I am no fan of oyster dressing. However, everybody asks me about it, so I messed around with a new version into which I added pecans to add some flavor and texture contrast. I must say I liked it, although not everyone was unanimous about this. (The dissenters felt that the standard oyster dressing is a sacrament that should not be changed.) Although you might want to stuff this into a bird, it’s better baked separately.
1 stick butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 green onions, tender green parts only, finely snipped
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/4 cup dry (white) vermouth (or white wine)
24 oysters, chopped (save the water)
10 inches of a stale poor boy French bread loaf, cut into cubes
10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter until it bubbles. Add the onion, green onion, thyme, oregano, and cayenne. Cook until the onions turn translucent.
2. Add the vermouth and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat a little and add the oysters. Poach for about a minute, or until the oysters curl at the edges. Lower the heat to the lowest setting.
3. Add the oyster water (up to 1/2 cup) and the French bread cubes. Stir to soak the bread cubes with liquid. If the oysters break up a bit as you do this, that’s okay. Let the mixture return to a simmer and hold there for about three minutes.
4. Add the parsley and the chopped pecans. Toss to evenly distribute them in the mixture. It should be fairly loose and wet; tighten it up to a stiff mixture with the bread crumbs, and transfer it to a baking dish.
5. Just before serving, bake, covered, in a 350-degree oven until warm all the way through. Then bake another few minutes uncovered to get a bit of a crust on top.
I cook my turkey in a big barbecue pit. It gets hotter than a smoker, but because I keep the turkey away from direct heat, it cooks slowly and absorbs a lot of smoky flavor. It comes out with a crisp skin with a beautiful orange-bronze color. It also smells wonderful, and retains more moisture than it would if it were cooked any other way.
I get the sugar cane that I use with the charcoal from a friend’s sugar plantation. It’s worth the trip upriver to St. James Parish for that. During the harvest (which takes place right before Thanksgiving most years), most growers will let you take as much of their scrap as you want. If you can’t get sugar cane, standard smoking woods like pecan, oak, hickory, or mesquite will do the job.
1 turkey, about 12-15 pounds
Salt and pepper
2 ribs celery, cut up
1 onion, cut up
1 orange, cut into eighths
1 lemon, cut into quarters
A shake of tarragon
A stem of fresh rosemary
1. Thaw the turkey if frozen. This takes at least four days, and should be done in the refrigerator. Put it into the pan you’ll roast it in to catch any leaks. After it thaws, remove that metal or plastic thing holding the legs together (a pair of pliers is essential, I find). Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity, and clip off the wing tips. (You can use these parts for making stock for the gravy.)
2. The day before, marinate the turkey in a brine. The standard proportion is one cup of salt to one gallon of water. Make enough of this to completely cover the turkey in an ice chest with an unopened (so as not to dilute the brine) bag of ice to keep everything cold. The brining process takes twelve to eighteen hours for a fifteen-pound turkey. Another method is to put the turkey and the brine solution inside a leakproof plastic bag, and put it into the refrigerator.
3. The morning of the day you want to serve the turkey, dump the brine and rinse the bird very well inside and out with cold water. Season it with salt (yes!) and pepper. Stuff the cavity with all the other ingredients, and tie the legs just tightly enough to keep everything inside.
4. Fire up the grill with charcoal and sugar cane or smoking wood, soaked in water and then shaken dry. Put the turkey into an aluminum pan with a loose tent of foil over the top. Place the turkeys as far as possible away from the fire, and hang a curtain of foil down to ward off direct heat. Any heat that gets to the turkey should arrive in smoke.
5. Close the cover. Add coals and cane at intervals to maintain a temperature of 200 to 250 degrees inside the pit. It takes six to seven hours for the internal temperature of the turkey to reach about 180 degrees. Use a meat thermometer for this; the useless pop-up plastic indicator will pop only when the turkey is overcooked.
6. Take the turkey out and put it on the table to rest and cool before carving. Although it may be tempting, don’t use the drippings for the gravy. They reduce so much during the long cooking time that they become impossibly salty.
Hotel restaurants go in and out of vogue, and this is not an especially good time for them. Tastes in restaurants these days are in the very casual direction, while the strengths of hotel eateries focuses on atmosphere and service. Too often, corporate hotel management has no good idea of what New Orleans eating is about. The greatest hotel successes have come from partnerships between hotel operators and well-known local chefs. (The Brennans and John Besh have led the field in that regard.) When that chemistry is right, we get some very tasty and beautiful places to dine.
