DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Sunday, March 19, 2017.
Oil Light. Another Lyrical Ad-Lib. Chef’s Soiree.

The day begins with my regular Sunday morning choir gig. Then the usual Saturday grocery stop, a day late. I get started on the tax returns in the early afternoon. I was to have done a radio show today, but the boss gave me the day off because of a conflict planned before the HD2 changes.

That conflict is the second and final performance of the NPAS concert this afternoon. I have been running through the lyrics to prevent yesterday’s trip-up. Then life throws me a curve ball. En route to the auditorium, I see the oil light come on in my one-year-old Beetle. A yellow light, not a red–but still something that calls for attention. I don’t have time to address this, what with curtain time impending.

But my brain keeps noting the oil light instead of feeding me the words to “I Won’t Dance.” I jank the same way as yesterday, but in a different part of the song. Once again, I’m in the weeds for about ten words before I’m back on course. And I actually rhyme my ad-libbed lyrics twice. Weird.

But the audience and my fellow singers all tell me that the song sounded good, and that I was just making up the words as part of the act. I’ll just let them think that. Now I’m wondering whether I will ever be allowed to sing an up-front song again.

I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person today to show up at Advance Auto Parts wearing a tuxedo. The guy running the counter won’t let me check the dipstick, so formal am I. As usual, figuring out what kind of oil to feed the VW is complicated. A hallmark of VWs is that everything they’re built with is unique to that car. It was true of my first Beetle in 1960 as it is today.

The oil wasn’t extremely low, and is needing less than a half-quart of oil. The oil light is off when I leave, and as of this writing it hasn’t illuminated again normal. I am overdue for an oil change, which probably explains everything.

Tonight is the Chef’s Soiree, a big North Shore event that supports the needs of children whose families are plagued by any number of problems. It’s the major food-and-drink grazing event of the year, and has always included the best restaurants on the North Shore, and more than a few from the other side of the pond.

Chef’s Soiree.

Mary Ann loves events like this, enough that a few years ago the Youth Service Bureau asked the two of us to serve as honorary chairpeople. The food is the usual kind: lots of crawfish over rice, gumbo, shrimp remoulade, and pasta. But all of it showed steps up from previous Soirees. We especially liked the Bolognese pasta from the new Maribo, orrechiette pasta with oysters from Opal Basil, parmesan chicken from the Longhorn Steak House (a national chain that surprised everybody), and a great sausage jambalaya (a subject on which MA considers herself an expert) from Jambalaya & Company, a catering outfit. About fifty wines are available, and a Mustang is raffled off. I usually take a chance on that, but last year Mary Leigh told me it was inappropriate for a man of my age and tastes.

It was a terrific evening in the new location, around the old water tower at the Covington end of the Tammany Trace bicycle path. (The old spot was flooded a few times too often by the Bogue Falaya River.)

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed in restaurants. The idea is that restaurants use different kinds of fish and shellfish than home cooks are likely to have at hand.

Sheepshead with avocado and tomato, Galvez Restaurant.

#15: Sheepshead

The most underrated of all the fish we eat around New Orleans has an image problem. It’s that name. Sheepshead?

I once overheard a couple of out-of-towners reading the menu at Mr. B’s. “Listen to this, Esther,” the guy said. “Hickory-grilled fresh sheepshead, served with crabmeat and a lemon beurre blanc.”

“My goodness!” said Esther. “They really do eat everything down here!”

The state fish authorities tried to help, creating an alternate name: rondeau sea bream. But it’s been slow catching on. But meanwhile, some unscrupulous fish dealers and chefs say they’re selling redfish or trout while really using sheepshead, because it’s cheaper. Because it’s cheaper, they’re less careful handling it than they would be for the supposed better species. The joke is on them: the flavor and texture of sheepshead is at least as good as what it’s being swapped for.

