Cold Eats For Hot Days
Not that you need reminding but the last few weeks have been the hottest of the season, with plenty more where that came from.
It seems obvious that eating cold food will make you feel cooler than eating hot food will. But that wisdom seems to be lost on most Orleanians. I don’t follow the notion much myself, and I’m supposed to know about these things.
During the past couple of weeks, I gave the practice of eating cold foods a trial, and surveyed my radio listeners on the subject. I ate only cold lunches all week long. And–duh!–it works! Not only does it cool the body, but since cold dishes tend to be lower in fat and otherwise lighter than hot dishes, your digestive system doesn’t have to power up as much to work through it all.
Easing our way is the fact that we have much more cold food of excellent quality around town these days than we once did. Here is a list of the ten best sources of cold seafood dishes you’ll find around town, listed on order of pleasure in eating them.
1. Oysters on the half shell. This greatest of local seafoods has the reputation of being inedible in the summer. One of the best local oyster bars–Casamento’s–even closes June through August because of this prejudice. But it’s nonsense. Oysters in good restaurants are all kept under refrigeration from the time they emerge from the water till the time you eat them. The spawning cycle, which gives oysters a funny texture (although this does not seem to affect their taste), took place in early June this year. The oysters now are meaty, salty, and delicious.
But how delicious are we talling about here? The great oyster bars–in no particular order, to calm down the inevitable controversy as to whose oyster are the best. are at Drago’s, Felix’s, the Acme, the Bourbon House, Trenasse, the Red Fish Grill, and Pascal’s Manale, Frankie & Johnny’s, Mr. Ed’s Oysters Bar & Fish House. . . and there are many more candidates.
2. Shrimp remoulade and crabmeat ravigote. These two dishes are old favorites in traditional Creole restaurants. The two are served on a single plate as a generous appetizer or as a cold entree. Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, and Antoine’s set the standard. Ruth’s Chris’s crabtini and their remoulade are both at the top of the heap.
3. Sushi. As I write this, my database shows that we have 79 restaurants around New Orleans that serve sushi. Although a few weak sushi bars exist (beware the sushi buffets), most are very good, especially if you’ve become a recognized regular. The best serve their creations authentically cool, not ice-cold. The rice should be room temperature, or a little warm. Or you can ditch the rice altogether and have sashimi, which is nothing but fish.
Every sushi addict has a different best-bar list, a subject for instant argument. Braving that, here’s mine, in no particular order: Shogun, Little Tokyo (both in Metairie and Mandeville), Wasabi, Mikimoto, Megumi, Rock n’ Saki, Kyoto, and the several Sake Cafes.
4. Cold soups. Unfortunately, only two of these make regular appearances, and even they are rare. The better of the two is vichyssoise, even though this cold soup of potato and leeks can be on the rich side. Antoine’s still often serves its version on a bed of ice. Other good ones are at Cafe Degas, Crepe Nanou, and occasionally at the Upperline.
Gazpacho is harder to find. The definitive versions are at Lola’s, Santa Fe, and Taquerina Corona. Now and then, we find cold soups made of gazpacho highlights and guacamole. .
5. Boiled crabs. We are at the peak of the season for crabs right now. Crabs have been a little harder to find this year than usual, and finding a restaurant with them is a further challenge. The best in my recent experience are at Frankie & Johnny’s, Bourbon House, Castnet Seafood, the Galley on Metairie Road, Mandeville Seafood, Bobby’s Seafood in River Ridge, and. . . well, boiled seafood places are well scattered.
6. Sorbet. The coldest dishes we ever eat in restaurants are frozen desserts. In recent years many places have begun serving sorbets in addition to ice cream. A true sorbet is an ice, usually made with fruit, but without dairy products. The finest example of sorbet is Brocato’s lemon ice. We’re seeing many other flavors from many other sources. Many restaurants–Commander’s, Brigtsen’s, Emeril’s, Nola, to name a few–make their own.
7. Seafood salads. A well-made seafood salad is not only cooling but fresh, light, and crisp–three things we all like when it’s blazing. Almost every restaurant has one these days. The most traditional are the Godchaux salad at Galatoire’s and the similar seafood salad at Christian’s, both loaded with shrimp and crabmeat in a tossed green.
