After Katrina there were a spate of New Orleans cookbooks, and frankly, they began to be a bit monotonous. So we totally overlooked Susan Spicer's Crescent City Cooking. What on earth were we thinking?
Here is the big disclaimer: While we would never, ever think that we could be swayed by that evil television hanging on the wall, one must admit that we were drawn to Susan Spicer's cookbook after finding out that she helped develop the wildly popular HBO series, Treme. Especially Kim Dickens' character Janette Desautel, who may be our favorite character. OK we admit we were swayed by television.
While we might have been swayed by the TV, we were won over by Spicer's conviction to the food an flavors of the South in general and New Orleans in particular. Flipping trough the book it is often hard to place it in The Crescent City, as it feels more deeply Southern than specifically New Orleans. Subtitled Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans, one realizes that the recipes, while rooted in New Orleans, have a broader appeal.
Spicer was born in Florida, but as an "Navy Brat" her family traveled and her mother cooked with a broad stroke of the palate. Spicer spent much of her young life in New Orleans and was always drawn back. When she finally decided to cook in earnest, she came to New Orleans.
Here is an example of a recipe that has a New Orleans "ring " to it. Rename it Fried Chicken over Beans and Corn and it would fit in any Southern cookbook.
Cajun-Style Chicken Breast with Chili Bean Maque Choux
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
1 tablespoon olive or other vegetable oil, plus 1-2 tablespoons veg. oil for sauteing
2 tablespoons Creole or whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each black and cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chopped scallion
If you plan on grilling the chicken, light the coals about 1/2 hour before you're ready to cook.
Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry. Combine the olive oil, mustard, salt, and spices and smear it on the chicken.
Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, or up to several hours, until you’re ready to cook. Meanwhile make the maque choux.
To cook the chicken, heat the vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Pat excess marinade from the breasts then sear for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned, Alternatively, you can grill the chicken over hot coals or broil it.
To serve, place a scoop of maque choux on each plate, garnish with chopped scallions, and top with a chicken breast. The corn and beans together provide a good amount of starch, so this s dish needs nothing more than a tossed salad or a simple green vegetable, Of course, a big slice of warm corn bread would be delish too.
2 ears sweet white or yellow corn, shucked and silk removed, or 1-1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and diced fresh tomato, or canned tomato (with juices)
1 14 ounce can red beans, kidney beans, or chili beans (for a bit more heat), drained and liquid reserved
Cut the corn kernels from the cob, being careful not to cut too close to the cob (where the kernels become dry and starchy). Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet to foaming. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the corn, jalapeno, and garlic and stir to mix. Cook b for about 3 more minutes, then add the tomato, beans, and 1/4 cup of water or reserved bean liquid and season to taste with salt and a little hot sauce. Stir and cook until heated through, then swirl in the remaining tablespoon of butter. Keep the vegetables warm while cooking the chicken.
Its not to late to jump on the bandwagon. Grab this book and catch Season 3 of Treme.