Cooking and eating sheepshead is nothing new. You see it on menus from at least a century ago, and ever since–with a gap in the 1970s and 1980s. Why not?It’s white, firm, flavorful without being oily. The larger ones are very good on the grill or in the black iron skillet. Smaller ones can be pan-seared or broiled to great effect. Sheepshead meuniere, amandine, or with pecans is wonderful. You can get as fancy as you want with it. (The photo is of sheepshead with avocado and tomato from the now-extinct Galvez Restaurant.) If sheepshead is the fish of the day, I always order it.

The reason we don’t see it more often goes back to the name again. It’s quite descriptive. Sheepshead have big heads, with teeth reminiscent of those of the eponymous wooly mammal. And they’re hard to process, giving less fillet per pound of whole fish than most other fish. But for those of us who don’t have to catch or clean them, it’s a great eating fish.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Sea Bream In An Envelope

“Sea bream” is the new officially-recognized name for sheepshead, which needed a new name. It’s really a great fish. This recipe is very light–nothing like the “en papillote” dishes we often do around here. You bake the fish in a tight envelope of foil.

  • 1/2 stick butter, softened
  • 12 large white grapes
  • 4 sprigs Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 rib celery, cut into matchsticks
  • 8 sea bream (sheepshead) fillets (trout or flounder would also work), about 4 oz. each
  • 1/3 cup tomato puree
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

1. Tear off four sheets of aluminum foil, 12 inches wide by 18 inches long. Rub the softened butter in the center half of each sheet.

2. Peel the grapes and slice them into small coins.

3. Place a sprig of parsley and a fourth of the celery on one side of the foil sheet. Place two fish fillets, head ends together, on top of the parsley and celery. Spoon the tomato puree lightly over the fish, and top with the grape coins. Sprinkle a little white wine over the fish, and season with salt and pepper.

4. Fold the foil over. Fold the edges and crimp to make a tightly-sealed envelope. Repeat the process for the remaining fish.

5. Place the envelopes on a baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven for about 12 minutes. The envelopes should puff up somewhat.

6. Serve the fish in the envelope on the plate. Each guest will open his or her envelope, and the aromas will waft up right into their nostrils.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare March 24, 2017

Days Until. . .

French Quarter Festival–13
Easter —17
Jazz Festival–36

Today’s Flavor

It’s Stuffed Crab Day. And the dish needs to be remembered. Once ubiquitous on menus all along the Gulf Coast and upthe Atlantic, stuffed crabs have been shoved aside by its upscale cousin, the Baltimore-style crab cake. Crab cakes give stuffed crabs an image problem. It is the nature of a stuffed crab to contain other ingredients than crabmeat. And the crabmeat is usually claw meat, at that. The quality criterion for crab cakes, in contrast, is the percentage of lump crabmeat content.

CollegeInn-StuffedCrab

From a flavor perspective, however, a well-made stuffed crab (also known as a deviled crab) easily rivals a crab cake. The best versions have a good crab flavors that comes not only from the crabmeat but also the crab stock the bread component is wet down with. Green onions, bell pepper, fresh parsley, cayenne, and even a little bacon add further interest to a good stuffed crab. I’d like to see a revival of stuffed crabs, in crab shells if possible. (Health departments don’t like to see those in restaurants, which is why you see aluminum shells most of the time.)

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Use claw crabmeat, not white or lump, when you’re making a stuffing. It has a more assertive flavor and it much cheaper, to boot.

Edible Dictionary

pita, n.–A flatbread baked in such a way that a pocket forms in the center. The pocket can be filled with a wide variety of foods, but the most common is the spit-roasted processed meat called gyros. Pita bread is by far the most common form of bread in the Middle East. In fact, in Aramaic the word means “bread.” It’s served with every dish and used to scoop up almost any scoopable food. It’s related to the naan of India, and in fact was at one time baked in a similar oven to an Indian tandoor. Pitas are baked at very high temperatures–at least 450 degrees. As the exterior becomes firm it traps steam inside, which separates the top and bottom into the pocket. In the United States, pita has become popular as a crust for a quick pizza.

