more TK.)
Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed in our restaurants, seafood markets, and homes. For the full survey so far, click here.
27: Squid (Calamari)
Squid come in all sizes, but the most familiar of them are the small ones from the Gulf that restaurants (particularly Italian ones) serve under the name calamari. In the most familiar squid dish, the cephalopods are coated with flour or cornmeal, deep-fried, then served with some kind of tomato-based sauce–either a cocktail sauce or spaghetti sauce, depending on the place.
No matter where you find fried calamari, you can bet on this: the chef and the regular customers will claim–loudly–that these are the best in the city. Maybe the world.
But squid are less common in restaurants than they once were. And not as good, either. This seems to have happened at the time of hurricane Katrina. The storm killed the city’s best fryer of squid–La Riviera in Metairie. No other restaurant has taken its place, although Sandro’s (Metairie: 6601 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-7784) is close to equalling La Riviera’s squid.
A few matters separate good squid from not-so-good squid. The first is how well they’ve been cleaned. Squid need to have the “pen” (a stiff sliver of cartilage), the ink sacs, and the little beak (one of which bit me once!) removed. Some squids are stuffed with eggs, but those shouldn’t be cleaned out. They’re a rare treat, one I haven’t had in many years.
Lightness is crucial in frying squid, which can be tough when overcooked. (The texture is somewhat chewy to begin with.) I like to get not only the rings (the body cut crosswise) but the tentacles (which a friend once aptly described as “fried spiders”).
Squid don’t have to be fried, though. They can be sauteed in olive oil wirth garlic and herbs. They’re excellent poached, then marinated in olive oil and herbs to make a cold antipasto. A wide range of great dishes combine squid with rice or pasta. Seafood risotto and cioppino are wonderful. Best of all are dishes using squid ink in the sauce. You see this everywhere in the Mediterranean, particularly in Spain and Italy.
Unacceptable Alternative: Big squid. Larger squid (and they can get so large that they can actually battle a sperm whale to the death) have been turning up on more local menus. They don’t look like squid, because large sections of the body wall are cut into rectangles. They are most commonly boiled, then scored (so you can chew them) in sushi bars. Sometimes this kind of squid is grilled. I find it tough and flavorless. I always check to make sure that’s not what’s coming under the calamari brand. That isn’t the local squid, anyway.
Stuffed Squid With Pasta
This may be the best squid dish I ever cooked or ate. The late Mexican chef Jorge Rodriguez, who owned the excellent but now extinct El Patio in Kenner, created the dish. The cavities of the squid bodies are stuffed with crabmeat and savory vegetables, then cooked down in a cream sauce.
The advance preparation requires pulling the tentacles off the rest of the squid. If you’re ambitious, fry these with a corn-flour coating and scatter them over the pasta to lend a textural contrast.
1 1/2 lbs. small, fresh squid (about five inches long)
2 slices onion, about 1/4 inch thick, separated into rings
1/2 stick butter
3 Tbs. flour
1/2 cup milk
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. claw crabmeat or shrimp, peeled
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups grated Romano cheese
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1 green onion, tender green parts only, thinly sliced
1 cup corn flour (Fish-Fri)
1 Tbs. Creole seasoning
Calamari wtiffed and ready to go with pasta.
1. Buy the squid already cleaned if possible. If not, use a twisting motion to pull the tentacles away from the body. Avoid squeezing where the two parts of the animal meet, so as not to break the ink sac–a real mess. Remove the viscera and the beak from the tentacles by squeezing the point where the tentacles meet. Rinse everything, then set the tentacles aside.
2. Put the squid bodies and the onion into a small saucepan with barely enough water to cover. Bring the pot to a light boil and hold there for about three minutes. Strain the liquid and save. Remove the onions and reserve. Set the squid bodies aside to dry and cool.
3. Heat the butter in a saucepan until it bubbles. Sprinkle the flour into it and whisk as if you were making a roux, but stop after it thickens, before it begins to brown. Add the garlic and parsley and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Remove from the heat. Add the milk and whisk until the mixture has the texture of mashed potatoes.
4. Add the parsley, cayenne, salt, and crabmeat (or shrimp). With a rubber spatula, stir the mixture gently until the crabmeat is well distributed, but not broken.
5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using an iced tea spoon, stuff the squid bodies with the crabmeat mixture. Leave the last quarter-inch empty. Seal the opening with a toothpick. Lay the stuffed squid in a large baking dish, at most two layers deep. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 25 minutes.
6. While the squid are in the oven, bring the cream to a light simmer in a wide skillet, and reduce by about a third. Add the Romano cheese and stir until it melts into the cream. Stir in the white pepper and 1/2 cup of the reserved stock from poaching the squid.
7. Remove the squid from the oven and place them into the sauce. Agitate the pan back and forth to cover the squid with the sauce. Serve two to four squid per person, garnished with sliced green onions and a scant sprinkle of cayenne.
8. If you’re inclined to fry the tentacles as a garnish, just dust them in corn flour seasoned with Creole seasoning and fry in 375-degree oil until golden brown.
Serves four entrees or six to eight appetizers.
March 9, 2017
Days Until. . .