1. R’evolution. French Quarter: 777 Bienville (Royal Sonesta Hotel). 504-553-2277. One of very few fine-dining restaurants to open in recent years, R’Evolution’s premises are spectacular and the food is impressive. The menu doesn’t quite fit together, and the lack of tablecloths in this expensive dining parlor is curious. Still, you can’t help but leave the place happy.
2. Lüke. CBD: 333 St Charles Ave (Hilton Hotel). 504-378-2840. The most successful of John Besh’s properties (enough so that they opened another location in San Antonio), Luke calls itself an Alsatian-French bistro. This is credible, but so too are the downtown-style daily specials, the raw bar, and the belt-driven ceiling fans and tile floors.
R’Evolution dining room.
3. Criollo. French Quarter: 214 Royal (Monteleone Hotel). 504-523-3341.Dining at the Monteleone Hotel was dreary for decades. A few years ago the management completely rebuilt the Iberville@Royal corner, adding big windows and handsome, comfortable furnishings. The menu manages to be both traditional and adventuresome in its decidedly Creole tastes, with striking presentations.
4. Borgne. CBD: 601 Loyola Ave (Hyatt Regency Hotel). 504-613-3860.Chef John Besh has hit nothing but home runs in his partnerships with hotels. There’s no better example of this than Borgne, whose mostly-seafood menu covers a wider spectrum of Southeast Louisiana cooking than any other hotel bistro.
Rotisserie at the Rib Room, with a table set for 20.
5. Drago’s. CBD: 2 Poydras (Hilton Riverside Hotel). 504-584-3911. The most successful Hilton Hotel restaurant in the world (yes!), this is an exact copy of Drago’s in Metairie. Oysters are at the center of the menu, of course: big, beautiful bivbalves on the half shell, or the famous, original char-broiled jobs. The entire range of local seafood is here, from gumbo to fried platters to grilled fish. And it’s one of the very few New Orleans restaurants with credible lobsters worth going to for lobster.
6. Compere Lapin. CBD: 535 Tchoupitoulas (Old #77 Hotel). 504-599-2119.Chef Nina Compton hails from the Caribbean islands, growing up in Santa Lucia. But her menu blends American Southern, Creole, and Cajun flavors, as well as those of the islands. The specials should be explored first.
7. Cafe Adelaide. CBD: 300 Poydras St (Loews Hotel). 504-595-3305. One of the first restaurants to take bartending seriously, Cafe Adelaide begs you to have a cocktail, then investigate an abbreviated list of local eats. The branch of the Brennan family that owns Commander’s Palace is here, and the influence is clear.
8. Trenasse. CBD: 444 St Charles Ave (Hotel Inter-Continental). 504-680-7000. A spinoff of a funky, wildly successful Gulf Coast seafood eatery, Trenasse comes across as a standard hotel cafe. In fact, it can stand up to the fare offered by even the best local seafood houses, with five or six species of fresh local finfish every day and a stridently excellent oyster bar (for raw and cooked oysters.
9. Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020.Leading the New Orleans pizza revolution when it opened in 2009 with a big wood-burning oven from Naples, this is a perennial crowded hangout with a short but impressive selection of pizza, Italian dishes, and house-cured salumi. It’s another John Besh place, in partnership with Chef Alon Shaya.
10. Rib Room. French Quarter: 621 St Louis St (Omni Royal Orleans Hotel). 504-529-7045. For most of the last fifty years, the Rib Room has been one of the top two or three hotel restaurants in New Orleans. After a long period of uninspired mangement and chefs, it’s now in the hands of Chef Tom Wolfe. Too soon to say whether he will return the place to its glory days when locals filled the dining room at lunch daily. But we’re hoping. The famous prime rib is the least interesting part of the menu.
11. The Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier (Windsor Court Hotel). 504-522-1994. The best part of the Grill Room these days is the meat-and-three lunch offering, which is brining many locals back to the beautiful dining rooms. The dinner menu needs further development. But it’s atmospherically hard to beat on a special evening. Live music of high quality most nights.
Dining room at the Bourbon House.
12. Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon (Astor Hotel). 504-522-0111. The Bourbon House is not obviously allied with the Astor Hotel, but it is. Operated by the Dickie Brennan wings of the Brennans, the Bourbon House is the seafood balance to Dickie’s steak house up the block. When it good, (and it usually is), the food is reminiscent of what COmmander’s Palace served in the 1980s. Which is a good thing.