Gourmet Gazetteer

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.

Annals Of Menu Pricing

In 1964 on this date, John F. Kennedy replaced Benjamin Franklin on the half-dollar coin. You could have purchased a good plate of food for fifty cents then, but ten years later you couldn’t. That’s what I found out when I went through a bunch of my old menus of restaurants here in New Orleans. A fifty-cent plate of beans and rice was easy to find in 1964. By 1973, the lowest price I could find was ninety-five cents. Maybe this is why nobody uses half dollars anymore. When’s the last time you saw one?

Deft Dining Rule #232:

A great restaurant for fried seafood will not have tartar sauce on the table. And you will not need to ask for it.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

Robert Allison, the first person to buy an American-made automobile, did so on this date in 1898. His flivver was made by the Winton Motor Carriage Company. He immediately went out for a fish sandwich with tartar sauce, but he couldn’t find a place with a drive-through.

Food In Traffic

A truck carrying margarine and flour caught fire in the Mont Blanc Tunnel through the Alps today in 1999. This was serious: thirty-nine people died. Good thing a milk tanker wasn’t just ahead of the truck, or a mammoth biscuit would have blocked access.

Food Namesakes

On this day in 1932, singer Belle Baker did the first radio program ever from a moving train. That’s something I always wanted to do. . . Andrew Mellon, founder of the Mellon banking dynasty, was born today in 1855. . . Comedian Fatty Arbuckle came out laughing today in 1887. . . Alan Sugar, a British computer manufacturer, clicked out a “1” today in 1947. . . Olive Schreiner, a South African writer, had Page One of her life today in 1855. . . Isabel Suckling, the youngest classical musician ever to sign a major recording contract, voiced her first note today in 1998.

Words To Eat By

“My first words were ‘Seconds, please.'”–Louie Anderson, American comedian, born today in 1953.

Words To Drink By

“She’s like somebody’s mom who’d a few too many drinks at a cocktail party.”–Nick Lowe, British rocker, born today in 1949. He was referring to Grace Slick.

FoodFunniesSquare

Ethnic Cuisine Du Jour.

Here’s one that combines flavors and ingredients from sources that are rather far apart. As always, noodles are involved.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Thursday, March 16, 2017.
Dress Rehearsal. I Refuse To Wear A Dress.
I Won’t Dance, Either.

MA is on the other side of the lake all day. My only meal is solo, taken at New Orleans Food & Spirits. I have on my mind the excellent blackened redfish with pecans there. I am not a big fan of things blackened, but this is exceptional. The fish is cooked just right–not a hint of dryness or scorching. It comes with chopped pecans toasted in brown butter. The standard serving is a small fillet of the fish with a couple of sides, of which the fried sweet potatoes are most interesting.

New Orleans Food & Spirits fried pecan catfish, lunch portion.

New Orleans Food & Spirits fried pecan catfish, lunch portion.

I’ve had the dish enough times here to ask the server whether a dinner-size portion were available. No, she says. When I finish the fish, I like it so much that I call her over and put in an order for another one of these modest fillets, with none of the sides. It incurs a $6 surcharge. The whole plate is $13. It’s hard to say that anything here is less than a great deal. And maybe it made me look like a chow hound to get the extra fish, but this is the only meal I will have today. I try not to eat before singing.

And I am singing tonight.

The NPAS concerts are this weekend, along a loose theme to the effect that dancing is a good thing to do if you want to be happy. It’s surprising, however, how few songs with any kind of musical merit exist. The first one that came to my mind when I auditioned is “I Won’t Dance.” It seemed ironic. Carol E., an excellent soprano, agreed to make it a duet. It’s a funny song, and we had a lot of fun with it.

Tonight is the dress rehearsal. That’s a misnomer. Our getups are simple: black dresses for the women, tuxedos for the fellers. But we don’t go black tie for dress rehearsal. So why do they call it that? Only two of the girls were in stage attire, and they had feather boas they needed to train draped over their shoulders. One thing stands out in this NPAS program: we are funnier than usual.

