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Tom Fitzmorris

Tune in to "The Food Show" for fun talk about restaurants, recipes, reviews and more!

Weekdays on 3WL 1350am Noon-3pm
Saturdays on WWL Noon-3pm
Email: Tom@nomenu.com

Tom: Shrimp Creole, Etouffe, Stew... what's the difference?

Shrimp Creole, Etouffee, And Stew: What’s The Diff?Q. When I order shrimp etouffee in a restaurant I never know what I’m going to get. Sometimes it has tomatoes in it like shrimp Creole. Sometimes it’s brown like crawfish bisque. And I have no idea what the distinction is between an etouffee and a stew. Do you? Or is this one of those stupid questions that everyone knows the answer to except me?

A. Let’s start with what they have in common. They’re all shrimp dishes that contain so much sauce that the shrimp practically float in sauce. The point of departure is the composition of the sauce, and how the dish is cooked. The size of the shrimp typically differs, although that’s not a make-or-break issue.

Shrimp Creole generally starts off with big shrimp, seared in a hot pan with a little butter and seasonings, and then covered with the classic Creole sauce of tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, celery, bay leaves and black pepper. It’s the fanciest of the three, the one most likely to be seen in a restaurant.

“Etouffee” means “smothered.” This is a concept found everywhere in Europe, but there doesn’t seem to be an English name for it. The Italians have the best translation: “in humido.” For that preparation, medium-size shrimp are cooked with butter or oil and onions, bell peppers and celery until they’re nearly done. Then flour is added to make a light roux, followed by shrimp stock. The shrimp are cooked just a little longer, until the elements of the dish come together, and served with green onions.

A shrimp stew is a home-style dish, and a good use for shrimp small enough that you can pick up a few of them in a forkful. Shrimp stew generally includes other vegetables besides the trinity of onion, celery, and bell pepper (okra is common; chunky tomatoes are sometimes in there). Everything is cooked together, with shrimp stock or just water used as the matrix of the thing. Typically, the stew is cooked at a simmer, to the point that the shrimp become very soft. You could almost say that a shrimp stew is a shrimp gumbo without a roux.

None of these definitions is set in concrete, and finding someone with a different take on my ideas would probably require asking only one or two other cooks.

This post originally appeared on Tom's website, NOMenu.com
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Tom: It's shriveling oyster season

Diary 8|22, 23|2014: Oysters Shriveling. Good-Bye To Three Friends Of Taste..I don’t give much regard to the old myth advising us to abstain from eating raw oysters in months without an R. I got a letter about that from a gentleman who claimed to be on the old side. He says that the vibreo vulnificus bacteria is high in the Gulf of Mexico right now, and so he’s staying away from oysters. But that only affects one out of two thousand people with specific health problems, none of which I have.

What is more apparent is that the oysters have finally shriveled down to summer size. Like all other weather conditions this year, the very warm water in the Gulf was late in arriving. Which is how there could be twenty-one fried oysters on the alleged half-poor boy. It comes with a cup of soup for nine dollars at the Acme Oyster House.

The Marys and I were there for supper, after the usual ridiculous colloquy about where we would go to eat. (Everyone says that any restaurant would be fine, but every concrete proposal is rejected by all but the proponent.)

We also had a dozen grilled oysters, which suffered the heat even more. They don’t seem to contain as much water this time of year, and dwindle to almost nothing on the grill.

I will probably hear a few complaints about this for the next few weeks, even after September 1st. Aphorisms about food are rarely accurate.
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Tom: Why is it so hard to get dinner reservations at a decent time?

Where Are The Good Reservations?Q. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like every time I call a popular restaurant for a reservation, the voice on the restaurant’s line says that she only has tables at 5:15 and 9:45 p.m. Why is is so hard to get a reservation at a decent time, like 7:30 p.m.? It doesn’t even seem to help when I call weeks in advance.

A. The hidden force at work here is what restaurants call “the turn.” A restaurant with twice as many customers as seats will do all it can to force diners into two seatings: one early, one late. A reservation at 7:30 overlaps both seating times, and cuts the number of people the restaurant can serve at that table nearly in half.

If it did that, it would reduce the carrying capacity of the room, and make it harder to get reservations at any time. Since it’s anathema for a restaurant to tell customers that they must be out by a certain time (and well it should be), the only option is to give middle-of-the-evening reservations only to VIPs and serious regulars.

The best way for a customer to get around this is to dine on weekdays (because those are weak days), or during the summer. I’ll bet you can get a reservation at 7:30 tonight (this was published on August 8) in nine out of ten restaurants. You might also try becoming a big-spending regular who comes in twice a week. That will get their attention.

