Anybody who has been to New Orleans knows that when the good times roll, either food, liquor or unbelievable jazz must be on the menu. It’s impossible to separate the three passions in this beautiful old city on the Gulf Coast. They are forever intertwined in a magnificent, soul stirring brew that positively intoxicates every time I visit.
For me, visiting New Orleans makes me think of my sister-in-law Lori (Happy Birthday Lori!). It also means never missing a trip to Mother’s Restaurant on Poydras Street, standing on line with hoards of locals and tourists alike, all waiting to dive into a juicy, messy Ferdi Special Po’ Boy sandwich. It’s a time-honored “gourmet” tradition, and it satisfies every single time.
Some other favorite culinary indulgences are the incredibly crispy yet succulent fried oysters at Acme Oyster House, and of course, late at night after you’ve closed down the French Quarter, a cup of steaming coffee and a plateful of powdered sugar beignets hot from the fryer at Café du Monde.
In the spring, if you’re lucky enough to wander through the fairground food tents during Jazz Fest, be sure to save room for a dish of Kajun Kettle Foods’ legendary Crawfish Monica and a hot-from-the-grill Dibbi (steak on a pita with absolutely delicious citrusy sauce) by Gambian Foods.
But if life is too busy to get down to the Big Easy and laissez les bons temps rouler, capture the spirit with a made-in-New-Orleans menu right at your own dinner table. Just put on a Professor Longhair record, or tune up the best love songs of Harry Connick Jr., or work your kitchen magic to a song or two by Erica Badu. Whip up a blender full of frozen daiquiris and let the soul food cooking begin!
Prepare for the big night ahead of time by buying a box of Café du Monde’s signature Beignet mix and the strong chicory coffee favored by locals. Available in Atlanta at Fresh Market stores or online through the company website for just a few dollars a box. And don’t forget the powdered sugar!
It’s a short menu – but believe me, it’s more than enough!
- Frozen strawberry daquiris with lime or ice cold beer
- Nola Maque Choux
- Roast Beef Po’ Boy Sandwiches
- Powdered Sugar Beignets
NOLA Maque Choux
For this recipe, I prefer to use sweet corn fresh cut from the cob with all its accumulated juices. I’m not a big fan of jalapeno pepper, but some like the extra heat they will add to this recipe. Seasoning is all about personal preference. My advice: start slowly and add little by little until the perfect balance is achieved. But don’t forget to make notes on the recipe to document your personal seasoning adjustments.
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 sweet onion, chopped
- ½ red bell pepper, chopped
- ¼ pound tasso ham, diced*
- 4 ears sweet corn kernels with juices (about 3 cups)
- 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Cracked black pepper to taste
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Green onions or red peppers, chopped for garnish (optional)
*If tasso ham is unavailable, any good quality smoked ham will work as a substitute. For a more Cajun approach to maque choux, you may also substitute chopped andouille sausage.
Method of Preparation
- In large skillet heat olive oil. Saute sweet onion, peppers and ham about five minutes. Onion and peppers will be slightly softened.
- Add corn kernels, tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, oregano, thyme and salt. Cook for approximately 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.
- To finish the maque choux, stir in butter and heavy cream and cook for several minutes until heated through.
- Garnish with chopped green onions or bits of red peppers.
Roast Beef Po’ Boy with “Debris” Gravy
I must have read a hundred recipes for Po’ Boys before I came up with my own spin on this N’awlins classic. These beloved sandwiches are gloriously messy – but oh so delicious and guaranteed to make your table mates groan with delight!
Be forewarned. Place an entire roll of paper towels on the table with you and don’t be afraid to use them. And remember – a few little gravy drips down your chin are good for the soul!
Ask the butcher to cut you a roast rather than buying one straight from the cold storage cases. Chances are you’ll get one that’s perfectly marbled with fat . . . better known as flavor.
To “dress” your Po’ Boy the proper way, you’ll need French long rolls with a lightly crunchy crust and soft center, mayonnaise to slather the bread, fresh sliced tomatoes and crispy lettuce. To transform this sandwich into an honorary “Mother’s Ferdi Special,” add a layer a hot smoked ham before piling on the roast beef and debris.
One more point of fact: I can’t give you an estimate on how many people this feeds. We had seven adults and enough left over for another full meal. However, I’ve seen people polish off two whole Ferdis each in one sitting. Of course, they didn’t move much afterward, but they were grinning as they rubbed their stuffed bellies.
And here’s a great leftover tip: Any leftover debris gravy makes the absolute perfect foundation for a hearty bowl of beef vegetable noodle soup.
1 beef chuck roast, about 4-5 pounds
Seasoning salt (I use Lawry’s)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
½ large Vidalia onion, chopped fine
½ cup diced carrots
5 roasted garlic cloves
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T hot pepper sauce (I use Tabasco)
5 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
2 large bay leaves
2 cups beef stock
2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
freshly ground salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Method of Preparation:
- Cut chuck roast into about 5 or 6 large chunks. Season all sides of meat well with seasoning salt.
- In large stockpot, heat olive oil. Add meat, one piece at a time, and brown each side until seared and crispy. (It should smell absolutely delicious even at this stage. If you sneak a taste of one of the browned ends, the meat should already taste as amazing as it smells. If it doesn’t, season your meat more!) Remove each seared piece of meat to a plate and continue until all pieces are seared.
- Add onion and carrots to remaining oil and cook over medium high heat until caramelized, about 7 minutes. If the oil starts to run dry before the veggies are caramelized and golden, add a little more, but don’t overdo.
- Use a wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When mixture is golden brown and the consistency of juicy jam, add the garlic cloves, Worcestershire, hot pepper sauce, thyme, bay leaves and stock. Cook for several minutes until the sauce is simmering and fragrant.
- Return meat and accumulated juices to pan. Cover and cook for at least 4 hours on low heat. Your objective is to maintain a nice simmer, but not to boil the gravy away. I cooked my roast nearly 6 hours and it was absolutely perfect.
- Stir gravy and turn meat a few times an hour. Toward the end of cooking time, taste the gravy and adjust levels of salt and pepper to suit your personal preference.
Remove chunks of meat to cutting board with drip edge. Attempt to slice it very thin. If you’ve done this right, the meat should be so tender that it resists slicing and begins to shred. Perfect! Return the meat to the gravy and continue slicing/shredding until all meat has been prepared.
- Return pot to stove and bring mixture to a boil, cooking for about 5 minutes to allow gravy to fully penetrate meat.
- Use a slotted spoon to portion meat onto dressed rolls (see note above). Use a ladle to fill a small container with the debris gravy, including bits of meat that have settled to the bottom of the pan.
For a party, make recipe in advance and keep Po’ Boys warm in a crock pot or on the stovetop on low simmer.
If you can force yourself to stop eating Po’ Boys, end your meal with a steaming cup of coffee and an indulgent plate of beignets like the originals from Café du Monde on Decatur Street in New Orleans.