Now that I get off the air live at five, it’s easier to make it to the hall on time. I always before needed special permission from the conductor to show up late. Carol and I run our song for the fifty-second time, with no significant problems. More irony, that. When we are up there for real on Friday and Sunday, I will blow the lyrics in a funny but far from correct way. But as of tonight, I feel ready to warble.

New Orleans Food & Spirits. Covington: 208 Lee Lane. 985-875-0432.

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed predominantly in restaurants. We’re past the halfway point in our count: at #17 heading to #1.

#18: Tripletail

Tripletail is a fish found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. It also swims up the Gulf Stream and into the Atlantic, where fishermen in the Carolinas sometimes catch it. There it’s better known by its other name–blackfish.

Tripletail meuniere.

But “tripletail” has a better ring, doesn’t it? That arises from the positions of the dorsal and anal fins, which are about the same size and shape as the tail fin. So they give the illusion that the fish has three tails.

#11: Tripletail

It’s an exceptional eating fish. Unfortunately, there’s no mass commercial catch of it. Because it’s either line-caught or turns up as a bycatch in shrimp nets, it’s not widely or regularly available. (Otherwise, it would turn up higher on this list.) Only restaurants that actively work the market every day buy it. Finding tripletail on a menu means a) you’re in a pretty good place, and 2) this is your lucky day.

Although tripletail is a moderately big fish–some ten inches wide and about a foot and a half long–its fillets remind me a lot of those of the much smaller speckled trout. In fact, I find the flavor similar, too.

As with trout, tripletail seems to be best cooked in the saute pan and served with a sauce on the buttery end of the spectrum. It can also be blackened or bronzed. (K-Paul’s used to have some fun by calling it “reddened blackfish.”) I don’t think I’d grill it; the flaky texture makes it fall apart on a grill. If that happens, make a quick courtbouillon.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Tripletail With Sizzling Crabmeat and Herbs

The excitement in this dish comes from the ability of clarified butter to be made extremely hot without burning. Hot enough to sizzle anything it’s poured over. The butter looks harmless when you bring it to the table, but spoon it over the crabmeat and fresh herbs, and it crackles and sizzles, with drama and a wonderful aroma. This also works on a steak.

  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (about half a bunch)
  • 1 Tbs. capers, chopped
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 dash Worcestershire
  • Juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 4 oz. white crabmeat
  • 4 8-oz. fillets tripletail (or trout, redfish, drum, sheepshead, or other white fish)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 cup clarified butter

Preheat the broiler and broiler pan.

1. Combine the parsley, capers, garlic, and crabmeat in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the Worcestershire and lemon juice and toss to distribute the ingredients equally.

2. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Broil about four inches from the flame until the slightest hint of browning is seen around the edges. Check the fish to see if it’s cooked in the center of the thickest part (it should be). If not, broil just a minute longer or less.

3. Place the fish fillet on the serving plate. Top with a small pile (not a scattering) of the crabmeat-and-herb mixture.

4. In the smallest saucepan you have, heat the clarified butter till a flake of parsley immediately sizzles in it. Spoon the butter while still very hot over the fish and its topping, which will sizzle when the butter hits it. It’s most dramatic to do this at the table, but be very careful: the heat of the butter presents a burning hazard if it gets splashed.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare March 21, 2017

Days Until. . .
French Quarter Festival–15
Easter —<19>
Jazz Festival–38
Days Of Infamy

Today was Good Friday in 1788, and a very bad day for New Orleans. The worst fire in the city’s history burned 856 of approximately 1100 buildings in the French Quarter, including the original Cabildo. Among the few survivors were the Ursulines Convent, a government customs house (not the one on Canal Street now), and the two hospitals. In the aftermath, the city had a tremendous loss of population as many homeless moved away. (Sound familiar?) Most of the city, incredibly, was rebuilt within five years. The fire started where the new Sylvain restaurant is now, in the 600 block of Chartres.

