A Louisiana native, John Besh has made a name for himself as a successful chef, but he's also been a steadfast champion of New Orleans. Besh will be in New York this weekend for the New York City Wine and Food Festival, so we asked him to give us a rundown of his favorite spots in the Big Easy.
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When I have just a few days in New Orleans, I don't usually spend them eating pizza. (Can't bring myself to neglect all those beignets and po' boys.) But on NOLA foodman Pableaux Johnson's recommendation, we checked out the pizza at John Besh's Domenica last weekend, and I have to say I'm glad I did.
"We want to tell a story with New Orleans," said chef John Currence, one of the men behind the phenomenal "'International Influences on New Orleans Cuisine" dinner at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. "The story of the special crazy-ass gumbo that is that city." Which means not only the French, Spanish, and modern American elements to the cuisine—but German, Sicilian, African, and Vietnamese as well. Come see the fantastic 6-course meal that these all-star chefs put together in tribute to their beloved city.
After a whirlwind tour through the cities and fisheries of Southern Louisiana a couple weeks back, it's clear to me that the flow of misinformation and apprehension about the quality of the seafood coming from the Gulf of Mexico has been far more detrimental to the industry that the oil itself. Tasting my way through cities like Lake Charles, Houma, New Iberia, and New Orleans, it's clear that seafood is the heart and soul of the Cajun and Creole cuisine of the area—indeed, for a solid five days, I had blue crab in some form or another at every single meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) not to mention copious amounts of local shrimp, oysters, fish, and crawfish.
I know sawdust doesn't sound the least bit appetizing, but don't worry—this only looks like wood shavings. It's actually a highly flavored recipe with bread crumbs from John Besh's My New Orleans, and I couldn't wait to try it with pasta. The crumbs easily soak up whatever tossed on them—which in this recipe included pine nuts, parmesan, dried currents, cinnamon, crushed red pepper flakes, and oregano—making for a cheap and tasty meal.
In honor of St. Joseph's Day, a feast day for the patron saint of cabinetmakers, engineers, Canada, and confectioners (which is where the sweets come in), try this recipe for St. Joseph's fig cookies. They're like a better, homemade version of Fig Newtons. The figginess is much less cloying and sticky and gets combined with a nice mix of sherry, orange, lemon, raisins, and walnuts.
In this recipe for Trout Amandine, trout fillets are dredged in flour, pan fried in browned butter, and finished with parsley, lemon juice, and toasted almonds.
My New Orleans by John Besh includes no fewer than five recipes for gumbo, which isn't really all that shocking considering gumbo is the epitome of Louisiana cooking. This Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo starts with a roux made up of equal parts fat and flour that gets slowly cooked until the mix changes from a light tan to a deep, rich brown.
When I first visited New Orleans several years ago, I was a strict vegetarian. That meant I missed out on almost all the city's iconic culinary offerings—gumbo, po'boys, even red beans and rice. But not beignets. Light, sweet, and incredibly messy from the heavy dusting of powdered sugar they were finished with, they were entirely memorable. With the help of John Besh's beignet recipe, I stroll down memory lane.
The chapter devoted to all things porcine in My New Orleans by John Besh is called Boucherie, and has several delicious-sounding pork-based charcuterie projects including these Pork Shoulder Rillettes. This version slow cooks pork butt with chicken stock, lard, wine, and a few other aromatics until it's tender enough to shred into a million tasty little pieces.
Every day this week we will be sharing recipes from My New Orleans, an autobiographical cookbook that takes us through all of John Besh's most beloved Southern Louisiana edibles, from crawfish to king cake.
The New York Times has some good reading in the dining section today: Bottoms up! A quick history of Jerry Thomas, innovating showman bartender of the 1800s. Chefs on their favorite H'ween candy: What they're giving out, what they hoped for as kids, what fantasy treat they'd make. New Orleans chef John Besh profiled: A great backgrounder if you only know him from Next Iron Chef. Seems like a good guy. The Pour explores Portuguese Douro reds: What port would taste like if not fortified and left sweet. Make Roasted Marrow Bones à la Fergus Henderson: Mark "Minimalist" Bittman tells you how. Wegman's sets farmed shrimp standards: It will be the first supermarket chain to adopt environmental and health standards....
5:57 PM: Mario Batali is not nervous. 6:01 PM: Jean-Georges Vongerichten looking dapper as usual. 6:05 PM: Cokie Roberts is an extraordinarily gracious and charming host....