8. New-style seafood salads . A great example is the Asian tuna salad at Zea: a thatch of tuna sticks encrusted with sesame, left rare in the center, leaning against greens, sprouts and cold noodles. Dakota makes something similar with alarmingly red tuna. The Crescent City Brewhouse recently rolled out a new Vietnamese-style salad of crabmeat, shrimp, and piquant greens, and that’s as tasty as it is original.
9. Iced seafood trays. I don’t know where this started–I don’t think it was here–but the idea of serving assortments of cold seafood on a bed of ice for the whole table is catching on. It is especially common in high-end steak houses, which often also have trays of Alaskan crab, cold prawns, lobster, and seafood salads.
10. Cold buffets. The best part of any buffet is the cold food: oysters, boiled shrimp, pates, salads, fresh fruit, cold meats and cheeses, and unexpected surprises. Problem: not many buffets are out there.
I’m sure there are more restaurants that belong in the survey above. Let me know if you know of any that ought to be here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A crawfish boil is THE great casual food party in South Louisiana, especially in the Cajun country. It’s also a celebration of springtime, when the crawfish are available in enough numbers and at a low enough price to buy them live by the sack. April and May are the peak of the crawfish season.
It’s brave of me to include a crawfish boil recipe here. Anybody likely to have crawfish available is also likely to have his own special way of boiling them, and will disdain any other. The main reason I boil crawfish is to make crawfish bisque or etouffee later. It is necessary to boil many more than I will need, because we eat the majority of them while peeling them.
The peeling process goes like this. You break the crawfish where the thorax meets the tail. After removing a segment or two of the tail’s carapace, you can squeeze the meat out by applying pressure just above the tail fin. There is also some good crawfish fat inside the head, which you need to suck out–but that is not for beginners.
One more subtlety. It’s traditional to boil potatoes, corn, heads of garlic, and other things in the pot with the crawfish, and eat them as side dishes. It sounds better than it is, because everything winds up tasting the same. I say (knowing full well I am pronouncing heresy) to cook at least the corn separately.
- 20 pounds live crawfish
- 8 large lemons, quartered
- 6 yellow onions, quartered
- 1 bunch celery, with leaves, cut into eighths
- 1 bunch parsley
- 4-6 bay leaves
- 1 bunch green onions, cut up
- 1 bulb of garlic, cut in half
- 4 bags crab boil or 1/3 cup liquid crab boil
- 1 1/2 cups salt
- 1 Tbs. cayenne
- 3 lbs. whole new potatoes
1. Fill a bucket or your kitchen sink with two or three gallons of cold water with about a half-cup of salt dissolved in it. Dump the crawfish in; the salted water will purge them. Rinse with two or three changes of water until the water is only slightly dirty. Some cooks say that has no effect on anything, but it seems to me worth doing.
2. Bring a large stockpot with five gallons of water to a boil. Add all the other ingredients except the crawfish and potatoes and return to a boil. Let it cook for fifteen minutes.
3. Add the crawfish and the potatoes. Return to a boil, making sure there’s enough water to completely cover the crawfish.
4. After eight minutes, remove the biggest crawfish you see and open it up to make sure the tail meat is firm and opaque. If not, give it another couple of minutes of boiling, but no more than that. If the crawfish are indeed done, turn off the heat and let the crawfish steep for 20-30 minutes. Remove the potatoes when they’re tender. Take the crawfish out when they’ve absorbed the seasonings to the degree you like.
5. At this point, we commence the peeling and eating process which, if you haven’t learned it, you’re better off picking up the technique from a friend than reading about it. The potatoes are a side dish. Discard everything else. Rinse, freeze, and save the crawfish shells for making bisque or etouffee or sauces.
Serves eight normal eaters or two serious crawfish fanatics.
June 27, 2017
Fourth Of July
Annals Of Silverware
Around this day in 1630, John Winthrop, the first colonial governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, began using at his dinner table what may have been the only fork in the colonies. He encouraged its use. As omnipresent as the fork is now, it was only then coming into widespread use in Europe.