Our Illustrious Chefs

Today’s the birthday of Chef Duke Locicero, the owner of Cafe Giovanni, in 1961. Aside from having a uniquely good Italian restaurant, Chef Duke is a good guy to talk to about the progress of the recovery in the French Quarter. He had a tough time after the storm, but continued to lead the renewal of that stretch of Decatur Street. It’s a lot nicer than it was before he opened.

Food Calendar

Today is National French Bread Day. The picture of a person walking down a street with a long, narrow loaf of bread tucked under his arm could no better locate the scene in France if it had the Eiffel Tower in the background. The shape of a baguette isn’t it’s only distinguishing characteristic. Its light (in color and texture) crust, the many large, cavern-like gaps in the crumb, and yeastiness are all hallmarks. French bread is simple in its components–not much more than flour, yeast, and water. But making it requires an adherence to the time-tested procedure that borders on religious. The two primary keys are a very active yeast and an oven with sprays of water mist. The end result is the perfect companion to cheese, pates, or a French dinner.

Regional variations on French bread are everywhere. In my hometown of New Orleans, we make a bigger (in both circumference and length) French bread, with a much lighter crust and crumb. This is not only the standard bread of the table, but the bedrock of the poor boy sandwich.

And then there is standard supermarket French bread, usually made with frozen dough. It’s hardly worthy of the name, with its soft crust and fine, buttery interior. Get the real thing.

Deft Dining Rule #230:

A well-made loaf of French bread will leave a thousand crumbs strewn across the table.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The greatest improvement you can make in your bread baking is to spray water into the oven every ten minutes or so. (Clean water, new sprayer.)

Food Entrepreneurs

Forrest Mars, Sr. was born today in 1904. An infamously humorless businessman, he took over his family’s candy business and turned it into the biggest maker of candy bars in the world. Mars, Inc. is the maker of M&M’s, Milky Way, and (this will surprise you) Uncle Ben’s Rice. Mars and Hershey’s have one of the great rivalries, with espionage and everything. The story is told in Joel Glenn Brenner’s terrific book The Emperors Of Chocolate.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Choconut, Pennsylvania is a little more than a mile from the New York state line. The history of the place is not as frivolous as it sounds. The name is an evolution of Chugnut, a name used for a settlement of a number of Indian populations tribes in the area in the 1700s. It’s a hilly area with beautiful fall colors. The Choconut Inn is up the road about five miles in case you’re hungry.

Edible Dictionary

rillettes, [ree-YET], French, n.–An item from the broad French charcuterie category of meat preparation, a rillettes (the word has an “s” in both singular and plural forms) is traditionally made from pork from old sows. That was tough enough that it needed much pounding with lard to make it tender. What came out was a stringy compound with enough fat and seasoning that one could actually like it. As they do, very much, in the area around Tours and Anjou. Rillettes are less popular in this country, where most people consider it just another form of paté. but chefs have put forth a great effort in recent years to popularize it by using the technique with rabbit, duck, and other candidates. I would say that they don’t quite have it down yet.

Annals Of Winemaking

Today is the birthday, in 1910, of Julio Gallo, who with his brother Ernest began the Gallo wine business. It would become the world’s largest family-owned winery. Julio was in charge of production, while Ernest was the salesman. Julio died in 1993 in a car accident.

Food Namesakes

Actor James Coco was born today in 1930. . . Football player Junior Coffey hit the big scrimmage today 1942. . . Robert Sweet, drummer for the Christian hard-rock band Stryper, felt his first beats today in 1960.

Words To Eat By

“A philosopher is a person who doesn’t care which side his bread is buttered on; he knows he eats both sides anyway.”–Dr. Joyce Brothers.

Words To Drink By

“I don’t think I’ve drunk one since I’ve left the Bond movies. Every bar you go in. . . ‘Oh, yours will be a martini, shaken, not stirred!’ You get sick and tired of that.”–Timothy Dalton, British actor, born today in 1946. He portrayed James Bond twice.

