After thirty-one iterations, the French Quarter Festival has nothing to prove. It has entered the company of Mardi Gras and the Jazz Festival in its ability to pull crowds. Last year, well over a half-million people filled both the narrow and broad parts of the Quarter. The recent expansion into Thursday worked well enough: almost as many people show up as on the weekends.
The free festival spreads its attractions evenly, , with musical stages scattered around and playing constantly. Food is sold at small prices from dozens of vendors. All of the best of them are back again, with a few additions and interesting new dishes. Everything is allegedly appetizer size, but three or four items about fills up the average appetite. The best plan is to share things, and to pace yourself.
The Festival organization sets high standards for its vendors. They must be restaurants, and chain restaurants are actively discouraged. French Quarter restaurants get special consideration, for obvious reasons. The food starts at eleven all four days. It goes on until seven in the evening at the Mint and Jackson Square, but continues until nine along the riverfront (seven Sunday). Beverages of all kinds are served in all the food areas.
The food booths only accept cash and Festival tickets. You can use your credit card to buy the tickets.
Here's a list–provided by the French Quarter Festival and subject to last-minute changes–of all the food being served at the three major areas where the food and music are concentrated. I have annotated it with my recommendations, based on what I've found in past years, or the vendor's track record, if they're new to the festival.
Recommended. Try it if the dish appeals to you.
Outstanding. Try it even if it doesn't appeal to you.
Essential. Not to be missed.
Throughout the food vendor areas are stands selling all kinds of beverages, from soft drinks to daiquiris and margaritas, sno-balls to coffee. Maps, schedules for the music, and much more information is at the French Quarter Festival website.
See you there! I will broadcast live from the corner of St. Ann and Chartres from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday, April 10, and Saturday, April 12. Stop by and say hello!
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.
Crawfish bisque–one of the greatest dishes in all of Cajun cooking–is not like any other bisque. It's not creamy or thickened with rice, as in the classic French style, but made with a dark roux. Most of the ingredients, even the crawfish, are made into a rough puree, which further thickens the soup. This may seem like a long, involved recipe, but there are no great challenges in it. What comes out is something unforgettable. Serve it with the crawfish boulettes in the next recipe.
5 lbs. boiled crawfish
1/2 medium onion, cut up
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 rib celery, cut up chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup brandy
1 small lemon, sliced
2/3 cup flour
5 sprigs Italian parsley leaves, chopped
2 green onions, sliced finely
1. Rinse the boiled crawfish with lukewarm water to remove some of the salt, which will otherwise get concentrated later. Peel all of the crawfish and reserve the tail meat and the shells separately. Get some kid to pull off all the claws from the shells. Put all the claws into a heavy plastic bag. Using a meat mallet, bash the claws enough to break most of them.
2. In an eight-quart (or larger) saucepan, sauté the onions, garlic, celery, and bell pepper over medium heat until the vegetables are browned at the edges.
3. Add the crawfish claws, shells and wine, and bring to a boil. When most of the liquid has evaporated, pour the brandy over the shells. If you are comfortable with flaming dishes and have a fire extinguisher nearby, carefully touch a flame to the brandy. Let the flames die out. Otherwise, just let the brandy boil away.
4. Add the lemon and enough water to cover all the shells. Bring it to a boil, then lower to the lowest possible simmer. Simmer for thirty minutes, spooning out the scum from the top of the pot every now and then.
5. Strain the stock into another saucepan and discard the solids. Simmer until reduced to about three quarts. Strain through a fine sieve. (At this point, the stock can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for later use.)
6. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, make a dark roux with the flour and butter, stirring constantly to avoid burning. When the roux is the color of chocolate, stir it into the crawfish stock with a wire whisk until completely blended.
7. Add parsley and green onions. Reserve six large crawfish tails per person. In a food processor, chop the rest of the crawfish tail meat to a near-puree. Add this to the soup and return to a simmer for five minutes. Add salt and hot sauce to taste.
6. Place the whole crawfish tails in soup plates, and ladle the bisque over them. Add crawfish boulettes (optional) to the bisque at the table.
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 and see detailed, rated review of the place, click the link below.
This is an idea inspired by Gautreau’s Sue Zemanick, but different enough from her great works with halibut that she avoids all blame. The detonator is a crusty topping with horseradish and garlic held in a matrix of bread crumbs. While the fish roasts, the thick crust get toasty brown.
4 thick halibut fillets, cut across, about 8-10 oz. each
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
1. Melt the butter and blend it with the other crust ingredients until it almost but not quite sticks together. Divide this into four portions, and cover the top of each grouper fillet with a layer of the crust.
