There is a broad mix of people in Louisiana but the names perhaps most referred to are Cajun and Creole. And even then, the reference is often about the food.
The fundamental difference is Creole will have tomatoes, Cajun won’t. That is over-simplifying, certainly, but an easy to remember rule of thumb. Today’s tour is about culinary delights.
Although there are component similarities, Jambalaya is NOT Cajun Paella. First of all, it’s more Creole than Cajun. Secondly it does not contain saffron. Most often it will start with the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Creole and Cajun cooking, which is onion, celery and green bell pepper. (The Pope is Garlic 🙂 ). After that may be other vegetables, meats like pork, chicken, crawfish or shrimp and, of course, rice.
Gumbo is different again. Although many ingredients are the same, filé powder (dried sassafras leaves) is generally added after the meat and vegetables are done. Okra is also included and its preparation is a little tricky. Okra tends to get somewhat slimy while it cooks and that is not pleasant. However, using a whisk twisting your wrist around quickly, the slime will collect and can be removed. This will likely take two or three times to be fully successful. (There are many methods of removing the slime, make sure you use one of them.) As well, gumbo is traditionally served over rice, not cooked with it.
Oysters are also big business in the 1400 restaurants in New Orleans. To the tune of about $317 million dollars annually. One of the more notable restaurants in town, Antoine’s, is the originator of Oysters Rockefeller. Due to the shortage of French snails around town, the owner’s son developed this dish substituting oysters and creating a very rich (as rich as Rockefeller!) sauce to bake them in. He must have done something right as they have served over 3.5 million orders since 1899.
We’re in New Orleans. We watch a LOT of cooking shows and have done so for years. Where do you think we ~might~ go for dinner while we’re here? Why, Emeril’s of course. His first restaurant, which is located in what is now the Arts district, was opened some 27 years ago (when it was the warehouse district). And that is our showstopper for the night.
One lady met us at the door and took us to our table. A man soon shows up with water, a selection of bread (which he fully describes) and the wine list, another is right behind with the menu, explaining the choices and specials of the night. A fourth seems to be around to just take care of any immediate needs. Yet, with all the people taking care of us, no-one hovers at the table. They just magically appear at given proper moments. All our dishes are served to us individually at exactly the same time. It’s not one waiter with two dishes, it’s two waiters with one dish each. Excellent service throughout.
Barbequed shrimp for myself and Gumbo for my dear wife. The shrimp were done to perfection nesting in the most wonderful gravy-type sauce that had a delightful sneaker-heat. Not even the tails were leftover and only a proper sense of decorum spared everyone from watching me lick the plate.
The Gumbo was rich and filling with a beautifully fat oyster nestled right in the middle. Green onion pork sausage pieces lay hiding, waiting for discovery and then immediately devoured. Again, formal courtesy prevented any sort of negative social commentary.
My main was Andouille Crusted Gulf Drum (a very flakey white fish) over the most consummately prepared shoestring potatoes with a Creole meuniere sauce. Some people have been underwhelemed by this, however mine was fabulous. My dear wife had swordfish on fresh pappardelle noodles. Both were portioned such that there was just enough to leave room for some dessert yet more than enough to insure you were well satisfied.
To complement our meal a Russian River Chardonnay releases its soft buttery goodness that caresses the palette and seduces you to further indulgence. Fabulous!
And now dessert…which can only be one thing. Emeril’s Banana Cream Pie. The dinner journey has led unerringly to this point. The cream pie is…very firm…almost solid yet totally malleable. The graham cracker base bordering on crunchy yet perfectly capable of carrying the layers of precision above. And the bananas! Layered with an exactitude that allowed for a brick-like appearance when cut. The whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
Now I must let the snob in me appear, reluctantly. The entire experience in this establishment was marvelous and a second visit is guaranteed should we ever come back to New Orleans (ok…maybe it will be Delmonico’s but Emeril’s nonetheless). There was only one faux pas. On their wine list, they had a very good selection including some ports, vintage and otherwise. The stunner was the 1987 Quinta do Noval Nacional. It wasn’t the price, ($70 per 2 oz. pour) which I would have (almost) happily paid, that was my disappointment. I talked with the sommelier who could not tell me when it was opened. It was assuredly not today or yesterday, but rather “has been open for a few days already”. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money for something that really had past its prime and I told him as much. For some reason, he seemed rather surprised at my observation. I, too, was surprised…for different reasons.
All in all, another admirable day, another 13,000+ steps counted. The hot tub awaits to soothe the muscles and relax the mind.