New Orleans CVB
By Toby Saltzman
When most people think of New Orleans, they think of great jazz, great food and lettin’ the good times roll in the Big Easy, the city with soul that marches to its own beat. N’Awlins – as the locals say – lured the cultural cognoscenti long before its first Jazz Fest featured blues luminaries Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson. Back then, hearty dishes like jambalaya, alligator pie, crawfish étouffée and plump po-boys were all the rage.
New Orleans culinary cachet has come a long way since then. From Paul Prudhomme, who introduced spicy dishes at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen – to protégés like Frank Brigtsen, whose Brigsten’s Restaurant is renowned for presenting traditional Creole-Acadian cuisine in delectable style – to Emeril Legasse who flaunted Louisiana flavours on America’s TV screens, the city’s current dining scene zings with cosmopolitan vitality.
Credit the evolution of New Orleans cuisine to chefs from around the world who immigrated over the last few decades, says Ralph Brennan. Their “new” spices added exotic touches to the seasoned recipes that had evolved over a couple of centuries from the original melting pot of immigrants: the French and Spanish, the Canadians who became Cajuns, the African slaves, and those who drifted in after the 1800s including Italians, Germans and Irish.
Ralph’s On The Park
Arguably one of the world’s authorities on Louisiana cuisine, the mercurial Brennan – an accountant-turned-chef – boasts an impressive coterie of local eateries, including the Red Fish Grill in the French Quarter, Ralph’s on the Park in mid-city, Café B, and Café Noma within the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Ralph Brennan, 61, sees New Orleans’ culinary renaissance spanning beyond the French Quarter to quaint neighbourhoods: the historic and architecturally significant Garden District; the Lakeview area which is regenerating with young families after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina; and the once derelict Warehouse and Waterfront areas that are revitalizing into chic pockets of new businesses, shops and eateries. Everywhere, innovative chefs are fueling the city’s culinary creativity by playing around with fresh, local ingredients. Although Brennan admits that even food aficionados will devour hot jambalaya shrimp or red beans and rice when they’re partying along Mardi Gras’ chilly parade route – albeit adding to their warmth with doses of Bourbon – after the festivities are long gone most look for lighter dishes with bold, intense flavours.
With some 1,300 restaurants, New Orleans offers a cornucopia of choice places to taste authentically modern flavours. Chef Phillip Lopez presents the cutting edge of molecular cuisine, dazzling the clientele at Root. Chef Susan Spicer draws raves for her globally influenced menu at MONDO. At Cochon Restaurant and butcher shop, Chef Donald Link has revived the penchant for traditional Southern Cajun pork and seafood pulled fresh from the Gulf. Adventurous eaters will often find mouthwatering flavours in small cafés serving Viet-Cajun food, or intimate Italian trattorias whose counters are laden with muffuletta sandwiches stuffed with cold cuts and rich cannolis oozing cream. For fine dining, Ralph’s on the Park is noted for oysters drizzled with olive oil and breadcrumbs, tuna tartare and entrées with twists of Asian flavour such as the popular roasted Redfish served with a miso glaze and fragrant ginger-lemongrass broth.
New Orleans CVB
Everyone has a passion for food in New Orleans, says Brennan. “At breakfast we think of lunch. At lunch we think of dinner. At dinner, we think about breakfast. It’s part of our lifestyle. To eat is to laissez les bon temps rouler…let the good times roll.”
Where To Eat
• At Mondo, Chef Susan Spicer’s lively dishes come at moderate prices. Her variety-filled menu offers smoked chicken breast with Creole mustard jus; shrimp and okra; and steak and frites. www.mondoneworleans.com
• Chef Phillip Lopez presents a modern approach to American classics at Root. His signature dishes include foie gras served three ways; home-made charcuterie and sausages; Louisiana pickled shrimps; and whole roasted market fish. rootnola.com
• Chef Donald Link’s traditional delights at Cochon include smoked ham hocks with baked peanuts and charred radishes; rabbit and dumplings; and pork and black-eyed-pea gumbo. www.cochonrestaurant.com
• At the sumptuous Ralph’s on the Park, Chef Chip Flanagan’s globally inspired entrées include Japanese Wagyu beef, lobster Thermidor with glazed rib eye filet, and Redfish that can be grilled or roasted. www.ralphsonthepark.com
• Traditional Creole-Acadian cuisine is the hallmark of the elegant Brigtsen’s Restaurant. Choices include roast duck with cornbread dressing and cherry sauce; and blackened tuna with smoked corn sauce. The famed seafood platter includes grilled drum fish with pistachio-lime sauce. www.brigtsens.com
• There’s a tantalizing mix of French and Asian flavours at Chef Diana Chauvin’s La Thai restaurant. Specialties include oysters and soft-shell crabs, Prince Edward Island mussels and panko-crusted sea bass with coconut curry and jasmine rice. www.lathaiuptown.com
• Mingle with beautiful people over lunch or cocktails at Zoe Restaurant and Wine Bar at the stunning new W New Orleans Hotel. Chef Roberto Bustillo’s delicious bites include Kobe beef sliders, macaroni and cheese with Louisiana lump crab, and crawfish quesadillas with caramelized onions. www.zoeneworleans.com
• Legendary on the American culinary scene, the Grill Room at the Windsor Court fuses continental European cuisine with New Orleans style. For the ultimate degustation experience, try Chef Kristin Butterworth’s seasonal tasting menu. Each dish is paired with wines from the hotel’s excellent cellar. For current offerings visit www.grillroomneworleans.com
New Orleans CVB/Chris Granger
Learn The Art Of Cajun Cooking
Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook offers traditional and modern recipes plus how-to tips for preparing fish and seafood. Here’s one of his signature recipes. www.ralphbrennancookbook.com
Grilled Redfish and Crabmeat with Lemon-Butter Sauce
Makes 6 servings
Fish laden with crabmeat and sauced with lemon and butter – it’s a classic New Orleans dish that tastes every bit as good as it sounds. The combination is especially elegant and luxurious if the crab atop the fish is in jumbo lumps. These may be hard to find, as well as expensive – they cost twice to three times more than other crabmeat – but their sumptuous flavour can be worth the time and money.
