This weekend, my apartment was more overrun than usual with New Orleanians — I’ve never been to New Orleans, so I asked them to show me brunch NOLA-style.
My gracious tutors indulged me. It turns out that there are just a few main elements of New Orleans cooking: butter, the “holy trinity” of vegetables (celery, onion and green bell pepper), multiple sauces and improvisation.
“One of the things that’s really cool about Louisiana cooking is that it’s much more accessible than any other form once you know the basics,” one of my houseguests told me. “We improvise — like jazz musicians — and a lot of it’s based on leftovers that you can then use again later. As a result, you can’t really taste ingredients separately, so it seems really mysterious. But actually it’s just some combination of butter, vegetables and protein.”
Plus four different sauces in a single brunch.
The dishes chosen to showcase the best of New Orleans at midday were Eggs Sardou (created at my roommate’s favorite restaurant in the city, Antoine’s) and Shrimp Rémoulade. The former is poached eggs atop creamed spinach, topped with hollandaise sauce — but it’s so much more than that! We served this feast with a side of grits.
The final thing to know about New Orleans brunch?
“It’s important to note that we all started drinking before we started cooking,” a wise New Orleanian said.
Specified amounts serve 5 generously.
For the shrimp:
1 pound large shrimp
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 large clove garlic
Peel and devein shrimp. Melt one stick butter in a sauce pan; while it’s melting, mince one clove garlic, and add to melted butter. Add the fresh juice from one lemon — squeeze over the saucepan. Add the shrimp and salt and pepper, keeping the pan over low heat, and cook until shrimp are lightly pink.
“Careful not to overcook them!” my houseguest said. “Because that’s dumb.”
When the shrimp are cooked, drain the remaining lemon-butter-garlic sauce into a separate container and set aside (because it’ll be heavenly drizzled over the grits). Set shrimp aside.
For the Rémoulade sauce:
½ cup ketchup
8 teaspoons horseradish
Mix ketchup, lemon juice and horseradish well; adjust proportions to taste and don’t fear adding too much horseradish!
For the grits:
2 cups old-fashioned-style grits
8 cups water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 teaspoon salt
Boil the water, add salt and grits, cook, and stir! The grits will take on a porridge consistency once cooked—about six minutes. Melt butter and stir into the cooked grits. For even heartier grits, use one cup whole milk and seven cups water. If the package of grits directs alternate proportions, use those.
For the Eggs Sardou, you will need:
1 pound spinach
14 eggs (or reduce to a dozen, depending on hunger level)
2 cans artichoke hearts
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons flour
½ green bell pepper
2 large sticks celery
1 drop Worchester sauce (optional)
Begin by making a New-Orleans-style béchamel sauce — start with a white roux, which we covered in the first post. To recap, melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and add two tablespoons of flour, whisking together. Meanwhile, heat two cups milk separately, keeping the milk just under a boil — stop when you see the first wisps of steam (about six minutes). Mince onion, bell pepper and celery: this is the vegetable “holy trinity” of New Orleans cooking, my roommate says. Add the milk to the roux, then add the “holy trinity” in a ratio of two parts onion to one part bell pepper and one part celery (the amounts specified above should give you the appropriate parts). Keep over low heat and stir frequently.
Wilt the spinach — add a few tablespoons water to a frying pan, less than enough to cover the bottom. Add the spinach and cook for 1 minute over medium heat, turning often. Remove from heat as soon as spinach begins to wilt — the leaves will shrink and look darker. Pour off any remaining water.
Heat the artichoke hearts, either in a saucepan with their juice or in the microwave. Drain off the juice.
Add the spinach and artichoke hearts to the béchamel.
Poach all but four of the eggs: bring a saucepan of water to just under a boil (under! Not boiling!). Crack each egg either just over the water, or first into a bowl and then pour into the water. Save four eggs for the hollandaise! Use a spoon to nudge the egg whites towards the yolks, helping the eggs hold together. Turn off the heat and cover, letting sit for four minutes. Remove eggs gently with a slotted spoon.
Meanwhile, make the hollandaise sauce:
Set a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a simmer — again, don’t allow it to boil. Melt remaining portion of the stick of butter.
Separate four egg yolks from the remaining four eggs: watch the first 30 seconds of this handy YouTube video to learn how to do it. Essentially, you’re passing the yolk between the 2 halves of the eggshell, letting the white drain away — but it’s easier to learn if you watch someone do it.
Whisk the eggs, ideally in a glass bowl; squeeze in the lemon juice and continue to whisk. Place the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water so that the water does not touch the bowl. Keep whisking, preventing the eggs from becoming too hot and solidifying. Add the melted butter and keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and add a drop or two of Worchester sauce, if desired.
Serve poached eggs on bed of spinach, béchamel sauce and artichoke hearts, topped with hollandaise sauce (depending on the number of eggs you used, guests may have 2 eggs each). Serve shrimp tossed with rémoulade or allow guests to add rémoulade to taste. Add grits on the side; bring out the remaining lemon-butter-garlic sauce you made for the shrimp and add to grits if desired.
Tags: brunch, cooking, food, Laura Bryn Sisson, New Orleans, off campus kitchen