FoodFunniesSquare

Cooking Competitions We Won’t Be Entering.

Or going to, for that matter. And absolutely not judging.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Tuesday, March 14, 2017.
Mary Ann Pulls Me Out Of A Hole.

Before she hosted her own talk show in the 1980, Mary Ann was a radio and television producer for WWL. Her skills at building a panel of guests are superb. Every now and then she pities me for finding myself less than flush with people to talk with. Then she gets to work filling my radio show with guests. The fact that some of these guests show up all but unannounced adds to the excitement, as I try to figure who these people are and what they are capable of discussing. Fortunately, I’m pretty good at programming on the fly myself.

So we have a lady who writes for the Clarion Herald, the Catholic newspaper in New Orleans. Her expertise is on the celebration in our area of the feast of St. Joseph, part of the Italian-Sicilian-Creole culture here. She says that the practice of erecting St. Joseph altars, with all the attendant food, has done nothing but grow during recent years. A lot of restaurants have taken up the practice.

Then we have another lady who comes to see me every year. She is with the Youth Services Bureau on the North Show, which protects young people from family or other problems. The organization’s big fund-raiser is the Chef’s Soiree, a very popular annual event involving chefs from around the area, but mainly on the North Shore. It’s a long-running event that was already a very large gourmet-grazing evening when we moved across the lake in 1990. It’s so well attended that tickets are hard to score. Chef’s Soiree is one of MA’s favorite festivals. She’s already looking forward to it, while I wonder how I will jam it into my day. But MA and I were honorary chair people for the Soiree a few years ago, and I have to show up.

The busy radio show ends, and I call daughter Mary Leigh to see
whether she is free for dinner. I can tell by her voice that she has had a long day and that she’s not especially hungry, and she hasn’t left the job site for the ride home.

Maybe she infected my mood, because I get that familiar but rare feeling that says I don’t have a strong hunger, myself. Catering to that lack of appetite is one of the main strategies that let me lose seventy pounds in the last three years.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017.
Vincent’s Is Full Of New Dishes.

We are once again visited by a slate of MA’s guests on the radio show. What happens is what I was hoping for. A busy show full of texture attracts more busyness and more texture. Mostly in the second hour, more people call in than any other day since HD2 was inaugurated. Yes!

I always have a list of restaurants I’d like to visit in the near term. But for some of them, a peculiarity comes to bear. I go to the restaurant and fine:

1. It’s closed on the night I go there.
b. I can’t find the place
iii. I get stuck at a railroad crossing or a traffic jam
D. The restaurant closed for good three days ago

All except D. have prevented me from having dinner at Gendusa’s, a café in the old part of Kenner about which many of my listeners have raved. This was my old neighborhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I know my way around there. But where is this restaurant? After about fifteen minutes touring in the car and walking about, no dice.

I’m still hungry when I give up. I drive slowly along Williams Boulevard, looking for either Gendusa’s or some other eatery. Lots of Asian and Hispanic restaurants around there.

But I wind up at Vincent’s. Vincent Catalanotta is on duty. He and I go back to 1978, when he was a bartender at a restaurant called Romanoff’s, I was working for a month as a waiter to see what that was like. Not long after I began hosting the radio show in 1988, Vinnie managed a funny little place called the Corsican Brothers. The restaurant failed, but Vincent thought he saw an opportunity. He got a good deal on the lease, compiled a few recipes, and opened shop as Vincent’s.

The restaurant blasted off immediately, and it remains one of the best neighborhood-style Italian restaurants in the area. No small number of patrons say it’s the best Italian restaurant of them all.

Crab cand corn bisque in a bread bowl.

Crab cand corn bisque in a bread bowl.

I like showing up this time of year because Vincent makes crawfish bisque. The kind with the dark roux and the stuffed heads. He makes it himself, often after the restaurant closes for the night.

But other dishes loom on the menu. The most interesting is a newly-popular chicken dish, encrusted with bread crumbs and a lot of parmesan chese. Sounds strange but unaccountably wonderful.