2. Place the encrusted fish fillets in a large skillet or baking pan, lightly oiled with olive oil. Sprinkle lemon juice over all. Bake the fish in a preheated 400- degree oven for 10-12 minutes. (To test the fish for doneness, push a kitchen fork into the center of the biggest fillet. Hold it there for five seconds, then pull it out. Touch the tines of the fork carefully to your lips. If it feels even warm, the fish is done.)
Redfish with a sauce of artichokes, capers, mushrooms, and butter appears on the menus of quite a few New Orleans restaurants. It’s delicious far beyond the promise of its description or even appearance. Trout, redfish, flounder, lemonfish, sheepshead, or striped bass also work for this recipe. So do really big oysters or shrimp.
The dish was invented at Brennan’s, where it still can be had (with fish or veal) under the name Kottwitz. The best practitioners, however, are the Impastato brothers Joe (at Impastato’s in Metairie) and Sal (Sal And Judy’s, in Lacombe). As an option, they will take the idea another step beyond and add crabmeat, shrimp or both. The resulting dish bears the name of the current Saints head coach.
• 4 red snapper, trout, redfish, drum, or sheepshead fillets, 6-8 oz.
• Juice of 1/2 lemon, strained
• 1 cup flour
• 1 Tbs. salt
• 1/4 tsp. white pepper
• 3 eggs, beaten
• 4 Tbs. butter
• 2 fresh artichoke bottoms (or canned)
• 8 artichoke hearts, quartered
• 1/3 cup dry sherry or white wine
• 2 cups sliced white mushrooms
• 2 Tbs. sliced green onions
• 1/4 tsp. chopped garlic
• 1/2 tsp. chopped French shallots
• 1 Tbs. smallest possible capers
• 2 Tbs. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
• 1 1/2 sticks butter
1. If using fresh artichoke bottoms for the sauce, poach until soft in water with a little lemon juice and 1 Tbs. salt. Cut the artichokes into eighths and set aside.
2. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the fish fillets. Stir the salt and pepper into the flour with a fork, and dredge the fillets in the seasoned flour. Shake off the excess flour, dip the fillets in the beaten eggs, and dredge through the flour again. Knock off the excess flour.
2. Heat the 4 Tbs. butter over medium-high heat in a large, heavy skillet and sauté until the fish is cooked–about three minutes per side. Remove the fish and keep warm.
4. To make the sauce, add the white wine to the pan in which you sautéed the fish, and whisk to dissolve the pan juices. Bring to a boil until the wine is reduced by two-thirds. Lower the heat to medium and add all the remaining sauce ingredients except the butter. Cook until the mushrooms no longer break when flexed.
5. Lower the heat to almost off, and add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, agitating the pan until the butter has blended in completely.
6. Place the fish on serving plates and top with the sauce.
This dish looks and sounds much more difficult than it really is, but it is very impressive to serve. The puff pastry can be found (probably frozen) at better food stores. If trout is unavailable, drum, redfish, sheepshead, rainbow trout, or salmon also work well for this dish.
1/2 lb. peeled, deveined medium shrimp (25-30 count)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 slices lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine
Stems of 1 bunch parsley
1/2 tsp. peppercorns
4 speckled trout fillets, about 6 oz. each
4 sheets puff pastry, 8″ by 8″
1 beaten egg
1. First make the shrimp mousse. Bring a wide, shallow pan of water about an inch deep to a simmer. Add the shrimp and poach just until they turn pink. Remove, drain, and allow to cool to lukewarm.
2. In a food processor, combine eggs, salt, pepper, dry mustard and garlic. Run the processor on and off a few times to chop and blend everything. Add the shrimp and turn the processor on. Add the cream while the machine is running and process into a paste. Add a little water from the poaching pan if necessary to keep it rather light. Don’t overdo it; small lumps are okay.
3. Add the lemon slices, white wine, parsley stems, and peppercorns to the poaching pan, and return to a simmer. Add the trout and poach for six to eight minutes, depending on thickness, until the flesh is opaque. Remove and drain.
4. Cut the trout fillets across and lengthwise into two thin halves. Place one half of the trout over the bottom half of the puff pastry. Spoon about 2 Tbs. shrimp mousse over the trout. Top with the other half of the fish.
5. Brush edges of puff pastry dough with beaten egg, then fold top half over and press in place to form an envelope around the trout. If you really want to get fancy, cut the pastry envelope in the shape of a fish. You can stick the parts of the dough you cut off back onto the fish to create fins. Make scale-like indentations on the side with the tip of a spoon.
