Saturday, March 10, 2018. A three-hour radio show at noon fills most of my day. I start with breakfast at Mattina Bella. The Marys are barely awake, and not interested in joining me. So I shoot the breeze with owner Vincent Riccobono (not the same one who owns the Peppermill in Metairie, but a cousin) and with the guys sitting to my left and right at the counter. From then on I drive up and down Causeway Boulevard, trying to find bookstore managers so I can get the new edition of Tom Fitzmorris’s New Orleans Food connected with some autographing.
As usual for WWL AM–our flamethrower frequency–the radio show brings in a lot of callers, which makes my job incomparably easier than when I don’t attract many callers. We cover a great deal of subject matter today, of which the most unusual is about steakhouses. I would expect that subject would have gone into limbo until Lent is over, but no: the callers are rambling though all the beefy possibilities.
After the show ends, I take a nap in advance of Mary Ann’s idea for dinner. She had been divided between Jacmel Inn in Hammond and the catfish powerhouse that is Middendorf’s at Manchac. Middendorf’s has been on her mind for a few weeks, because she keeps bringing it up.
Middendorf’s was fairly busy, but the heavy rain that’s due to appear not long from now is keeping most of the big crowds from filling all the dining rooms. We tried to sneak in, but there’s no chance of that: owner Horst Pfeifer had his eye on us since the moment we arrived.
I had my mind on the barbecue oysters. The waitress asked whether I knew what this was. Her reasoning is that most diners would assume that these are the ubiquitous char-grilled oysters like the ones invented at Drago’s. They are nothing like those, but a baked-on-the-half-shell invention going back in time a long way. The sauce is a thick, dark reddish brown, which comes from red wine. Other herbs and a good bit of oyster liquor are also in there. It is one of the best baked oyster recipes I’ve ever tasted, and such things are among my favorite restaurant dishes.
MA gets the inevitable seafood platter, with its famous thin-cut fried catfish, fried oysters and shrimp, stuffed crab, and fries. There is far too much of it for her, but solving such dilemmas is one of the tasks assigned to men. Dogs also handle such surplus foods, which women cannot seem to just dispose of for fear that it might add to their avoirdupois. I assure MA that she is safe in this regard.
Between the platter and the oysters, I have an Italian salad. Pretty basic, with olives ad capers and some nice greens. Horst made a big difference in Middendorf’s over the years, particularly when it comes to items like this. It used to be just iceberg, and now it’s worth ordering on its own.
Middendorf’s. River Parishes: Exit 15 off I-55, Manchac. 985-386-6666.
Ragout Of Mushrooms With Grits
This is a spectacular side dish for almost any meat, but it’s especially fine with beef. The ragout of mushrooms is much more intensely flavored than the same mushrooms sautéed in butter would be. And now that we can find coarse-ground grits that stand up to cooking, we’re getting used to using it as a side dish at dinner. This comes out fine with standard white mushrooms, but it’s better to mix in some exotic or even wild species if you can find them.
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cup grits, preferably Anson Mills stone-ground white grits
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 1 stick butter
- 6 Tbs. flour
- 2 Tbs. chopped onions
- 1/2 square (1/2 oz.) Baker’s dark chocolate
- 3/4 cup half-and-half
- 1/2 cup warm, strong beef stock or broth
- 1/2 cup port, Madeira, or Marsala wine
- 16 oz. assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced into pieces the size of the tip of your little finger
- 1/4 tsp. marjoram
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 dashes Tabasco chilpotle pepper sauce
1. Make the grits first by bringing the half-and-half and the salt to a light boil. Stir in the grits and lower the heat to the lowest temperature. Cook, stirring now and then, until a furrow you make with a spoon drawn across the top surface remains for a few seconds. Remove from the heat. Let the butter melt on top of the hot grits, and tilt the pan around to coat the top surface with butter (don’t stir it in). Keep the grits warm, covered, in an oven at the lowest heat setting.
2. For the ragout, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the flour. Make a light brown roux, stirring constantly. When the mixture reaches the color of a brown paper bag, add the onions and the chocolate, and remove from the heat. Continue to stir until the chocolate disappears.
3. Whisk in the half and half until the mixture takes on the texture of mashed potatoes. Whisk in the beef stock and the wine until well blended. Add the remaining ingredients and lower the heat to the lowest temperature. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every now and then , until the mixture is very thick and the mushrooms are very soft. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Stir the butter into the grits and spoon onto the plate. Surround or top the grits (at your discretion) with the mushroom ragout. Serve with steak, roast beef, roast pork, or lamb leg.
Serves six to eight.
March 13, 2017
Days Until. . .
St. Patrick’s Day–March 17
St. Joseph’s Day–19
Today is National Squab Day. Of all the birds we commonly eat in this part of the world, squab is the most delectable. A squab is a baby pigeon. It’s a farm-raised bird, so you need not be concerned that it came from underneath a bridge. It hasn’t flown yet, but it was about to undertake that exercise when it was harvested. A prime squab is bigger than an adult pigeon, because its parents feed it constantly, and it does very little other than eat. It gets fat, and that’s why it tastes so good.