I eat as much as I can, then Vinnie and I update the other, recall the old days, what’s wrong with things that have something wrong with them, and the like. I am captured at three tables who would like to shoot the breeze. Not only are most of the customers locals, but they’re regulars as well. And they love him.

Vincent’s. Metairie: 4411 Chastant St. 504-885-2984.

Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed in our restaurants. Restaurants are able to get a wider variety of seafood than you or I could find in supermarkets. On the other hand, certain excellent species are not legally available to the restaurants and other commercial outlets.

#21: Sea Bass

The term “sea bass” is probably too generic for a list like this. There are many kinds of sea bass, found all over the world. However, sea bass is not especially common on Louisiana menus and tables. And only two species are likely to show up here: striped bass and black bass, which are similar and excellent. When fish wholesalers are looking for Carolina speckled trout in the Louisiana off-season, sometimes they get sea bass, too.

two raw seabass with fresh thyme on a rustic wooden table

Striped bass is a great eating fish–a favorite in its home waters along the Atlantic coast. It’s a nice size for meatiness–two or three feet long. Its texture has the meatiness of a grouper, but a much better flavor and more fat. In addition to the clean, off-white fillets, you get cheeks of edible size from a whole sea bass. If you’re very lucky.

You can cook sea bass many ways. It’s a great one for roasting whole. Good sauteed with butter and a flour coating. Excellent broiled. I’ve never tried poaching it, but I’ll bet that’s wonderful with hollandaise.

If you ever run into striped or black bass, order it. It’s a rare treat. If you can’t find it, use redfish or black drum.

Unacceptable Alternative: The Patagonian toothfish–a denizen of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica–has become much better known in this country as “Chilean sea bass.” It is not a bass at all. While its flesh is appealing to the eye, it’s a tough fish that needs to be cooked longer than most fish to be edible. Worse, its populations have been depleted by at least ninety percent in just a couple of decades. I never order it.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Gulf Fish With Artichokes and Mushrooms

Fish with a garnish sauce of artichokes, capers, mushrooms, and butter appears on the menus of quite a few New Orleans restaurants. It’s delicious far beyond the promise of its description or even appearance. Trout, redfish, flounder, lemonfish, sheepshead, or striped bass also work for this recipe. So do really big oysters or shrimp.

The dish was invented at Brennan’s, where it still can be had (with fish or veal) under the name Kottwitz. The best practitioners, however, are the Impastato brothers Joe (at Impastato’s in Metairie) and Sal (Sal And Judy’s, in Lacombe). As an option, they will take the idea another step beyond and add crabmeat, shrimp or both. The resulting dish bears the name of the current Saints head coach.

  • 4 red snapper, trout, redfish, drum, or sheepshead fillets, 6-8 oz.
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, strained
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • Sauce:
  • 2 fresh artichoke bottoms (or canned)
  • 8 artichoke hearts, quartered
  • 1/3 cup dry sherry or white wine
  • 2 cups sliced white mushrooms
  • 2 Tbs. sliced green onions
  • 1/4 tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. chopped French shallots
  • 1 Tbs. smallest possible capers
  • 2 Tbs. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
Fish with mushrooms  and artichokes with sherry sauce.

Fish with mushrooms and artichokes with sherry sauce.

1. If using fresh artichoke bottoms for the sauce, poach until soft in water with a little lemon juice and 1 Tbs. salt. Cut the artichokes into eighths and set aside.

2. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the fish fillets. Stir the salt and pepper into the flour with a fork, and dredge the fillets in the seasoned flour. Shake off the excess flour, dip the fillets in the beaten eggs, and dredge through the flour again. Knock off the excess flour.

2. Heat the 4 Tbs. butter over medium-high heat in a large, heavy skillet and sauté until the fish is cooked–about three minutes per side. Remove the fish and keep warm.

