Bringing home the flavor
I just got back from a trip to New Orleans – my first, and long overdue. I was there for a conference, and much of my four days there was taken up with meetings – but the organizers were smart enough to leave us free in the evenings, so I was able to do what I love best when traveling: Sample the local food.
“Sample” is an understatement, actually. I ate like an eating fool.
Seafood, of course. Oil spill be damned, I ate shrimp and blue crabs and oysters in multiple preparations. I ate traditional food, and modern takes on traditional flavors, and to be honest, the only bad meal I had was the lone conference dinner, and conference meals are just like that. You try preparing food for 300, all at the same time, and tell me if you’re able to get the chicken to be anything but rubbery.
I dined at a some of the tourist favorites – oysters at Deanie’s, which has the ambience of a big 50s diner and starts you off with a complimentary bowl of plain boiled red potatoes, and barbecue shrimp at Desire, a seafood bistro and bar on Bourbon Street. I had a muffaleta at the Central Grocery, and cafe au lait with beignets at Cafe du Monde.
And I had what qualifies as one of the best meals of my life at the tiny Green Goddess, tucked away in an alley between Bienville and Conti streets: a sophisticated modern take on crayfish with risotto and mustard greens, followed by a small but utterly decadent dessert of three green dates, roasted in vanilla essence and stuffed with a mousse of “humane” foie gras.
And I came home hungry for more. The flavors of New Orleans really speak to me: spicy, rich, savory, complex, with influences of France and Spain and the Caribbean and Africa.
So why not try New Orleans recipes with northwestern ingredients? After all, our seafood is not so very different from theirs; they have blue crab, we have Dungenness; they have Gulf shrimp, we have Pacific shrimp. Their oysters are a different breed than ours, but we have do oysters, and they’re tasty things.
Oh, Internet, how I love you. A quick Google turned up Emeril LaGasse’s recipe for shrimp etouffee, which is basically shrimp stewed in a roux-based sauce flavored with the Holy Trinity (onion. celery, green pepper), tomato and plenty of cayenne, served over rice. The hardest part about it is making the brown roux, and that’s not actually hard, it just requires constant stirring of the fat-and-flour mixture until it’s nut-brown. I even had a bag of shrimp shells I’ve been hoarding in the freezer, waiting for the occasion to make a seafood stock.
And so I did.
See the photo, above.
Here’s the recipe. Other than using local seafood and vegetables, I followed it to the letter.
It’s very, very good. I have enough leftovers for days. And if my limited experience is any test, it tastes just like New Orleans.