This post originally appeared on Tom's website, NOMenu.com
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Tom: What's the best way to peel a hard-boiled egg?

Peeling Hard-Boiled EggsQ. What’s the right way to peel a hard-boiled egg? What happens all the time is that after I crack it, the shell only breaks away in tiny flakes, and it takes forever to get them all off.

A. This question come sup about every six weeks on the radio show, which is long enough for me to forget the technique every time. I’m glad you asked now, when I can get the story into the database once and for all. This will also allow people who have different methods to post them here.

And there are many methods, most of what are only marginally effectual. Adding vinegar or salt to the water, for example, seems not to help the problem.

Here is what we know:

1. Don’t use really fresh eggs. The lady across the street from me raises chickens. The yard eggs are wonderful for scrambling ad poaching, but not very good for boiling. It seems that old eggs–like the ones you get at the supermarket most of the time–come our much better when boiled than fresh ones do.

2. Start the boiling with extreme temperature contrast. This means take them right out of the refrigerator and shock them in a lot of water at a rolling boil.

3. Finish the boil at a simmer. After a minute or less (if you’re only doing one or two eggs–another minute for five or six), lower the heat to a low simmer and let them go for nine minutes for medium eggs to 12 minutes for extra-large.

4. Chill them right away in ice water. Wait until they’re cold throughout–five minutes a longer, with a change of ice cubes–before trying to peel them.

5. Break the egg on the ends, not on the sides. You start with the fat end: one whack on the counter. Then the more pointed end, again with one good tap. Then peel.

Alternate trick: Before starting, shove a needle through the shell about half an inch deep on both ends before starting the boiling process, as above.

All right. Let’s hear from you with your favorite method. This one I know works.

This post originally appeared on Tom's website, NOMenu.com
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Tom: How do I eat out without ballooning out?

Eating Out Without Ballooning OutQ. I need to lose a few pounds, and know I should concentrate on eating chicken, fish, etc. However, I’m a little concerned about the sauces that come with most of these dishes. What are some sauces to avoid, and which ones are relatively “safe?” Or should I just accept the fact that when I eat out I’m in trouble?

A. It’s interesting to me that this question used to be asked much more often than it is now. We are clearly not getting any thinner, but maybe losing weight isn’t cool anymore. Or perhaps allergic reactions to seemingly everything have taken over. But the following still deserves consideration.

I must start by admitting that I an not a doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist, and that those professionals should be consulted if you want to have a long-term, well-informed program in dieting.

That said, I start by saying that you don’t need to give up on dining out. You just have to know what you’re eating, and which items can do the most potential damage. Ask questions and ask for low-fat dishes. Any good restaurant can honor that request.

Or do what I do: order whatever you feel like eating, and only eat half of what they serve you. The biggest problem with eating in restaurants is that out is that most of them serve too much food, and use sauces that pack the maximum flavor. Which often means cream, butter, and other delicious carriers of flavor.

The matter of savory (as opposed to sweet) sauces is a simple one, if you’re trying to eat light. Just look for and avoid fat. Sauces made from butter (meuniere, buerre blanc, hollandaise, roux-based sauces), cream (lots of those, but all pretty obvious), drippings (pan gravies) or olive oil (New Orleans-style bordelaise) are the high ones, and to be avoided if you want to lighten up.

Those without fat are usually okay. They include most sauces dominated by tomatoes, demi-glace, stocks, wine, or herbs. Most of these have a little butter or olive oil in them, but not enough to worry about. Nothing else in them carries large caloric loads.

But I still come back to an incontrovertible fact: you can eat almost anything you want, as long as you don’t eat it all the time or in enormous quantities.

This post originally appeared on Tom's website, NOMenu.com
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Tom: Today is Seafood Poor Boy (And Loaf) Day

July 16 In EatingIn New Orleans, it’s Seafood Poor Boy (And Loaf) Day. The seminal seafood poor boy is the oyster loaf. Fried oysters, buttered French bread, a few shots of hot sauce, pickles. . . perfection.

Variations abound. Almost any other seafood that can be fried finds its way onto French bread. Shrimp poor boys are almost as popular as oyster. (The price hike in oysters from the oil spill may have even made shrimp sammiches more popular.) Catfish has all but replaced speckled trout on poor boys. Soft-shell crabs present a unique poor boy experience, as you start off eating legs and claws, work into the body, and end up with legs and claws at the end.

