By guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes:
Recently, a few New Orleans chefs invited me into their kitchens. I had expectations - good (New Orleans' food tastes fantastic) - and bad (everybody knows that food in NoLa features boatloads of fat).
And, as I couldn't stay in New Orleans forever, there was also the question of whether I could replicate any of the tastes and textures at home.
Watching Leah Chase run the kitchen of the renowned restaurant, Dooky Chase, 2301 Orleans Ave., I had to wonder whether the cuisine was healthier than its reputation. Chase is 86 years old. While she shares stove-space with her grandson (Edgar Chase, Cordon Bleu graduate and heir to the nickname "Dooky"), there's no doubt who's the boss in her kitchen.
I want to be that healthy in my 80s, and - being greedy - also want to enjoy my meals along the way. What's the reality behind New Orleans' cuisine?
As it turns out, food in the Big Easy is really about company. Chef Kevin Belton, of Li'l Dizzy's Café, 1500 Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, says, "It doesn't matter what's on the table. It matters who's around the table."
Now, that was something anybody could bring home (without adding calories or taking luggage space). So is local pride. All of the chefs said that the reason they came back after Katrina was the city - its people and its culture. New Orleans' natives had an obligation, one based in love: keep their home and its ways alive. The way they see it, we should all support the places where we live.
People in New Orleans are proud of their city, their heritage and their food. This includes seasonings (spicy flavors brought in by the slaves) and regional produce. When chef Doris Finister, of Two Sisters Kitchen, 223 N. Derbigny St., makes gumbo, it wouldn't occur to her to use anything but Gulf shrimp. The local shrimp are dense and meaty, a world (and a gulf) away from the watery things most of us have eaten.
Every single chef assured me that substitutions were welcome in the pot. Allergic to shrimp? Use chicken. Have a local butcher you really like? Go to him for sausage. Is there a sale on local fish? Buy it. Is something fresh in the market? That's what you should choose.
Seasonal eating isn't a trend or a rage; it's an intrinsic part of New Orleans cooking. Cajun tomatoes, local blueberries, regional fish, okra ... If it's fresh, it's on the table.
When your stock is that good, you don't need to do much to it.
Chef John Besh (below) wasn't in town during my stay, but he gave the Sun-Times a galley proof of his new cookbook. My New Orleans: The Cookbook will be released in early October, and its author will be coming to Chicago on a book tour shortly thereafter.
I'm glad to have it now. Lyle Allen, the executive director of the Green City Market, reminds me that blueberries are in season - and at the Market.
More New Orleans recipes (with Market tips) are yet to come, but kick off the weekend with indulgence, and feature dessert first. Besh's cookbook features a recipe for blueberry sorbet. Healthy and tasty, it has a maximum of 1/2 cup of sugar in 12 portions. Given the quality of the fruit at the Green City Market, I'm betting I can leave the sugar on the shelf.
Recipe after the jump.
MAKES 10 TO 12 SERVINGS
Sorbets often contain too much sugar and too much water. I love using fresh berries at the peak of their ripeness to make very straightforward purees that can be frozen for sorbet. I use the egg method to make sure the purees will freeze into a smooth sorbet with intense fruit flavor.
4 pints blueberries
1/2 cup sugar, if needed
Puree the blueberries in a blender for several minutes. Strain the purée through a fine sieve, pushing it through with a rubber spatula, into a medium bowl.
Test for the proper sugar content by floating a whole egg, shell and all, in the puree. If the egg floats so that only a nickel-size portion of the egg is exposed at the surface of the sorbet, there is enough natural sugar - no need to add more. If the egg sinks, remove the egg and add up to 1/2 cup of sugar, blend, and retest with the egg. If it floats too high in the puree, then add water, a bit at a time, until the egg sinks to the correct height.
Pour the blueberry puree into the canister of an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.
From My New Orleans: the cookbook, by John Besh