The food scene this weekend is dominated by the Jazz Festival, where the eats are as good as the music, and in exactly the same way. In the past few years of the Jazz Festival, the food offerings seem to have reached a plateau. A few new vendors appear, but they fade into the familiar array. It’s a long time since anything alarmingly new and different has turned up.
But isn’t this what we want from the Festival? It’s certainly true of us Baby Boomers, who were just reaching the age of majority at the time of the first JazzFest in 1970. It’s a ritual, with our strange kind of hippie nostalgia. Enough other things have changed in our lives without the Jazz Festival’s becoming unfamiliar, too.
Here’s our annual list of all the food being served at the Jazz and Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds. I have annotated it with ratings on a scale from zero to three notes. Here’s what they mean:
Recommended. Try it if the dish appeals to you.
Outstanding. Taste this even if if you wouldn’t ordinarily do so.
Essential. Not to be missed.
These are my own recommendations, based on past years. Your mileage may vary.
Burks and Douglas Food Area I
Red beans and rice, sausage
Vegetarian red beans and rice*
Cajun Nights Catering Food Area I
Crabmeat stuffed shrimp
Fried green tomatoes
Catering Unlimited Food Area I
Crescent Catering Food Area I
Cajun duck po-boy
Cajun shrimp & duck pasta
Dimartino’s Food Area I
Roast beef poor boy
Turkey giardiniera poor boy
Fireman Mike’s Kitchen Food Area I
Alligator sauce piquante
Shrimp and grits
Shrimp and okra gumbo
Easter used to keep us at home with family dinners and Easter egg hunts. But n the last twenty years or so it’s become a big day for dining out. Even those who cook at home on Easter are using the day as an occasion for some serious cooking–although it usually remains a buffet well supplied with kidfood. On Easter, with the warm weather finally here, we’re grilling. Or having a crawfish boil, because crawfish have finally begun to get good.
But more people are heading out to their favorite brunch, breakfast and dinner places to celebrate. That change in direction came quickly, so much so that demand for Easter brunch restaurant reservations outstrips the supply. The demand is such that the bad dog of special holiday menus has come out of its usual confines of New Year’s Eve and Mother’s Day. The special holiday menu is special only in that it’s more expensive, and offers fewer choices. This is not pure greed on the part of the restaurants, but a strategy to help the kitchen can get the food out.
If you can find a good Easter brunch, or even a good Easter dinner, it can be very pleasant indeed. The weather tends to be nice, so if you’re in the French Quarter a stroll around is inviting. Even the most ambitious restaurants make themselves friendly to families and their children, so that’s not a problem.
Below is a list of restaurants open for Easter that have a good track record from past holidays. Most–but not all–will be serving a brunch menu (not necessarily a buffet, though) at midday. Most will also be open for dinner. They are listed in order of goodness. Our rating system,for only this survey, awards between one and three Easter eggs to restaurants we think will be good bets for Easter. They are listed in order of goodness.
It’s impossible to determine which of these are fully booked, as I’m sure a few of them are already. Which brings up an important point: You should make reservations now. As in right now.
To find out more about the restaurants, click on any restaurant name. That will take you to a detailed, rated review of the place.
Revised March 2930, 2015. This list is a free service to restaurants we feel good about recommending. If you know of any other restaurant that you think should be on this list–or if you manage such a restaurant–please alert me at email@example.com. (Restaurant owners, please feel free to nominate your own places.) This list doesn’t include every restaurant open on Easter Sunday–just the ones that seem appropriate for a special Easter dinner. For all Sunday openings, go here.
Corned beef is brisket that’s been cured with seasonings and brine for several weeks. (The expression “corned” comes from the seasonings, which resemble wheat grains. (“Corn” means “wheat” in the British islands. What we call corn they call “maize.”) Trust me: it is more work than it’s worth to corn/cure beef yourself. Doing so involves the use of nitrites and nitrates, which are not easily available to the home cook. They create the unique brown-orange color we expect in corned beef, as opposed to the grey meat you get when you leave those curing agents out. Buy a nice corned brisket at the store and just boil it.
I do have a trick for you, however: add crab boil to the mixture. It will not taste like crabs or be noticeably spicy–just good. The cabbage component will be better if it’s boiled it all by itself. Also, you need some salt in the water for the cabbage, but the corned beef will get tough if you cook it with salt.
1 corned beef brisket, about 4 lbs.