The fish’s very flattering sauce is a beurre blanc zapped with lemon. Hickory chips are suggested here for their sweetness, although mesquite and other woods suitable for grilling can be substituted. Soaking the hickory will increase the fish’s smoky flavour.
Speckled trout and red snapper are especially good pinch-hitters for redfish.
salad oil (not olive oil) for brushing on the grill rack and fish fillets
¼ cup good-quality dry white wine, divided, plus a few tablespoons of the wine if grilling the fillets in batches
6 skinless redfish fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each, neatly trimmed, with the “belly” removed if it is still attached
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked through
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
warm French bread, for the table
Clean the grill rack with a wire brush and preheat it until it is hot. Then add wet or dry hickory or other wood chips. Brush the rack with a thick wad of paper towels saturated in salad oil, holding the paper towels with long-handled tongs so you don’t burn yourself.
While the grill is preheating, prepare the lemon butter sauce and keep it warm as directed in the sauce recipe.
Place the fillets on a work surface. Brush both sides with salad oil, and season each fillet evenly on both sides with Creole seasoning, using 1/2 teaspoon of the seasoning on each side of each fillet.
Once the grill is ready, place the fillets directly on it and cook until they are done, about 2.5 to 4 minutes per side. The cooking time will vary according to the heat of the grill and the thickness of the fillets. (Watch closely so the fish does not overcook.) Use a broad, large and sturdy spatula to turn over the fillets at least once while cooking.
When you think the fish is approaching the level of doneness you’re looking for, briefly insert the tip of a knife into the thickest part of the fillet. Then lay the tip of the blade flat against the inside of your wrist. If the tip feels hot against your skin the fish should be done.
If cooking the fillets in batches, transfer them to a heat-proof platter placed in a warm spot, and drizzle the fillets with white wine to keep them moist while grilling the remaining fish.
While the fillets are grilling, sauté the crabmeat.
In a heavy 12-inch sauté pan, melt butter over medium-high heat until hot, about three minutes. Add 1/4 cup wine and heat for 30 seconds. Add the crabmeat and season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
Cook until the crabmeat is just warmed through, about two minutes, lightly tossing so the lumps of crabmeat stay intact. Serve immediately.
Serving Suggestion: Arrange a fish fillet on each heated dinner plate. Top each with a portion of the crabmeat, and spoon 3 tablespoons of the sauce over it.
Lemon Butter Sauce
1 1/2 cups good-quality dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced or very finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon apple-cider vinegar
1 teaspoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon packed, minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons heavy cream
7/8 pound (3½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into about 20 pats
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
In a heavy, non-reactive, 3-quart saucepan, combine the wine, lemon juice and zest, vinegar, shallots, garlic and thyme. Cook over medium-high heat until the liquid in the mixture reduces to 1 to 2 tablespoons, about five minutes.
Add the cream and cook until the liquid in the pan reduces to 1 to 2 tablespoons, about 4 minutes. (The sauce may be prepared to this point up to 45 minutes ahead and left at room temperature. Reheat the cream mixture briefly over medium heat, whisking constantly, before proceeding to Step 3.)
Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook as you add 2 pats of butter at a time, whisking constantly, until all the butter is added and incorporated into the sauce; each addition of butter should be almost completely melted in before adding more. This will take roughly 10 to 15 minutes total. Remove from heat.
Whisk in the kosher salt and pepper.
If serving the sauce immediately, strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a small saucepan. If not serving promptly, strain the sauce into the top of a double boiler and serve as soon as possible and definitely within one hour, keeping the sauce warm, uncovered, over hot (not simmering) water.