The meat of squab is red, and when cooked medium-rare (the perfect temperature) it can fool the eater into thinking he’s eating some kind of light beef or veal. The birds are bigger than quails but smaller than Cornish hens, with a higher percentage of breast meat than in most others.
At one time, quite a few restaurants around town served squab. Antoine’s had a classic dish called pigeonneau sauce Paradis that had a sweet-savory sauce with grapes. It’s still there, but they make it with chicken. Mosca’s used to roast squabs with rosemary and garlic. The last restaurant to offer it regularly was Peristyle. If you see it anywhere, order it. It’s not particularly expensive, and it’s a delicacy among poultry.
Coolwater Mountain, Creek, and Lake are all in the middle of the Clearwater National Forest, at the base of the Idaho Panhandle. They’re just over 100 miles west of Missoula, Montana, the nearest town of any size. This is snowy, forested, mountainous, and pristine land with great scenery for hikers. Coolwater Mountain (part of the Coolwater Ridge) tops out at 6929 feet. The lake is 900 feet down its north slope. Coolwater Creek flows down the north side of the ridge eight miles to the Lochsa River, a tributary of the Clearwater River. All these references to cool, clear water (somebody play the Sons of the Pioneers!) are accurate, and describe the flood of snowmelt water that will soon begin. The nearest restaurant is the Syringa Cafe, fourteen miles west on US 12 from the end of Coolwater Creek.
Food On Broadway
A play called The Squab Farm opened on this date in 1918, at the Bijou Theater in New York. It is most celebrated as the debut of Tallulah Bankhead, but it was a failure, closing after only a month. Also in it was Julia Bruns, who was reputed to be the most beautiful girl in the world. I can’t find any information on the plot of the play, but it was written by Fanny and Frederic Hatton. Frederic “Fritz” Hatton is the long-time auctioneer at the fabulous Napa Wine Auction every year, but he’s too young to be the same guy. Isn’t this the most boring piece you’ve ever read in this department?
cherry bounce, n.–Anywhere cherries grow, people turn them into wine or liquor. In the South, cherries are small and extremely tart. That’s the perfect kind for making cherry bounce, which doesn’t really work well wit cherries from the store. Different makers of this use different liquors for the marinade, but the most common is vodka. It has no flavor of its own, and lets the subtle cherry taste come through.
Deft Dining Rule #441:
To avoid looking stupid, make sure the bird you’re ordering has white meat before you ask why there’s no white meat in your portion. Duck, squab, and quail do not.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Most bone-in birds take twice as long to cook as those that have had the bones removed. (This is because deboned birds have more exposed surface area.)
Beverages Through History
Today in 1764 was the birthday of Charles, the second Earl of Grey. He is the man for whom Earl Grey tea is named. That’s a blend of black teas flavored with the citrus-like bergamot.
Annals Of American Restaurants
Lorenzo Delmonico was born today in 1813. He took over the management of the restaurant his uncles opened in New York, and turned it in the first restaurant phenomenon in America. Delmonico here in New Orleans was named for the New York restaurant, although there was no direct connection. “Delmonico” was synonymous with “restaurant,” a new concept in those days.
Food In International Trade
On this day in 1989, all fruit imported into the United States from Chile was recalled, because one shipment of grapes was believed to have been poisoned with cyanide. That blew over quickly, however, and these days a tremendous amount of off-season (for us) fruit comes from Chile–notably blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and asparagus. A tremendous amount of this entered the country through the port of Gulfport, Mississippi, which may explain why so much of it wound up in New Orleans.
What did Orleanians do for fun before they had restaurants? They went to the theatre. The St. Charles Theater burned down on this date in 1842. New Orleans was the third-biggest city in America, and the St. Charles was the among the grandest theaters of its day. It boasted four thousand seats, forty-seven boxes, and a stage that was ninety feet wide and deep. It was on St. Charles between Gravier and Poydras, roughly where the Hotel Inter-Continental is now. The fire began in an adjacent coffin factory.
This is the feast day of St. Gerald of Mayo, an Irish abbot who lived in the 700s.
Lianne Tooth, an Olympic hockey player from Australian in 1996, got his first slap today in 1962. . . Pro golfer Andy Bean teed up his life today in 1952. . . Actor Fred Berry stepped onto life’s stage today in 1951. . . John “Home Run” Baker, a member of the Hall of Fame, took his first swing (at his mom) today in 1886. . . Television actress Gigi Rice came out steaming today in 1965. . . R&B singer Candi Staton was unwrapped today in 1940.
Words To Eat By
“She has never come any closer to life than the dinner table.”–Janet Flanner, long-time New Yorker Magazine France correspondent, writing about Elsa Maxwell. Today is Flanner’s birthday, in 1892.
Words To Drink By
“We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born.”–Carl Jung.
This Year’s Fruitcake Joke.
Click here for the cartoon.