The Literate Chef

Posts Tagged ‘Biloxi’

Memories of NOLA

In General Articles on July 23, 2012 at 2:03 PM

Whenever I think of New Orleans, where I spent many a weekend pass while defending the Southern Coast of the United States from an invasion by the Viet Cong, I think of food. Of course, I also think of music, drinking and having fun with my Air Force buddies, but mostly I recall the exquisite meals at Brennan’s, Antoine’s, Galatoire’s and the dining room at the Royal Orleans Hotel, as well as beignets (think unfilled zeppole) at Café du Monde at 4:00 am.

I don’t know if those memories stem from the fact that any meal outside of the Keesler Air Force Base mess hall would be memorable, or from the fact that I was exposed to the cooking of a whole different region of the country; the French, Cajun, Creole influence and the use of spices and flavors theretofore unbeknownst to me.  Whatever the reason it was a great experience and helped to influence my culinary choices beyond those learned in my mother’s kitchen. I would be remiss to not also mention Mary Mahoney’s Old French House in Biloxi, which was our local respite from the uninspiring cuisine of the mess hall.

Rémoulade is one of those new tastes about which New Orleans taught me. Apparently, it was originally a French relish-type sauce that was adapted in the Creole fashion by adding a Louisiana Hot Sauce like Tabasco, or cayenne pepper to spice it up. There are innumerable recipes for it on-line, but the one I developed is easy to prepare, takes about 10 minutes, and can be made in advance, as long as it is refrigerated.

It goes particularly well with crab cakes, which I made a few weeks ago, after picking up some lump crab meat at Costco. These Crab Cakes were a big hit with the proportion of crab meat to breadcrumbs being limited to 1 pound of crab meat to 1.5 cups of breadcrumbs. Make them, enjoy them with a cold beer, listen to some Zydeco or Jazz, or watch Treme, and ask yourself “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?”

Fish is not Just for Fridays, Anymore

In General Articles on July 11, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Growing up Catholic in the 1940s and 50s, meatless Fridays were obligatory. As a result, fish in some form or another, was invariably on the menu. Because fish usually meant some type of fried or frozen denizen of the sea, which when defrosted and ‘cooked’ tasted more like cardboard, meatless Fridays truly were a sacrifice. That is unless it was my father’s turn in the kitchen and he would cook his specialties, either Spaghetti with Del Monte Sauce or Linguine with Cauliflower Sauce, neither of which engendered much of a sacrifice on the part of me or my sister.

It wasn’t until I was on active duty in the Air Force and stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi, that I realized that fish could be caught and served fresh, did not have to stink, and actually could be delicious. The first such discovery was at a restaurant on the bayou that specialized in freshly caught, fried catfish, French fries and Dixie beer. It was an epiphany for this New York City born and bred boy and I loved every meal there.

Eventually, I worked up the courage to try other species of fish and other styles of preparation. Today, I will eat pretty much any type of fish and enjoy it baked, blackened, broiled, fried, poached, smoked, or raw in sushi and sashimi. Both the French and the Italians have ways of preparing fish that will soon make you forget that it was ever a sacrifice to abstain from meat.  Today, on those rare occasions such as Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all other Lenten Fridays, when most Catholics must abstain from meat, which my wife will insist that we do, I readily agree and prepare a fish-based meal that when being consumed makes me smile at the ‘sacrifice.’

One poaching method for fish that is particularly delicious, is ‘alla Livornese,’ i.e., in the style of Livorno, Italy. Livorno, also known as Leghorn, is a seacoast city in Tuscany. The term, alla Livornese, usually means that it is cooked with tomatoes and is spiced up with garlic, onion, capers and olives. For Red Snapper alla Livornese I use a combination of fish stock or clam broth and white wine as the poaching liquid. If you cannot find Red Snapper, any firm fish such as Striped Bass or Swordfish will work just as well; simply adjust the cooking time, depending upon the thickness of the fish. I usually figure 8 to 10 minutes for Red Snapper, 12 or so minutes for Striped Bass and up to 15 minutes for Swordfish Steaks.

For a variation, try baking your fish oreganata style, see: Striped Bass Oreganata for the basic oreganata preparation. Another excellent method of cooking fish is grilling it, especially on a cedar plank, see: Cedar Plank-Grilled Glazed Wild Salmon. Swordfish steaks also lend themselves to great summer grilling and Pineapple Mango Salsa goes great with Grilled Swordfish. Poaching also works particularly well with stuffed fish like sole, Fillet of Sole Stuffed with Crabmeat and Shrimp. With summer in full swing and fresh local tomatoes becoming available, I think that you should continue your reading with: Memories of Summer at The Shore.

Steak! It’s What’s for Dinner!

In General Articles on May 23, 2011 at 7:01 AM

I don’t think I had ever tasted French cuisine until I was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi. No, even though the Air Force is reputed to eat better than the Army, Navy and Marines, French cooking was not in the repertoire of the mess hall sergeant and his cooks at Keesler; that treat was to be experienced in the city of New Orleans, which lies 90 miles to the west of Biloxi and was our escape destination whenever we had the money and a 48 hour pass.

New Orleans in the 1960s was divine, especially after a couple of weeks cooped up on the base. Waiting to be discovered were such renowned restaurants as Antoine’s, Brennan’s and Galatoire’s, along with Dixieland Jazz, Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, Jambalaya at The Court of the Two Sisters, and Beignets at Café du Monde, which tasted particularly delicious accompanied by an espresso at four in the morning.

Steak au Poivre (with Pepper), Oysters Rockefeller and Banana’s Foster, comprised my introduction to French style cooking in New Orleans. I was used to having steak at home, cooked in the oven by Big Mike; although usually rare on the inside, it was grey on the outside, chewy and not all that interesting. Steak served with a delicious sauce was a revelation.

Several years later, I learned to prepare it myself after first following the recipe in The New York Times Cookbook, authored by Craig Claiborne. Subsequently, after many additions, deductions and consultations with other home cooks, I perfected what was then my recipe. It was a staple in our family until 1986, when I had a eureka moment.

During the summer of 1986, my wife and I took our two daughters to Quebec City for a week’s vacation. It was my fourth visit to that beautiful city and my wife’s second. Quebec City has a distinctively European atmosphere. For the girls, it was their first trip outside of the country and would serve as a foretaste of what they would later see and experience in Europe. We stayed at the Chateau Frontenac in a suite overlooking, and high above, the St. Lawrence River. After each day of sightseeing in the city, or taking side trips to Chute Montmorency, the Shrine of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains, or the Ile d’ Orleans, we strolled the streets of the city, perused the menus in the windows and chose a restaurant for dinner.

For each of the first six nights, we selected a different restaurant in which to eat. My wife, our older daughter and I ordered varied meals in each, but our younger daughter, who was 9 at the time, ordered the same thing every single night…Steak au Poivre! That was the only French dish that she knew and clearly loved, so to her way of thinking, why experiment and wind up with something yucky?

On our last night, having pretty much exhausted the restaurants that were most appealing to us, we asked the ‘Steak au Poivre girl’ which restaurant had the best. Unhesitatingly, she proudly selected one and that’s where we went. The sauce on the Steak au Poivre was different from what I had been making for the previous 18 or so years, it had cream in it! That was my epiphany. Cream was not in Craig Claiborne’s original recipe, with which I had started and from which I had adapted mine. To my palate it was what had been missing.

This recipe for Steak au Poivre has been served to family and friends for almost 25 years and I am happy to share it with you. From beef, we move on to ‘the original white meat’ chicken at: Chicken Scarpiello; Everybody Makes it Differently!

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