Food Through History
Today is the birthday (1835, London) of Fred Harvey, who more than any other one man brought civilization to the Wild West. He emigrated to America and worked in restaurants in New York, New Orleans and elsewhere. Railroads were just beginning to carry passengers long distances, and Harvey saw an opportunity. Building hotels and restaurants along the tracks, he aligned his new operation with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. The railroad was completing its line from Chicago to Los Angeles in the 1880s, and Harvey kept right up with it. He hired young women from all over America to move West as waitresses. The wholesome Harvey Girls found many single men looking for wives. They married and settled, bringing real community to Western towns. Fred Harvey’s motto was “Maintenance of Standards, Regardless of Cost.” His restaurants were the best in the West. It lasted until the end of widespread train travel. Only a little of the Harvey empire remains, most notably the grand El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon
Annals Of Food Writing
The author of the first Creole cookbook was born on this date in 1850. Lafcadio Hearn wrote La Cuisine Creole in 1885. Its subtitle was “A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine.” The recipes would seem odd to us now, but their style is very recognizable as New Orleans food. The book establishes that Creole cooking was all-encompassing and indeed famous way back then, long before the same could be said of other regional American cuisines.
Today is National Indian Pudding Day. Indian pudding is made with cornmeal, eggs, and molasses. It’s also National Orange Blossom Day. An ingredient important in both Southern bars and Middle Eastern bakeries comes from those flowers. Orange flower water is a fascinating and under-utilized ingredient. The Ramos gin fizz cannot be made with out it. I forgot to mention it throughout the month, but June is National Papaya Month. I have not had a papaya lately, but I will. I think it’s one of the most delicious fruits in the world, when you catch it at optimum ripeness–but that’s not easy.
Eaton Creek is a usually-dry wash that runs west for five miles through eastern Oklahoma. It comes out of the Sans Bois Mountains, an adjunct of the Ouachita Mountains. Not only are there not many trees, but not much water, either. Eaton Creek flows into the Mountain Fork, a wild river much liked by canoers and fishermen. That water goes into the Sans Bois Creek, then the Arkansas River and the Mississippi en route to New Orleans. The nearest restaurant to Eaton Creek is Kinta Kafe, seven miles west in the tiny town of Kinta.This is another in a series of Gourmet Gazetteer places whose names begin with “Eat.”
lobster mushroom, n.–A prized wild mushroom, named for its color’s resemblance to that of a boiled lobster. The mushroom is brilliant orange to red, and stands out in the wild or in a dish. It is unique in being two mushrooms in one. The main edible part is a mushroom in the lactarius and russula families. The color comes from a tiny parasitical mushroom that covers the surface of the bigger fungus. The only lobster aspect is the hue; they taste like mushrooms, although very good ones.
Deft Dining Rule #241
Ask whether tomato paste is in the marinara sauce at every Italian restaurant. (Correct answer: no.)
Eating Across America
On this day in 1985, US Route 66–the road made famous by two songs and a television series, along with many guidebooks–was scratched off the list of certified highways and ceased to exist. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, and carried so much traffic that its route had long since been paralleled by Interstate highways. One of the many books I lost in the flood was a dining guide to Route 66, written in the 1930s. Even now, a few of the diners and cafes along the old route remain open.
Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who produced the James Bond films, died in 1996 on this date. The vegetable that bears his name was developed by an ancestor. Broccoli is a hybridized cauliflower, crossed with raab. . . Actor Jack Lemmon died on this date in 2001. . . Blues immortal Robert Johnson recorded a song called Come On In My Kitchen on this date in 1937, along with nine other songs that would become classics of the genre.
Words To Eat By
“Don’t cut the ham too thin.”–Fred Harvey, born today in 1835. These were his last words to his son when he died in 1901. It’s bad advice. For a sandwich, anyway, you can’t cut the ham thin enough.
Words To Drink By
This bottle’s the sun of our table,
His beams are rosy wine;
We planets that are not able
Without his help to shine.
–Richard Brinsley Sheridan.