One part of the United States that has always intrigued my imagination is the South. From a juvenile fascination with slavery to a vague desire to know what it is about Mardi Gras which makes girls shed their clothing to a trendy new ritual of True Blood on Sunday nights, there is something incredibly alluring and foreign about those southern states. Reading The Awakening gave me a chance to travel to New Orleans, if only with my taste buds, and I must say it was a trip worth taking.
I said in the review that I was probably going to have to improvise a little, but I was mistaken. In the scene where Edna is at dinner on Grand Isle and learns that Robert is leaving for Mexico, she disinterestedly picks at her court bouillon, which is only described as flaky. When I looked it up, I only found descriptions of what seemed to be glorified chicken stock, so I almost decided to forget about it. But then, almost at the bottom of the page, I saw something that said Creole court bouillon. Jackpot. Just like Creole French is only a distant relative of standard French, Creole court bouillon shares only the basics with its french cousin. Instead of boring old chicken stock, it’s an amazingly flavorful sauce served over either red snapper or red fish and rice. Thank you Nola Cuisine for providing me with an amazing recipe and guiding me through my first Creole cooking experience!
I took advantage of my dad’s kitchen once again, considering that his is the most well-stocked kitchen I have access to and I was feeling a little daunted considering I have never eaten Creole food, let alone cooked it or even seen anyone cook it. I was also hoping for a little help from Dad in the julienne-ing, deglazing madness, and I got it…and then some.
Here’s where the sabotage comes in. The sauce calls for a thickening agent, in this case, either roux or slurry. Roux is a lard-based thickener common in Creole cooking, and slurry is a simple mixture of corn starch and water. I opted for the latter. So while I was haphazardly slinging hot sauce and random (not so random, but I’m trying to sound debonair here) spices into the then watery sauce, I asked my dad to get the slurry ready. The recipe instructs to add the slurry little by little, and this was my saving grace. When I added the first little bit of what I thought was corn starch and water, there was an immediate reaction and the sauce started bubbling violently. I practically had to duck and cover. Then my dad says, “It’s almost like I gave you baking soda instead of— Oh, crap!” Apparently, he is really jealous of my cooking prowess and was looking for a way to sabotage my dinner. He gave me BAKING SODA instead of corn starch! It really could have blown up in my face! In the end though, it really was only a very little, and it did alter the taste, but only slightly. I think I’ll have to make it again one day, sans baking soda, to see if it made a big difference or not. This is my sauce post-sabotage:
I have heard that Creole cooking is known for its vivid colors, and now I know it’s true. I’m just happy that it survived, because that was a lot of work and without it, the dinner would have been lackluster at best. But with it, the dish looked really pretty! It almost looked like I knew how to plate food and make it so beautiful you almost don’t want to eat it. Almost.
I haven’t eaten much red snapper in my day, but it was really good: mild-flavored, flaky, buttery, non-fishy goodness. The sauce definitely had a bite to it, but the rice mellowed it out a bit. When preparing the fish, I put some thyme sprigs and lemon slices into slits I made in the filets. The recipe called for whole fish, but I felt kind of sheepish asking the guys at Santa Monica Seafood to descale, gut, de-bone, and de-fin 4 fish while they had perfectly good filets already prepared. So instead of putting the thyme and lemon in the cavity, we slit open the filets. The recipe never said to remove the sprigs, so I didn’t, and thus almost killed my grandmother when she swallowed one of the sprigs and almost suffocated. Luckily, she survived, though I did have to listen to my cousin telling everyone that I was trying to chip away at the Crowley fortune by taking out the matriarch for the rest of the dinner. Ha ha ha.
For dessert, I wanted to make a cake mentioned specifically in the novel, but I couldn’t find a recipe which looked trustworthy for what was only referred to as silver and gold cake. It must be a vintage recipe or something, but in any case, we made beignets, which cannot be considered a loss by any count. Although they weren’t made from scratch, they were made from a box that came directly from one of the most famous beignet producers in the U.S.: Café du Monde.
I let my dad take over the beignets, as you can see. I was busy drinking champagne, but I definitely helped in the eating. You can always depend on me to be there for the eating. They didn’t look like beignets usually look, all round and fluffy and cloud-like, but they tasted great nevertheless, especially covered in powdered sugar and honey.
If only Edna had been able to see the truth clearly, I don’t think she ever would have committed suicide. The truth being, of course, that with food this good, who needs a man?
Stay tuned for italian food from Don’t Move by Margaret Mazzantini. Ciao!