Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Notes on New Orleans Cuisine

For those of you who follow my Twitter stream (http://www.twitter.com/chuckdensinger) you know I've been in New Orleans for the past 24 hours. It's been insanely fun. I'm proud to report every meal I had was at a local establishment, and it was truly amazing - gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice, oysters cooked two ways (probably the best cooked oysters of my life), beignets and chicory coffee, hot sausage po' boy, pecan pie, bread pudding with whiskey sauce. It was my first trip here, so I probably went a little overboard.

Because I love to cook, I love to eat the food of great cooks and think about what they've done. For example, the crust of the pecan pie was not the typical flaky pie crust used for fruit pies up north. It was the flavor and texture of unsweetened shortbread, the perfect foil to the super-sweet jellied filling of pecan pie. Note to self: unsalted butter and flour, with very little added salt, worked into a smooth, even mixture.

The oysters were stunning morsels of warm richness, flavored with wine, butter, salt, shallot and bay leaf; their soft, fatty richness was reminiscent of foie gras. They were not the least bit fishy. Note to self: buy super-fresh oysters, marinate in wine first, then braise carefully in buerre blanc until hot, plump, and just done; serve with a single slice of well-browned garlic bread in the middle of a bowl, oysters all around, and plenty of the braising liquid.

And on it goes.

Great cooking requires careful attention while eating. When you taste something you love, start asking how it could be done. Pay attention to the balance of seasonings, textures, and aromatics. Think about the technical steps that might be required to achieve what you're tasting. File away what it looks, smells and tastes like when it's perfect, so you can refine your own version later.

Cooking is not about recipes alone. Recipes list ingredients and describe a process for assembling and transforming them. But you make a hundred decisions with every dish - even simple ones - that are not specified or dictated in the recipe. It's much like music. Every violinist who plays a Mozart violin concerto plays the same notes, yet sometimes it's boring, other times magical. It's your job to figure out how to achieve the latter.


  1. You're so lucky. I wish I could go to New Orleans. I love music and cooking, so that would just be amazing.

  2. As you know, I love this idea, and subscribe to it fully. Attention to detail is the key to so much of life, including (often) good eats. I hope to eat with you soon.