1 Tbs. black peppercorns
1 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 medium onion, quartered
2 Tbs. liquid crab boil
1 head green cabbage, quartered
2 Tbs. salt
1. Wash the seasonings that were in the vacuum-pack bag off the corned beef, and put it in a large pot of cold water.
2. Put the seasonings, the crab boil, and the onion into the pot. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower to the barest possible simmer. Simmer with the cover on for three and a half hours.
3. Boil the cabbage separately in about two gallons of water with 2 Tbs. salt.
4. When the corned beef is cooked, drain it from the water and let it stand for about 20 minutes. Slice it against the grain, noting that the grain in brisket has a way of changing directions as you slice it. The thinner you slice it, the better.
Barbecue shrimp, one of the four or five best dishes in all of New Orleans cooking, is completely misnamed. They’re neither grilled nor smoked, and there’s no barbecue sauce. It was created in the mid-1950s at Pascal’s Manale Restaurant. A regular customer came in and reported that he’d enjoyed a dish in a Chicago restaurant that he though was made with shrimp, butter, and pepper. He asked Pascal Radosta to make it. Radosta took a flyer at it. The customer said that the taste was not the same, but he liked the new dish even better. So was born the signature dish at Manale’s.
The dish is simple: huge whole shrimp in a tremendous amount of butter and black pepper. The essential ingredient is large, heads-on shrimp, since the fat in the shrimp heads makes most of the flavor. Resist the urge to add lots of herbs or garlic. This recipe is largely based on the new recipe created by Chef Gerard Maras in the early 1980s at Mr. B’s. The butter emulsifies into the other liquids, and gives not only a bigger flavor but a nicer-looking dish.
The amount of butter and pepper in my recipe seem fantastic. Be bold. This is not a dish you will eat often–although you will want to.
3 lbs. fresh Gulf shrimp with heads on, 16-20 count to the pound
1 Tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 Tbs. black pepper (or more!)
1/4 tsp. salt
3 sticks butter, softened
2 tsp. paprika
1 loaf French bread
1. Rinse the shrimp and shake the excess water from them. Put them in a large skillet (or two) over medium heat, and pour the lemon juice, wine, Worcestershire, and garlic over it. Bring the liquids in the pan to a light boil and cook, turning the shrimp over with a spoon every two minutes or so, until all the brown-gray color in the shrimp is gone. Don’t overcook! At the first moment when you think the shrimp might be done, they will be: lower the heat to the minimum.
2. Cover the shrimp with a thin but complete layer of black pepper. You must be bold with this. When you think you have enough pepper in there, you still need a little more. Add the paprika and salt.
3. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces and distribute over the shrimp. With a big spoon, turn the shrimp over. Agitate the pan as the butter melts over the shrimp and emulsifies into the liquid at the bottom of the pan. When no more solid butter is visible. Remove the pan from the burner.
4. Serve the shrimp with lots of the sauce in bowls. Serve with hot French bread for dipping. Also plenty of napkins and perhaps bibs.
Oyster patties are very popular at New Orleans parties as pass-around appetizers. They have a problem, however: most are terrible, because the sauce is too thick and rarely has a flavor much better than library paste. This recipe creates an oyster stew thick enough to stay inside the pastry, but with some flavor, too.
There’s another issue: where to find the “patty shells” in which this concoction is baked and served. For generations, one went straight to McKenzie’s for these. McKenzie’s ain’t dere no more, but fear not: Dorignac’s bakery makes then, as does the Swiss Bakery on St. Charles Avenue downtown and quite a few other places.
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 cups oyster water
1 Tbs. mixed peppercorns (green, white, black, and pink), cracked
1/2 tsp. dried thyme, or leaves from two sprigs fresh thyme
1 stick butter
4 dozen oysters, chopped coarsely
8 oz. crimini or “Baby Bella” mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
1 bunch green onions, tender green parts only, thinly sliced
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
1 Tbs. grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp. salt
36 small (two inches across) vol–au-vents (patty shells), center part pushed down to leave a hole
1. The first two steps will take about a half-hour, but need no constant attention. In a small saucepan over low heat, bring the whipped cream to a boil and reduce by half. (be careful that the pan doesn’t foam over, as cream has a way of doing.)
2. Into a second small saucepan, strain the oyster water. Add the cracked peppercorns and thyme. Bring it to a light boil over low heat and reduce to about 1/4 cup of liquid. Strain.
3. In a skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until it bubbles. Add the oysters, mushrooms, and bacon. Cook until the mushrooms are soft–about two minutes.