4. To make the sauce, add the white wine to the pan in which you sautéed the fish, and whisk to dissolve the pan juices. Bring to a boil until the wine is reduced by two-thirds. Lower the heat to medium and add all the remaining sauce ingredients except the butter. Cook until the mushrooms no longer break when flexed.

5. Lower the heat to almost off, and add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, agitating the pan until the butter has blended in completely.

6. Place the fish on serving plates and top with the sauce.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare March 20, 2017

Days Until. . .
Easter —<20>
French Quarter Festival–16
Jazz Festival–36
Looking Up

Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. At five forty-five this afternoon New Orleans time, the tilt of the earth’s axis with relation to the sun is such that both northern and southern hemispheres receive the same illumination. The days are already a little longer than the nights, because of the refraction of the atmosphere. The days continue to lengthen for another 92 days. We are certainly having spring weather, with temperatures in the eighties not uncommon.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Salt Lick, population 350, is in northeast Kentucky, fifty-four miles east of Lexington. It’s in a valley formed by Salt Lick Creek, which flows into the much larger Licking Creek just north of town. All these references to licking owe to outcroppings of salt all over the area. These drew wildlife to the area in enough numbers to attract people who wanted to hunt them. A local story has it that once 400 buffalo came in to get their minimum daily requirement of salt. Settlers were there by 1774, and when the railroad came though in 1890 it raised the population to its all-time high of 800. Nearby Cave Run lake, created by a dam on Licking Creek built in the 1970s, made the vicinity prime recreation and fishing territory. Salt Lick has several restaurants, including the Salt Lick Restaurant, in the middle of town.

Annals Of Criticism

Today is the birthday, in 43 BC, of the Roman author Publius Ovidus Naso, better known as Ovid. Among his most famous quoted words are these, which I always include in my books of restaurant criticism, and believe to be true:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. John of Parma, the patron saint of that town from which the great dry-cured prosciutto hamsand the original Parmigiano cheese come.

Edible Dictionary

mouclade, French, n.–Steamed mussels served with a sauce richer than the standard combination of the mussels juices, wine, and herbs. The sauce at the bottom of the bowl starts with cream, but also has a bit of egg whipped into it. Garlic, shallots, and lemon juice remain as ingredients, but the sauce is further enhanced by a combination of aromatic spices and red pepper. It’s more often served as an appetizer than as an entree, because a little of the sauce goes a long way.

Food Calendar

It’s Ravioli Day. A raviolo (singular–but who ever eats just one?) is made by inserting dollops of some flavorful stuffing between two sheets of pasta, pressing the sheets together until they adhere, and then cooking them. They come in all sizes and are made with all stuffings. The truth about ravioli was revealed to me when I was a child: the kind you don’t want are beef ravioli, which are almost inevitably nasty.

The standard ravioli these days are stuffed with cheese, usually a mixture of ricotta and Parmigiano. Spinach and mushrooms are other common stuffings, usually with a bit of cheese added to the mix. Some clever chefs, in their efforts to deconstruct food, have taken to casting cooked pasta sheets randomly in a bowl with the stuffing ingredients interspersed but not sealed. The first time I saw this I thought it was amusing, but it’s been done too many times now. Besides, that assembly has another name: lasagna.

Food Namesakes

Fats Waller recorded the song All That Meat And No Potatoes today in 1941. Here’s a web site that tracks other songs that make references to spuds. . . Hendrik de Fish, a Belgian sociologist, was born today in 1885. . . Ferdinand Foch, the French hero of World War I, and the man for whom oysters Foch at Antoine’s are named, died today in 1929.

Words To Eat By

“Serenely full the epicure may say, Fate cannot harm me. I have dined today.”–Sydney Smith.

Words To Drink By

“O merry swains, who quaff the nut-brown ale,
And sing enamour’d of the nut-brown maid.”
–James Beattie, The Minstrel (1771).

FoodFunniesSquare

How Boys Get Roped Into Cooking.

And why they’re not very good at it in the beginning.

Click here for the cartoon.