A rare and wonderful variation on the seafood sandwich is the seafood “boat.” It starts with an unsliced loaf of regular white bread, with the top cut off and the inside hollowed. After being toasted and buttered, it’s filled with oysters, shrimp, or catfish, or all three. Chad’s Bistro in Metairie and Morton’s in Madisonville are the only restaurants I know make boats these days. Casamento’s uses the same bread, but cuts it differently to make their oyster and shrimp loaves.

Of this there is no question: a seafood loaf made with freshly-fried, crisp seafood on fresh and toasted bread is one of the greatest pleasures of the neighborhood New Orleans cafes and seafood houses.

Deft Dining Rule #655

Any poor boy shop that puts fewer than a dozen and a half oysters on an oysters loaf is not worthy of selling the sandwich.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Tuna, Pennsylvania is right up against the New York state line in the western part of the state, seventy-five miles south of Buffalo. It takes its name from the Tunungwant Creek, which runs along its western side. Locals have long shortened the original Native American name to Tuna Creek. It’s a tributary of the Allegheny River, taking Tuna’s water down to New Orleans by way of the Ohio. It hardly needs to be said that no tuna fish will be found in it. The Tuna Valley has been farmed by Americans since at least the 1830s. The restaurants are all about two miles south in the town of Bradford. Order the tuna salad sandwich at the Farm Family Restaurant.

Edible Dictionary

olive salad, n. – A mixture of crushed, chopped, or whole olives with celery,cauliflower, carrots, roasted peppers, garlic, oregano, basil, and olive oil. There’s a good deal of variation in the vegetables and how finely they’re chopped. The mixture is allowed to marinate for days or even weeks before it’s eaten. The principal employment of olive salad is as a dressing on the muffuletta sandwich, a New Orleans Italian specialty. It’s also used to top Italian-style salads.

Speed Eating

The first parking meters in America were installed on this date in 1935, of all places, Oklahoma City. They cost a nickel for an hour, but it was the middle of the Depression (and the Dust Bowl, too.) I wonder how many meals were rushed to ruin by the threat of a parking meter about to run out of coin. I use parking meters a lot, and was very pleased when the ones on New Orleans streets began accepting credit cards. But I still carry a small cache of dollar coins for the older meters.

Annals Of Cookbooks

Today is the anniversary of the first appearance on the Web of Amazon.com, in 1995. Now the web site is a major force to be reckoned with in the sales of books. Finding cookbooks on Amazon is incomparably easy. I like the fact that they rank books by sales within many categories.

Music To Eat Turkey By

Today in 1967, Arlo Guthrie first performed Alice’s Restaurant, his twenty-minute-long song/comedy routine at the Newport Folk Festival. Alice’s Restaurant was a real place, and still exists. In the recorded version of the song, Guthrie talks about eating two “Thanksgiving dinners that can’t be beat.”

Food Entrepreneurs

Today is the birthday of Orville Redenbacher, in 1907. He lived to be 88; he died of a heart attack while taking a whirlpool bath. Although his name and face became synonymous with branded, high-end popcorn, he was a real person–a real agronomist, in fact, working with actual grain and fields and production equipment before he rolled out his popcorn in 1976. I had him as a guest on my radio show in 1979; he was exactly like the guy you saw on TV. Although he’s gone, ConAgra Foods (which owns the brand now) has brought his digitized image back to life.

Food Namesakes

Dancer and actor Ginger Rogers was born today in 1911. . . General Amos Fries was appointed the first chemical warfare head of the U.S. Army, which has since sworn off such things, today in 1920. . . Hollywood movie producer Jude Tucker was born today in 1989. “Tucker” is Australian slang for “food.” That’s his middle name; his real last name is Fitzmorris. I am his father. Jude’s spending his birthday morning in a meeting at Paramount about a new movie.

Words To Eat By

“Do one thing and do it better than anyone.”–Orville Redenbacher, born today in 1907.

Words To Drink By

“Everyone who drinks is not a poet. Some of us drink because we’re not poets.”–Dudley Moore, in the movie Arthur.

This post originally appeared on Tom's website, NOMenu.com
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Tom: Crawfish season is over

Crawfish Season Is OverQ. I went to the seafood joint where I usually buy boiled crawfish, and I was shocked when he told me there were no more crawfish for this year. Is there a crawfish shortage? Was it because of the oil spill?