4. Add the reduced cream and the reduced oyster water to the skillet, along with the all but about 1/4 cup of the green onions, plus the parsley and lemon peel. Stir lightly until combined and cook over medium heat about another minute
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
5. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the oyster mixture into the vol-au-vents on a baking sheet or pan. This will leave a lot of sauce in the pan. Bake the vol-au vents for twelve minutes.
6. Meanwhile, bring the sauce in the pan to a light simmer. When the vol-au-vents are ready, remove them from the oven and add a teaspoon or two of the sauce. Top with a sprinkling of green onion and serve immediately.
I don’t really like crawfish pie the way it’s usually made–as a thickened crawfish etouffee baked in a little pie shell. This version is a bit richer, more herbal (with an up-front garlic tinge), and less red-peppery. It’s also folded into a triangle of phyllo pastry, and comes out looking like a Middle Eastern spinach pie. That eliminates the worst part of the standard crawfish pie–the fat-logged crust. You can also make these using small vol-au-vents (“patty shells”).
Crawfish are running low at the end of the season, but picked crawfish tail meat is in good supply now. One more thing: resist the temptation to add cheese of any kind.
2 cups Louisiana crawfish tails
1/2 stick butter
4 Tbs. flour
1 tsp. fresh, finely chopped garlic
3/4 cup half-and-half, warmed
2 eggs, beaten
4 slices bacon, fried crisp, drained, then crumbled
1 tsp. lemon juice
10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
1/2 tsp. dill
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. paprika
Phyllo pastry sheets
Crawfish pie in phyllo pastry (vol-au-vent).
1. If the crawfish tails are very large, cut them into two or three pieces.
2. Heat the butter over medium heat in a saucepan until it bubbles, then stir in the flour and make a blond roux. Don’t allow the roux to brown.
3. Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds. Lower the heat to the lowest setting and add the warmed half-and-half. Whisk until the sauce thickens to the texture of light mashed potatoes. Add half of the beaten egg and whisk until blended in.
4. Add add the crawfish and all the other ingredients except the phyllo and the remaining beaten egg. Simmer, stirring once or twice, for about two minutes. Remove from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
5. Unfold the phyllo pastry and separate ten sheets. Wrap the remainder and return to the box and the refrigerator. Cut the phyllo sheets into three strips, four to five inches wide and twelve to fourteen inches long. Dampen a clean towel and keep it on top of the phyllo you’re not yet using to prevent its drying out.
6. Spoon about two tablespoons of the crawfish mixture onto one end of two thicknesses of phyllo strips. Brush lightly with egg at the other end. Fold the phyllo over the filling at a 45-degree angle, and keep folding over till the end. Seal the edges with your fingers. Set the finished triangles on a greased baking sheet and continue making more until all the filling is gone.
7. Bake the triangles in a 400-degree oven until browned and crisp. Serve immediately, or keep warm for an hour or less.
Crabmeat and corn bisque is a big hit anywhere it’s served. This is my own version, distilled from recipes learned at Commander’s Palace, Vincent’s, Dakota, and a few other places. It’s delicious and rich.
The recipe begins with instructions for making crab stock. If you already have it (or shrimp or crawfish or lobster) stock, just plunge ahead. This recipe can also be made with a similar amount of crawfish tails when they’re in season.`
6-8 gumbo crabs or picked crab shells
1 onion, cut into chunks
2 ribs celery, cut into chunks
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 stick butter
4 Tbs. flour
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup white vermouth
2 ears fresh corn, stripped from the cobs
1 cup chopped green onion tops
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. Tabasco
1/2 lb. lump crabmeat, carefully picked
1. Put the crabs or the shells into a large heavy saucepan over high heat, and cook them until the edges of the shells brown a little.
2. Add two quarts of water, the onion, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Hold at a simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Strain the stock and discard all the solids. Return the stock to a boil and reduce to two cups of liquid. You can make this ahead and freeze it. (You can also make and freeze more than this quantity for use in other recipes.)
4. Make a blond roux with the butter and the flour. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant–about a minute. Add the vermouth and let it come to a boil while stirring it into the roux. After another minute, add the crab stock and bring to a simmer.
5. Simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add corn and simmer five more minutes. Add cream, green onions, salt, and Tabasco. Stir until smooth and bring back up to a simmer.
6. Add crabmeat and gently blend in, so as not to break the lumps. Check seasoning and serve hot.