By now, almost everyone could use a boost for the spirits. It’s important to take stock of what is truly important in life. Engaging personal stories and the pure human pleasure of food are near the top of the list. Dishes from New Orleans will perk up the tired palate. Here are two classics, Shrimp Rémoulade and Grillades.
A mighty force in Virginia’s heralded tourism development, Richard, now retired, shared this outstanding recipe, loaded with his LSU enthusiasm.
Shrimp Rémoulade has for generations been a favorite in the best kitchens of New Orleans. The sauce itself originated in France in the 17th century and found its way into other European countries not long thereafter and is used on a variety of seafoods, salads and even beef. Not surprisingly, the dish made its way across the Atlantic and into the Southern port of New Orleans in the 1800s and its popularity got a big boost when Arnaud’s Restaurant opened in the French Quarter of the Crescent City in 1918. Though shrimp rémoulade can be found on the menus of seafood restaurants in New Orleans and throughout South Louisiana, it is Arnaud’s, still going strong on Bienville Street, with which it is most closely identified.
A quick note on Creole and Cajun cuisine: In the wake of the great explosion in the popularity of Louisiana cuisine it is sometimes generally accepted that a dish must be red-hot spicy to be true Cajun or Creole. Nothing could be more far removed from the truth. Yes, some of the most famous dishes – sauce piquant, gumbo, jambalaya – have varying degrees of red-pepper heat, but South Louisiana cuisine is more about balance of flavors, and that is what this recipe is all about.
In Louisiana, rémoulade sauce is either mayonnaise-based or oil-based, and as with many sauce dishes one can find recipes with a long list of ingredients, some of which are superfluous. My favorite rémoulade recipe has exactly six ingredients and can be made in a jiffy. This is a borrowed (OK, stolen) recipe from a popular South Louisiana restaurant. Back in the 1980s, while dining at the restaurant, I remarked to our server how delicious I had always found the restaurant’s shrimp rémoulade and wondered if she could let me in on the recipe. Ah, what luck! Though she did not know the precise measurements she did know the ingredients and conspiratorially whispered them in my ear. Soon enough I was in my own kitchen trying to suss out the right proportion of ingredients and through taste and color finally arrived at a reasonable facsimile. A couple of decades later I decided to add capers, not an unusual component of rémoulade sauces, and that made the recipe “my own.”
Looking in cookbooks and going onto the internet one can find dozens and dozens of remoulade recipes. None of them seem “bad,” except for the one I found on a major culinary web site that insists on yellow mustard – ICK!!! Some want you to add egg or egg yolk and cook the dressing before chilling and serving. All that is fine if you want to invest the time and trouble required to make it that way – but why waste time when you can make a delicious dish with fewer ingredients and less prep. So here goes:
Two pounds of boiled medium shrimp.
1 cup good mayonnaise (I use Duke’s)
2 tbsp whole grain Creole mustard (Zatarain’s is preferred)
2 tsp chili sauce
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp capers, coarsely chopped
Boil shrimp according to directions found on any self-respecting shrimp boil seasoning package (such as Zatarain’s)
For the sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir it up! Here’s the beauty of this dish – you want more horseradish, put it in. More Creole mustard, put it in. More lemon juice, you know the drill. Add some lemon zest if you wish and even a dash or two of Louisiana hot sauce. Get it to taste like you like it and … there you go. Chili sauce is preferred but there is no harm in using ketchup instead.
Here is the key part – have that sauce ready to go before you boil the shrimp. After you peel the shrimp (please don’t leave on the tail like in some of the fancy recipes I have seen) and while they are still warm combine the shrimp with the sauce. Mix it up good and put the whole thing in the fridge overnight. The warm shrimp will accept the sauce flavoring more readily than adding sauce to cold shrimp. After an overnight in the fridge the flavors of shrimp and sauce have fallen in love with each other and it is ready to eat. You can serve it by itself in small bowls or on a small plate on a bed of lettuce. Shrimp Rémoulade is not a main dish but rather a cold appetizer that goes great with just about any good South Louisiana main dish.
NOTE: The sauce can also be used as a topping to crab cakes or even steak, or as a salad dressing.
Grillades and Grits
I first enjoyed Grillades and grits at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Delicious and hearty, this is a versatile Creole dish can be served at any time of day No matter when it is consumed, it will be relished. The late Craig Claiborne’s recipe is my favorite.
A grillade is a square-cut piece of lean meat fried and served with a sauce. After frying, the steaks are slowly simmered in a sauce until the moment the flavors reach their ultimate development and the meat becomes its most tender.
1 pound 4 ounces (575 g) lean beef, veal, or pork steaks, ½ inch (1¼ cm) thick
¼ cup (60 ml) flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (30 g) bacon fat or lard
1½ cups (355 ml) sliced onion
½ cup (118 ml) chopped celery
1 cup (235 ml) chopped red or green bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard
2 tablespoons flour
1½ cups (355 ml) sliced fresh, ripe tomato
1¼ cups (295 ml) water or stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more)
¼ cup (60 ml) Pepper Sauce or vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley
4½ cups stone-ground grits
Cut the steaks into 2-inch (5 cm) squares. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper and dredge the steaks. Heat the bacon fat in the skillet or sauté pan over high heat and sauté the meat on each side, browning well. Remove the meat to a holding dish, leaving the fat behind in the pan.
Sauté the onion, celery, and pepper in the same pan until tender. Add garlic and stir well. Push the vegetables to one side of the pan. Add the additional 2 tablespoons of bacon fat and stir in the 2 tablespoons of flour. Stir the roux well and cook until it turns a rich medium brown. Add the water or stock and stir all until smooth.
Return the meat to the pan and scatter the tomatoes over all. Season with thyme, basil, red pepper flakes, and the Pepper Sauce or vinegar. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until tender, about 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the type of meat used. Taste for salt and pepper and stir in the 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley. Serve over hot, well-buttered grits.
NOTE: I recommend Bradley’s Country Milled Grits: stone ground, coarse grits, milled on Bradley’s historic premises in Tallahassee.