A. No, the season for crawfish is counterintuitive. The rough start and finish are Thanksgiving Day until the Fourth of July. But that would be in a good year. More often, the first crawfish of the year either have scrawny tails (in December) or aren’t there at all (until as late as early March). The peak of the season is Jazz Festival time–April and May. In the summer, they get themselves ready for parenthood, with the shells getting hard and all the fat going into spawning needs. This happens suddenly, usually in mid to late June. Crawfish tail meat continues to be available from the picking plants, which have a lot of mudbugs until the dropoff in the hot season. After that, it’s all frozen.

The good news in this is that when the crawfish return in the early spring, we miss them so much that it’s cause for celebration. More than if we had them all the time.

As for the oil spill, it didn’t affect crawfish. They live exclusively in fresh water environments, which were never touched by the oil.

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Tom: What's the best oil to use for deep and shallow frying?

FAQ: What Oil Is Best For Deep And Shallow Frying?Q: Hearing you extol the virtues of panneed pork, I wondered what kind of oil you use. I know that olive oil breaks down at high temperatures, and isn’t good for deep-frying. But what about the dish that uses about a half-inch of oil, as you do for pannee?

A: When I pan-fry anything in more than a film of oil, I use canola oil or peanut oil, favoring the former for panneed dishes and the latter for deeper frying. Both have a few characteristics that recommend them. First, they have fairly high smoking points, and don’t burn easily.

Second, the flavor is neutral (especially in the case of canola oil), and food fried in it is lighter–just what you want from a panneed dish. You could use olive oil, but just the regular kind, called “100 Percent Pure” on the label, but no claim to any kind of virginity. The things that make extra-virgin olive oil so good in salads, marinated vegetables and the like–the aromatcs–all burn away when the heat is too high.

A lot of chefs I know like cottonseed oil. But in recent years the inventor of cottonseed oil–Wesson–has begun mixing canola oil into it, which changes some of the qualities. And corn oil has its adherents. One I never buy is “vegetable oil”–a blend. You never know what you have there.

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Tom: What's the difference between USDA grades of beef?

Q: What’s the difference among the USDA grades of beef? Which is better, Choice or Select? Where does Angus beef fit into this scheme?

A: The United States Department of Agriculture grades beef according to an eight-grade system. It is not required by law; the packing house decides whether to grade it beef or not. The grade is on the entire carcass, not on just the big primal cuts the supermarket butchers handle. The main criterion is how much fat occurs in the lean parts of the beef, a quality that shows up as fat “marbling” in the lean. The more fat, the better.
A not-very-well marbled round steak. I'd guess the USDA grade is Select.
A not-very-well marbled round steak. I'd guess the USDA grade is Select.

The top grade is USDA Prime, the overwhelming majority of which goes to restaurants–although some specialty butchers carry Prime. Next is Choice, which is the most common grade in all but discounted markets. Select is below Choice. I wouldn’t get that for sirloin strip steaks or brisket, but Select filets and ribeyes are acceptable.

Below that are five more USDA grades, none of which you are likely to see in any meat market. The names alone tell you they aren’t desirable: Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner. (I have long campaigned to have Standard renamed “USDA Okie-Dokey.”) Beef that would grade below Select but headed for a retail meat counter is usually not graded at all. Such beef is known in the trade as “no-roll,” a reference to the rolling, purple-ink marker that identifies USDA grading. I’ll just say this: you probably eat more no-roll beef than any other grade. Especially if you shop for price.)

“Angus” is a breed of cattle, not a grade. It has no direct relationship to the USDA grading system, although Black Angus beef tends to grade higher than most other breeds. “Certified Angus Beef” and similar identifiers are trademarks used by a group of cattlemen to identify beef that meets the group’s own standards, which are more stringent than the USDA standards. (Certified Angus Beef is, for example, from younger cows raised in the Midwest and Plains states.)

Here’s a funny thing: there is no comparable grading system for pork or lamb.

This post originally appeared at Tom's website, NOMenu.com
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Tom: The 12 best chilled entrees in New Orleans

Chilled Entrees–Dozen Best

At some point during our relentless New Orleans summers, even people disinclined to eat cold dishes open to the idea. Chilled dishes grow in their appealing the longer hot weather lingers. Here’s a list of the dozen best such summertime delicacies. We are fortunate in having many locally-grown foods that lend themselves to this sort of thing. Among them, crabmeat is king, followed closely by big shrimp.

Certain cold dishes have come to be such widespread classics that I have left them out of the consideration. Most of these have their own lists. Not included here are:

Shrimp Remoulade
Raw oysters
Sushi and sashimi

That leaves a top dozen chilled dishes that are not only delicious but offbeat. That’s enough to keep your interest for the remaining–what is it, eight more months?–of summer.


1. Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504. In the warm months, the seafood martini is a must to begin any meal at the PC. Lobster, crabmeat, and shrimp come together on top of chilled, lumpy mashed potatoes (you may not even notice that’s what it is), covered with a great ravigote sauce.

2. La Petite Grocery. Uptown: 4238 Magazine. 504-891-3377. Steak tartare has almost disappeared from restaurants nationwide. Reason: fear of raw beef, which is what this is. The best was on Arnaud’s lunch menu before the storm, but that meal is extinct. However, the tartare at La Petite Grocery is fully satisfying, and something I start with at least every other meal there.

3. Clancy’s. Uptown: 6100 Annunciation St. 504-895-111. Crabmeat Louis is not really a New Orleans dish–the most convincing story is that it originated in San Francisco a century ago. But it sure seems local, showing off our jumbo lump crabmeat nicely. It’s a light salad, fleshed out not only with the crabmeat but deviled egg quarters and a sauce made of mostly of mayonnaise, with chili sauce, horseradish, and green onions. Perfect in summer, as either an appetizer or an entree.


4. Bistro Daisy. Uptown: 5831 Magazine. 504-899-6987. The idea of pairing beets with crabmeat seems crazy–the red beet juice gets all over the white lumps. But the flavors are really perfect together. The idea first appeared at the extinct Peristyle, where Chef Tony Schulte worked before he moved to La Petit Grocery, then to his own Bistro Daisy. The chilled crabmeat ‘n’ beets remains a fixture on his menu there, as offbeat and fascinating as ever.


5. Cafe Giovanni. French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154. The spicy seafood Caprese combines the standard tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (which makes it Caprese) with nice-looking local crabmeat, shrimp and crawfish. The sauce is a very light white remoulade. It’s made as an appetizer, but it’s almost big enough for an entree. Chef Duke’s antipasto assortment would also make this list.


6. Mariza. Bywater: 2900 Chartres St. 504-598-5700. Quite a few restaurants make their own cured, smoked charcuterie and salumi. It’s very hip to do so, and most of those who make the commitment do it well. . But at this moment the most impressive, exacting such board is covered with the works of Ian Schnoebelen, who with his partner Laurie Casebonne owns Mariza. The version that includes cheeses, olives and condiments is particularly a pleasure.

7. Galatoire’s. French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021. “The Galatoire Goute”is three favorite cold appetizers on one plate. Here are a) jumbo lump crabmeat maison (a dish other restaurants call crabmeat ravigote), in a light mayonnaise with mustard, capers, and lemon; 2) shrimp remoulade, tangy, spicy, and made with Louisiana shrimp of unimpeachable merit, boiled and peeled on site; and iii) crawfish with a mustardy variation of the sauce on the crabmeat. Shrimp pinch-hits when crawfish are out of season. This makes a great lunch for one, or an appetizer for the table with cocktails.

8. Hoa Hong 9 (Nine Roses). Gretna: 1100 Stephens. 504-366-7665. Vietnamese spring rolls are the ones made with big shrimp and cold rice noodles, wrapped in the stretchy spring roll skins, and served with a spicy carrot sauce or peanut sauce. Haven’t had better than here.

9. Cafe Granada. Carrollton: 1506 S Carrollton Ave. 504-865-1612. An assortment ofcold tapas supplies everything you need for a meal: ham, salami, manchego cheese, olives, smoked salmon, grilled chilled asparagus, carpaccio of filet mignon, and ceviche of the day. Quite a variety.

10. Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422. Antoine’s makes the richest and best vichyssoise in town. The potato-and-leek soup with more than a little heavy cream. They recently brought it back from limbo, and I hope it stays.

11. Lola’s. Esplanade Ridge: 3312 Esplanade. 504-488-6946. No restaurant in New Orleans has made gazpacho longer than Lola’s has. The late founder Angel Miranda premiered his gazpacho at his Altamira restaurant at the 1984 World’s Fair. When he opened Lola’s a few years later, he continued to make the cold vegetable soup in the style of his native Andalucia. All the vegetables are pureed, and the soup is thickened invisibly by the addition of bread. Terrific.

12. Kim Son. Gretna: 349 Whitney Ave. 504-366-2489. Vietnamese restaurants have a wide assortment of “bun” dishes–roasted meats atop cool noodles, perhaps outright cold. Kim Son has the definitive local version of that, made with beef or pork.

This blog originally appeared on Tom's website NOMenu.com

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