In light of my new True Blood addiction and tonight’s season finale, I decided to cook a meal this week from four different Louisiana Junior League cookbooks: Shreveport (home of the unfortunately-named vampire bar, Fangtasia), New Orleans, Lake Charles, and Lafayette (both a fine city and a sassy, if shell-shocked, drag queen).
Unfortunately, I can only post three of them as, much to my annoyance, I seem to have misplaced the Junior League of Lake Charles’s Marshes to Mansions at present. I’ll come back and add it in later, but in the meantime, I give you Oysters en Brochette.
Brady and I started the day with a trip to the fish market because Ralph’s or Whole Foods was simply not going to cut it. This is because of roux, a slowly cooked mixture of flour and olive oil or butter that is the heart and soul of Cajun and Creole cooking. It takes at least 45 minutes (and often longer) of constant tending to make a nice, brown, flavorful roux. Take your eyes off it for a second, and it will burn. No self-respecting person is going to spend an hour on roux, and then toss some frozen whitefish into the pot with it, so spring for the best, freshest fish you can lay hands on.
The main dish, courtbouillon, comes from the Junior League of Shreveport’s A Cook’s Tour of Shreveport (1964). A courtbouillon is a rich, complex, roux-based fish soup made with herbs, vegetables, and wine. I was most grateful to have Brady, a genuine, born and raised, Gulf Coast fella, in the kitchen helping me out by tending to the roux while I chopped and grated about a million vegetables.
6 pounds red fish, cut in pieces of about 4 ounces each
2 cups flour
1/2 cup pure olive oil
1/4 pound butter
4 pounds onions
1 bunch celery
1 head garlic
2 sweet peppers
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch onion tops
1 6-ounce can imported tomato paste
1 can tomato sauce
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 lemon (four large slices)
2 (or 3) cups claret wine
Salt and red pepper to taste
5 bay leaves
Make flour and olive oil roux. When well browned, add butter. When this is well browned, add onions, celery, sweet peppers and garlic which have been ground together. Add tomato paste and tomato sauce. Stir constantly throughout these steps to prevent burning.
Add about 3 quarts hot water. You may now add the following all at the same time: chopped parsley, cut-up onion tops, lemon, bay leaves, claret wine, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and about a spoonful of thyme if you have it. Let this cook slowly about 30 minutes. Add fish and it will be ready to serve in about 20 minutes. Cut large slices fresh French bread and serve with a bottle of imported white wine (chilled).
— Mrs. E.C. St. Martin
For a vegetable side dish, I turned to the Junior League of New Orleans’s Jambalaya (1980).
6 large tomatoes
1 T. salt
3/4 t. black pepper
3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup finely grated Romano or Swiss cheese
1/4 t. oregano
4 T. butter, melted
Remove tops of tomatoes and scoop out about 2 tablespoons of pulp. Season tomatoes with salt and pepper; set aside.
In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, cheese, and oregano. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Place a generous amount of the bread crumb mixture into each tomato. Place tomatoes in a 2-quart baking dish and pour melted butter on top of each. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, basting twice.
I opted for the Romano cheese, which is a bit less melty than Swiss, so the filling was drier than I would have liked. However, when we reheated the leftover tomatoes the next night, they were much more moist, though still crispy on top. If you’re making these, it might not hurt to add a couple of tablespoons of water or melted butter to the bread crumb mixture before spooning it into the tomatoes.
Finally, for dessert, I made that southern classic, Pecan Pie, from the Junior League of Lafayette’s Talk About Good II (1979). Though this recipe calls for pecan pieces mixed right in with the filling, I decided to do it a la Sookie’s Gran on True Blood, with pecan halves arranged in concentric circles. While this certainly makes the pie more difficult to cut, it is also very pretty.
Mama’s Pecan Pie
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup dark Karo syrup
1/3 cup melted margarine
1 cup pecans
1 unbaked pie shell
Beat eggs well by hand. Add remaining ingredients. Bake in pie shell at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until a knife remains clean when inserted 1/4 way into the pie.
— Hilda K. Walker
It’s a simple recipe. In the time it took Brady to run to the butcher a few blocks away and back, I’d made the pie crust, the filling, arranged the pecans on top, and popped it in the oven. Still, when we took the first bite, I said (and in more of a stunned than a bragging way), “I think this is one of the best pies I’ve ever made.” Brady, who has over the past decade eaten more of my pies than I can count, agreed.
Recipes for pecan pie are like recipes for lasagna or chili – everybody has their own special way of turning out basically the same dish. However, if you have not yet adopted your pecan pie recipe of choice, may I suggest Mama’s?
It was a pretty rich, unhealthy meal this week – I don’t even want to think about how much butter went into it. As I learned from an old episode of King of the Hill, “The Louisiana diet will kill a man as surely as the sword.”
Fair enough. But it’s a very tasty sword.