This is the home of legendary haute-creole restaurants (Antione’s,1840; Arnaud’s, 1918; Tujague’s, 1856; Galatoire’s, 1905; Commander’s Palace, 1880) and dynamite local secrets (Irene’s; Brightsen’s; Dick n’ Jenny’s; Jacques-Imo’s; Cochon; etc…..) Chefs in this city are household celebrities: Emerill, Prudhomme, Dooky Chase, Spicer, Besh, etc……
The standard has been raised. What was bombast in Jax before, in the Big Easy, is called “Tuesday.”
Upon arrival I purchased two books: Escoffier by Escoffier and After the Hunt: Louisiana's Authoritative Collection of Wild Game Recipes by Chef John Folse. Escoffier codifies classical French cooking techniques and Folse explains how to prepare anything that crawls, walks, swims, flies, or grows south of Natchez. Later on, I pick up The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine by Folse as well. I am ready.
(Where’s the bbq?) Not in this post. Consider this post to be an “Empire Strikes Back”: Not so much enjoyable as it is a necessary segue between “Star Wars” and “Jedi.”
Learning Creole and Cajun cuisine begins with learning the Mother Sauces and how to make good, rich, dark stocks. Then follow up with secondary, and tertiary sauces (marchand du vin, choron, meuniere, sabayon, etc…this is where the magic lives.) Find good farmer markets for fresh, seasonal vegetables and seafood from local sources.
This is a good time to make some comments about making your own stocks (highly recommended—the crap you get from the store has an artificial flavor and is loaded with sodium.) Yes, it takes along time and will monopolize a Saturday morning. The payoff is huge, figuratively and physically: (1) it makes a LOT of stock, (2) volume per dollar, it is CHEAP, (3) it contains insane amount of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, protein, etc. Nourishing Traditions by Fallon explains all this thoroughly. Use the cartilaginous portions of the animal (the least expensive) and roast them to bring out flavor. This caramelizes the natural sugars in the marrow to make a rich, dark stock with a flavor punch. Chicken: use the wings and feet—I know it sounds gross, you’ll thank me later. Beef: ask the butcher for marrow bones, or use the knuckles, shanks, tail, etc. Duck: fillet off the breast portions for use as an entrée, remove thighs for a confit or cassoulet, remove extra fat and use to render lard (more on that later), and use everything left—I buy whole Peking-style ducks (head and feet attached) and use the whole thing.
There are only a bajillion stock recipes out there—it’s basically chopped veggies, herbs, spices, cold water. Go knock yourself out. After simmering for hours (+8 min), strain the stock. Then place liquid only in a wide, shallow pan and reduce by half to concentrate flavor. I pour mine into muffin pans and freeze. Remove the stock puck and place into a big ole Ziploc bag to keep in the freezer for when you need it. When you reuse it, mix with equal parts water to “bring it back up”. Or not, your call.
Duck fat….hmmm….is indispensable in European cuisine. Place the removed fat and fatty skin portions in a sauce pan over a low fire. Simmer it until the pieces stop bubbling. If it smokes, turn down heat, or remove it. The objective is to render all the saturated fat out of the pieces of flesh with out burning anything—take your time. I pour this off into little mini-muffin pans (+2 T) and freeze. It stores in the freezer similar as stock pucks above, but use it up with in a few months so it does not become rancid.
Use rendered duck fat to baste lean meats as they cook, or inject into meat prior to cooking. My fav is to make a duck lard compound with gorgonzola and minced, roasted pecans; stuff this into butter-flied deer tenderloin and roast it. Used in lieu of butter or olive oil, duck lard adds a deeper, rich, slightly wild flavor to dishes that otherwise would be kind of tame (lame). You can toss it with roasting potatoes, brushed it on savory puff pastries, use it to make the above mentioned sauces really sing.
Eventually, this knowledge will be incorpoated into BBQ. And I see the BBQ reaching sublime levels of taste. But first, one has to learn the rules before one can break the rules.