Archive for April, 2011

Working at Cross Purposes

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

I am often my own worst enemy. I complain constantly about my workload, yet when there is finally a little slow period  AND I’m not running all over the country- I decide to add two things to the menu that sell out every night and are thus impossible to keep up with. Tamales (I know, I know) and fried chicken. I might add that it’s Mardi Gras so the whole menu almost will shift Louisianaward as well. This means that a lot of new things will appear all at once. 

Mardi gras has never really caught on here. People always want to have the party on the Saturday night beforehand. Poor form I think, but then they have also changed Midnight Madness to 8:30 p.m. here. It may make more sense in the future to just bring Louisiana food throughout the spring rather than all in one week. I have a year to think about this. Meanwhile back to tamales.

Many years ago, when I was at a wedding in Hot Springs,  Arkansas, I kept encountering tamales in the barbecue joints. They were usually a side dish and they were almost black with pepper. Nobody mentioned ever Mexico when they were brought to the table. This sat in the back of my mind. Then, there was a place called Gulf Coast in New York. It was downtown on the West Side. They served really good, tiny, messy tamales at their bar. Enough has been said here about my own personal history with the banana leaf tamales of Oaxaca. The culmination of all this is that Southern-style  tamales are presently on my menu. Some nights I have both the Arkansas style and another that comes from the Mississippi Delta. Some nights, I’m too busy so you get only one. I depair of ever getting around to having a plate with all three styles, which was once my intention.

I’d forgotten how stringy raw turtle meat can be. A pot of soup takes all afternoon to make.  Interstingly, when the meat is cooked , it quickly becomes quite tender.This recipe is the exact opposite of the way I normally approach soups. Here, soups are generally the result of leftovers rather than of plans. This recipe is an exception. It was given to me by my friend Ray Farris. He is from New Orleans and I make it every year around Mardi Gras time. I think it’s the best thing I make all year.

As for the fried chicken, for about two years I’ve been trying to put this on the menu. I’m only frying chicken thighs, which are my favorite part. I decided this while standing in the half gutted house of Willie Mae Seaton. This is what Miss Seaton cooked for us on one of our SFA work trips to New Orleans after Katrina. There were no chairs or plates. We ate with paper towels. It was fantastic. I think there may have also been brown and serve rolls from the grocery store.

I’ve been making milk gravy with the pan drippings then adding Anson Mills Sea Island red peas. A little of this is drizzled over the chicken and the mashed potatoes that come with it. besides this, the menu includes gumbo z’herb- the green gumbo that I first had at Dooky Chase in New Orleans. This recipe is a hybrid between that of Mrs. Chase and of my friend Marcelle Bienvenu from St Charles, Louisiana. Marcelle puts turnips as well as turnip greens in hers. This is a perfect touch. People actually order this now as they do the turtle soup. It’s taken years of coaxing. I have an extra package of turtle in the freezer this year, so the soup will reappear out of season at some point.