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A taste of New Orleans
Shrimp Po’ Boy

I was listening to Muddy Waters the other night. The song that caught my attention was called Catfish Blues. And since that very afternoon I’d had a most satisfying meal of New Orleans food, I was instantly transposed to the land of Creole and Cajun cuisine —throwing up happy images of blackened fish and a sandwich called po’ boy.

It’s a cuisine that has always fascinated me. New Orleans — the land of jazz and blues — mixes and matches Cajun and Creole food like it does its music. Cajun cuisine came with the French-speaking Acadians who migrated from Canada’s Acadia to Louisiana in the United States in the mid-1700s. Simplistically put, Cajun food is more rustic, and has strong French influences. Creole food is a pot of disparate strands — American, French, Caribbean, Mediterranean and African.

Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese

A slice of this was on display — and for tasting — at Delhi’s Jaypee Vasant and Siddharth hotels which had organised a New Orleans festival last week. I went there, had a nice conversation with Chef Jeremy, the man behind the festival, and came back home thinking of Muddy Waters and of James Lee Burke, an American author who writes as much about the people of Louisiana as about its food.

His detective with a soul loves to eat a po’ boy — a submarine sandwich with an interesting set of stories behind it. Some hold that po’ boy is a variation of ‘poor boys’, which was the term used for workers who were on a strike against a streetcar company in New Orleans in 1929. A city restaurant served the out-of-work strikers a cheap but filling sandwich, which went on to be called a po’ boy. Others believe that the name comes from the French pour boire or peace offering — which took the form of an oyster loaf that men brought home as a token of peace after a night out on the town.

Gumbo Ya Ya

Like Burke’s hero, Dave Robicheaux, I had a shrimp po’ boy at the festival. For this, you need to fry shrimps a golden brown, and place them inside a baguette with crisp lettuce leaves and tomato slices. Add Tabasco and mayonnaise to the bread.

The menu was eclectic, and consisted of, among other things, poached shrimps, charred red pumpkin soup, gumbo ya ya and pecan crusted goat cheese. The last was a salad of mixed greens tossed with white wine vinaigrette and topped with goat cheese medallions that had been crusted with ground pecan nuts. The poached shrimps had been served with a remoulade sauce, and the gumbo ya ya was a variation of the much loved gumbo sausages and chicken cooked in a stock and with vegetables.

Charred Red Pumpkin Soup

I enjoyed my meal, and had a friendly chat with Chef Jeremy, who had come down for the festival. The chef is a young man, all of 30 years, and is based in Canada. His father was a chef, so Chef Jeremy grew up tinkering with pans and pots. Originally from Guyana, Chef Jeremy says he fell in love with the food of New Orleans when he went there for a visit a year ago. So he studied the cuisine there, worked in a couple of restaurants and is now at Eggspectation — an international chain with branches in the two Jaypee hotels.

For Chef Jeremy’s gumbo, you need to first sauté chicken breasts and sausages in olive oil in a pan. Remove and keep aside. In the same pan, sauté onions, green peppers and celery till soft.

Chef Jeremy fell in love with the food of New Orleans

Remove this as well. Make a roux by combining oil with flour in a heavy stock pot over medium heat. Cook the roux until it is chocolate brown in colour. The roux must be very dark for a good gumbo. When it is ready, add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Now add the chicken, sausage and vegetables and reduce the heat to medium low and cook uncovered for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. The gumbo should be slightly thick when done. If it too thick, just add more stock.

Put warm steamed rice in a mould, and press it to form a cone. Place the rice in the centre of a soup plate, and ladle the gumbo around it. Serve, garnished with sliced green onions.

For poached shrimps, add water, salt, lemon juice and some lemon halves in a pot. Add parsley, bay leaves and fresh thyme. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes so that the aromas get infused into the liquid. Now reduce the heat to medium low and add shrimps and cook uncovered for five minutes. Remove the shrimps and chill well before peeling. Remove the head and body shells, but leave the tail for presentation.

Poached Shrimps

Now make a remoulade sauce. For this, mix mayonnaise, lemon juice, minced capers, minced anchovies, minced gherkins, minced shallots, minced parsley and thinly sliced chives with Cajun spice mix. Cajun spices are essentially a mix of salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, onion powder, black and white ground pepper, garlic powder, dried basil, dried thyme, mustard and chilli powder. Blend well, and keep aside for at least four hours to allow the flavours to blossom.

Place the boiled shrimps on a rectangular serving plate. Place some remoulade sauce on the opposite end. Sprinkle Cajun spices on the serving plate, and serve with crackers.

This represents my kind of cuisine, my kind of books, and my kind of music. The food is a delicious melting point, the music lifts your spirits and Burke spells hope. Makes you even forget Katrina.        

Spicy chicken wing

Ingredients

12 chicken wings 1/4th cup butter or margarine, melted 2tbs Tabasco 1tsp tomato ketchup ½tsp garlic powder

Method

Cut each wing into two parts. Put on a wire rack over a drip pan. Bake in an oven at 350°F for 90 minutes, turning after 45 minutes. Combine butter, Tabasco, ketchup and garlic powder and mix well. When the wings are done, toss the pieces in the butter mixture. Serve with a cheese dip.

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