Jazz, Jester and Beans
Visiting New Orleans pre-Mardi Gras, sans big event and in the dead of a cold winter gives space and time to the experience the quiet of the city. Surely with the cold spell, rains and even snow the streets are less crowded, restaurants allow for generous lingering at their tables and the thought of carrying around a 64 ounce blended beverage in search of beads is far from a traveler’s mind. Food is what was on my mind.
Like jazz, creative cooks riff on recipes all the time, a change up to the baseline or melody, hitting new and nuanced notes. Improv or planned, the what-ifs are tantalizing. To get the juices going, I need to taste what other great cooks are making, actually taste and experience the sight, smell and sensation of that first, second and last bite. Using all my senses to remember and understand. Oh, and I take notes, copious notes. And pictures.Coming home afterwards, the creative riffs have hit my stove top. We’ve had dark, spicy beans and rice gumbos and an amazing flan.
My darling dear often wonders aloud if we will every eat the same thing twice. Like leftovers? Eyes roll.
My favorite traveling strategy is an early lunch, just when the joints open, say 11:30 am. The restaurants are a bit quiet, you can secure your preferred seat (when dining alone I like a nice two-seater by a window or at least with good light, back against the wall with a full view or at the chef’s counter. Dining as entertainment. I also look for lunch or daily specials, small plated items so I can taste, and taste, and taste, preferring items that are seasonal, with local fresh ingredients. Smaller plate, smaller costs than a full dinner works for me. Rarely do I eat dessert, but have been known to pair my bites with a nice beverage, often asking suggestions from my server. Beignets are for later, when hot coffee after a walk is required to recover from the steely cold wind coming off the water.
For a must try lunch I arrived early at Cochon, a Cajun and Southern Restaurant. The walk from the hotel was chilly, but as I headed down Tchoupitoulas Street, the sun broke through the clouds and it made me smile. I opted for the soup of the day, white beans and shrimp and a roasted pumpkin salad with pork belly (they ARE known for the house made meats, terrines and sausages with a butcher shop, (S)wine bar and ready cooked take out just next door.) Sitting at the counter, the red-orange glow of the wood fire oven played a light dance against the multitude of stainless and aluminum posts on the large cook stove against the wall.
For starters, I had a taste of their house headcheese, with fresh made coarse mustard and bread and butter pickles that rivaled my Dad’s (that good.) Sipping my Lazy Magnolia Southern Hops’pitality Pale Ale and making small layered stacks on the tender bread I knew I was in for something good. A well seasoned meal, comfort food and memorable flavors. Creamy soup with Cajun seasoning, a hint of hot sauce and dusting of fresh basil. Rich toasty roasted pumpkin nestled in arugula greens, bright vinaigrette and porkbelly.
Walking out into the bright sun and heading to the Quarter got me thinking about this meal. One thing led to another and my brain landed on shrimp and grits — the creamy white grits and spicy shrimp with a touch of fresh rosemary. By the time I got home days later it had evolved to thinking how beautiful and elegant white beans could be instead of grits, some fork tender beans for texture and some pureed for almost buttery creaminess. And instead of heavy cheese or spices, combine fresh lemon and rosemary because if you are going substitute smoked salmon for shrimp you don’t want to have those strong flavor personalities duke it out in your bowl, now do you?
- 16 oz. small white beans
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 2 celery ribs, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 5 cups low salt chicken stock
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh finely chopped rosemary
- 4-6 ounces smoked salmon
- Pick through and soak beans overnight covered in water.
- Drain beans.
- In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium high and add shallots, celery and cook until soft.
- Add garlic and cook one minute more.
- Add beans and chicken broth to pot and bring up to a boil.
- Lower to a simmer and cook for about an hour until beans are fork tender.
- Check liquid levels and add more water if too thick.
- Remove half the beans and puree in a blender or food processor.
- Add back to bean pot. Stir to combine.
- Continue to cook for five minutes then,
- add lemon zest, juice, salt, mustard and white pepper. Taste and add more if it suits you.
- Serve in individual bowls and top with one ounce or so of flaked smoked salmon and sprinkled with fresh, finely chopped rosemary.
- Cochon Restaurant, New Orleans, LA