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 have emerged. 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 25, 2017
Fourth Of July 9
Today in 1987, President Ronald Reagan declared June 25 National Farm-Raised Catfish Day. Farm-raised catfish has the advantage of being available all the time at a consistent price. Restaurants love that, because wild-caught fish are so unpredictable. It’s pretty good, but the trend in recent years has been to allow the catfish to grow bigger and bigger, which for catfish is not an improvement. Also, some fish farms have environmental issues. Wild-caught fish from good sources is better. But rolled in corn meal, fried till golden, splashed with hot sauce. . . it’s a treat. Makes a good poor boy sandwich, too.
Rooster Rock, Oregon is twenty-four miles east of downtown Portland, hard on the southern banks of the Columbia River, which forms a rocky gorge through the mountains. The rock is so well known that a state park was set aside around it. The rock spire’s distinctive shape was noted by Lewis and Clark, as well as by the Native Americans. Its resemblance to something familiar and unmistakable gives it its name in all languages. “Rooster Rock” is a sanitized version; if you think of a synonym for rooster, you have it. And then you’ll register no surprise that a nude beach is nearby. Maybe this isn’t so delicious after all. Let’s get to a restaurant. The nearest one is the Springtime Tavern, four miles west on the Columbia River Road.
carpaccio, Italian, n.–Thin slices of raw beef, garnished with olive oil and thin shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and served cold as an appetizer. The beef is so thin that it’s translucent, and sometimes almost seems as if it’s been painted onto the plate. The thinness can be achieved either by pounding or by freezing it and then slicing. It was created at Harry’s American Bar in Venice, where owner Harry Cipriani named it for the Venetian painter of the 1400s, Vittore Carpaccio. It first became popular in this country in the 1970s. Chefs have taken to making carpaccio with other meats and even some fish notably tuna and salmon. Some chefs sear the exterior of the beef, so that a thin crust lines the edges.
Annals Of Food Writing
Late food adventurer Anthony Bourdain was born today in 1956. He grew up in a bourgeois New York family and was well educated. But he went his own way, working years as a chef. With that experience and a gift for colorful expression, he began writing. His breakthrough book was Kitchen Confidential, published in 2000. In it he showed a side of the cooking profession few people (other than those engaged in it) realized. He went on to write other books about the restaurant biz, along with a few crime mysteries. He became a big star when his No Reservations television show on The Travel Channel became a phenomenon. Bourdain became famous for his willingness to try almost anything in both the culinary and other sides of the worlds he visited. He’s genuinely entertaining, seeing facets of the world most people miss and commenting with offbeat humor about all of it.
World Food Records
The world’s largest lollipop was certified on June 25, 2002. it weighed 4,031 pounds (with stick), measured 18.9 inches thick and was more than 15 feet tall with stick (about as tall as a giraffe). Can you guess the flavor of the world’s largest lollipop? That’s right.
Deft Dining Rule #110:
A restaurant offering “lamb lollipops” is best advised to limit them to the small plates section of the menu. And they had better include a thick, very good sauce.
The discovery of a previously unknown mammal called the saola was announced today in 1994. Also known as the Vu Quang ox, it lives along the border between Vietnam and Laos. An ungulate that somewhat resembles cattle, it was classified in its own genus. It weighs about 200 pounds and has sharp horns. There are only a few hundred of them in existence, living in steep mountains covered with jungle. However, the natives have killed and eaten them, and say it tastes a lot like bo.
Football player Bob Griese retired from the game today in 1980. . . Pro basketballer Dell Curry (he used to play for the Hornets) tipped off today in 1964. . . Harold Roe Bartle, former mayor of Kansas City, was born today in 1901.
Words To Eat By
“Fettuccine Alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults.”–Mitch Hedberg, American comedian.
Words To Drink By
“To your good health, old friend,
May you live for a thousand years,
And I be there to count them.
—Robert Smith Surtees, British writer of the middle 1800s.