6. Place the pastry on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Put it in a preheated 375-degree oven for eight to ten minutes–until the pastry has puffed and has just turned brown. Push the tines of a kitchen fork into the thickest of the fish and hold it there for about five seconds. Carefully touch the tips of the fork to your lips; if it feels quite warm, the fish is done. Serve immediately.
This is good as is, but if you want a sauce, reduced cream with fennel or fresh thyme is delicious.
From Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans Food cookbook, copyright 2006 Tom Fitzmorris.
An enchilada is a tortilla filled with almost anything, topped with cheese or a sauce. The most familiar enchiladas are filled with chicken, cheese, or beef. But why not do it with seafood? If we can make seafood cannelloni, seems to me that seafood enchiladas are not far behind.
1 Tbs. butter
1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and membranes removed, chopped
1 lb. peeled shrimp
1 lb. white crabmeat
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Tabasco chilpotle pepper sauce
16 flour tortillas
1. Melt the butter in a skillet. Saute the green onions, mushrooms and jalapeno until the get soft.
2. Add the shrimp. Cook until the shrimp turn pink, then stir in all the other ingredients. Cook over medium-low heat until steam begins to rise, but no longer than that.
3. Spoon 3 oz. of the filling into flour tortillas. If you like, serve with hot Mexican salsa con queso.
From Tom's "New Orleans Food" cookbook, copyright 2006 Tom Fitzmorris
Louisiana white shrimp appear in late summer and fall. I believe they are the world’s best shrimp. Here’s a chilled shrimp dish that qualifies, I suppose, as Creole antipasto. It’s pretty good as is, served chilled. Or you can toss it with greens or with cooked, chilled pasta as a salad.
1/2 cup Creole mustard
1/2 Tbs. salt
1/3 tsp. red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup tarragon vinegar
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped green onion
3/4 cup chopped chives
2 Tbs. salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbs. liquid crab boil
2 lbs. medium-large shrimp, peeled
2 cans artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1. Mix the mustard, eggs, salt, and red pepper in a food processor. (You can also use a wire whisk in a bowl.) Add the oil a few drops at a time while continuing the blend the egg mixture. When the mixture begins to thicken, increase the oil addition to a thin stream. Blend until well mixed. Add the vinegar, green onions, chives, and parsley.
2. Bring one quart of water to a rolling boil in a saucepan, with the salt, lemon juice, and crab boil. After the water has boiled for three minutes, add the shrimp. When the water returns to a boil, turn off the heat and allow the shrimp to steep in the water for about four minutes–until they’re pink and firm. (When you first wonder whether the shrimp are cooked, that’s when they are.) Strain out the shrimp and allow them to cool for a few minutes.
3. Blend the shrimp and the artichokes into the sauce. Cover the bowl and put it into the refrigerator to marinate for at least one hours. Serve tossed with salad greens, tomatoes, or chilled pasta–or all by itself.
Serves eight appetizers.
From Tom Fitzmorris's New Orleans Food cookbook, copyright 2006 Tom Fitzmorris
Chef Gunter Preuss was formerly the owner of Broussard’s where he created a version of the famous French soup-stew with a local flavor. This dish is very similar to bouillabaisse, but without the saffron and with more pepper and other Louisiana ingredients.
1 stick butter
4 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, white parts only, well washed and chopped coarsely
6 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1/4 cup brandy
2 cups white wine
3 fresh, ripe, peeled, seeded tomatoes
1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
3 quarts chicken stock
3 Tbs. butter
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb. fish fillets (redfish, trout, sheepshead, drum, etc.)
2 dozen oysters
1 lb. lump crabmeat
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1. In a large saucepan, heat the butter until it bubbles. Saute the carrots, onions, leeks and celery in the butter until they turn limp.
2. Stir in the tomato paste, then pour in the brandy. Carefully flame the brandy and allow the flame to extinguish itself.
3. Pour in the white wine and bring it to a boil. Reduce by about one-fourth, then add the tomatoes and garlic. Return to a boil, cook for about a minute more, and add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, heat the 3 Tbs. butter in a skillet and, in turn, saute the shrimp, fish, and oysters. The shrimp should turn pink, the fish should turn opaque, and the edges of the oysters should curl. Take care not to overcook anything.
5. Add the shrimp, fish, oysters, crabmeat, and parsley to the soup and bring to a boil. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce. This dish can be served as is, with rice, or with pasta. The consistency should be like that of gumbo.