St. Patrick’s Day–8
St. Joseph’s Day–10
This is National Crabmeat Day. It’s still pretty early in the year for the best crabmeat. However, adding crabmeat to dishes has become such a part of the current New Orleans cuisine that the seasons are hardly recognized anymore. The season for fresh, non-pasteurized, Louisiana crabmeat is the warm months, particularly in the midsummer. What’s used this time of year is likely to be frozen, pasteurized, canned, or from overseas. (Or combinations of the above.) You would be astonished by the number of major restaurant charging major prices that use something other than fresh, unpasteurized crabmeat.
And this year there’s another problem. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has postponed the opening of crab season by thirty days beginning with the third Monday of February (Feb. 20). No crabnets until March 29. Still, this doesn’t mean that restaurants don’t have crabmeat. I’ve seen a lot of it around, which makes me ask, where did this crabmeat come from?
The major source of crabmeat in our part of the world (and all the way up the Atlantic coast, too) is the blue crab, callinectes sapidus. It’s packed in four major forms: claw, white, lump, and jumbo lump. The latter is the muscle that moves the large claws from inside the body. White and lump come from other parts of the body. The claw meat is least expensive, but actually has the most pronounced flavor. Only its dark color keeps the price down. Strange, isn’t it?
Music To Eat Gumbo By
It’s the birthday, in 1933, of Lloyd Price, the New Orleans singer who had a string of hits in the mid-1950s. The best of them was Personality. He also did the definitive version of Stagger Lee, whose lyrics describe a place much like the kind of joint where these songs would play on the juke box.
she-crab soup, n.–The name tells most of the story: it’s a soup made with female crabs, preferably those carrying eggs. It’s made by combining crabmeat and crab stock with milk or cream to make a mild soup whose flavor comes predominantly from the crabs. It’s sometimes thickened with a blond roux or pureed rice, and flavored with some kind of onions–usually snipped green onions. The soup is a specialty of the Low Country of South Carolina, and rarely found elsewhere–at least not under that name. The advantage of she-crabs–the roe–has been obviated by the fact that in most places the law requires that any crab bearing eggs must be returned to the water, in order to continue the species. That’s the law in Louisiana, and it includes even recreational crabbing.
Soda Butte is a landmark along the northeast entrance road to Yellowstone National Park. It’s the cone of a dormant geyser, and rises to 4645 feet–about 150 feet above Soda Butte Creek, which flows into Lamar Valley, a very pretty place. Soda Butte is famous among naturalists as a place where packs of wolves, re-introduced in mid-1990s, have taken up residence. It was the first place they’ve lived in Yellowstone since the rangers wiped out the last wolves in 1926. If you’re hungry as a wolf around there, it’s a twelve-mile drive to the well-named Range Rider Lodge in Silver Gate.
Food In Space
This is the birthday, in 1934, of Yuri Gagarin, Russian cosmonaut and the first man to orbit the earth (or do anything else) in space. Because the Russians could not obtain Tang from the U.S., poor Gagarin had to make do with only fresh oranges for juice during his trip.
Food In Warfare
The Pastry War between France and Mexico ended today in 1839, after about five months of hostility. It started when a French pastry chef named Remontel complained to French King Louis-Phillippe that his shop in Mexico City had been looted by Mexican soldiers ten years earlier. The king took up the cause and demanded that Mexico pay 600,000 pesos. Mexico demurred, and France sent a fleet to blockade all Gulf ports in Mexico. It captured the city of Veracruz and most of the Mexican navy. Mexico declared war on France. The United States fought on the French side, with one ship. Great Britain intervened, Mexico promised to pay the 600,000 pesos, and the war ended. No weapons of mass destruction were found.
This is the feast day of St. Catherine of Bologna, who died today in 1463. She is the patron saint of those beset with all kinds of temptation. Including those involving food and drink, I suppose.
Music To Graze By
“Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.”–
Slurred a bit, that was the opening line of the Number One hit on this day in 1944. Its title was Mairzy Doats. A kiddle dee divy too, wouldn’t you? No, I wouldn’t. Ivy will kill you if you eat it.
Food And The Law
Today in 1981, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed that, for the purposes of creating balanced school lunches, ketchup could be considered a vegetable. This absurdity was widely hooted at by comedians and was quickly annulled, but the memory of the idea lives on. In terms of its healthiness, ketchup is not bad for you–but containing as much sugar as it does, it’s not good, either.
Deft Dining Rule #299:
If ketchup is called for to make food taste good to you, may I advise some further experimentation on your part/other sauces?
Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte were married today in 1796. One wonders whether Napoleon pastries were served at the reception. Over the years, a number of pastry chefs have developed variations on the layered, custard-filled Napoleon that they call the Josephine. Chef Andrea Apuzzo makes one with pastry cream and raspberries–very light and good. . . Coming at the food namesake concept from the other side, we note that today is the birthday, in 1958, of singer Martin Fry, who performed with the group ABC. . . Bluesey rocker John Cale was born today in 1942. . . Pro footballer Sean Salisbury was born today in 1963.
Words To Eat By
“Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar.”–Mickey Spillane, crime novel author, born today in 1918.
Words To Drink By
“What’s your house chablis?”–James Buckley, politician, upon being asked by a counter person at McDonald’s what he wanted to drink. Buckley was born today in 1923.
The Concupiscent Appeal Of Bananas When Under-Ripe.
You need the few days of ripening so you can fantasize about how wonderful it will be when the black speckles appear.
Click here for the cartoon.