BBQ shrimp is a dish that has little to do with BBQ as most people know it. We first experienced the dish at Mr. B’s in New Orleans’s after a night prowling the French Quarter for the best sazerac. Bellied up to the bar and bebibbed (?), we dipped amazing fresh, crusty, chewy, bread into a divine, rich, buttery, black pepper-laced, sauce with six plump, head-on, shell-on, gulf shrimp, simmered in said divine sauce waiting to be devoured. Elbows up! Do not wear white. Naked would work best.
We were so enamored with this simple dish that we wanted to recreate it at home. Mr. B’s provides the recipe willingly and it’s spot on. This dish can almost certainly be made with ingredients on hand except for the shrimp and fresh baguette. Make sure you read the recipe through and have your ingredients ready to go. It cooks up fast, in about 3-4 minutes. The shrimp, having a starring role, absolutely must be wild-caught Gulf shrimp. Pelican in Ottawa always has them, but unfortunately they cannot be had anywhere in Ottawa with their heads on for authenticity. Beer pairs really well with the sauce and cuts its richness. Yes — that really does say three sticks of butter! Don’t skimp. Go to the gym.
One of the reasons we came to New Orleans this Spring was to attend Local FoodFest, a food festival that’s put on by RoadFood.com. It’s unique in that while it features many New Orleans eateries and their signature dishes, it all also features local specialities from around the USA, such as tamales from Tucson, or BBQ from Memphis. We wandered the Fest today and sampled a number of delicious dishes and enjoyed the party vibe. Here are some photos from the event. There’s more information in the captions.
Here’s what we ate:
And lastly a pic of the police man on duty at Foodfest. I’m calling this photo, “Two Weeks to Retirement”.
it’s a cloudy, muggy day in the Big Easy. The forecast threatened rain at any time, but has held off for the most part. We decide to go a little further afield and change it up a little from the New Orleans cuisine we’ve been exploring up until now.
We head to Butcher. It’s an annex of sort to Cochon, a very popular snout-to-tail place that’s getting terrific reviews and is showing up on lists of top new places to try in NOLA. Butcher is around the corner and is its more casual cousin. It’s open from 10AM to 10PM, but it being Friday, we want to get there before the workday lunch crowd and arrive in time to score a parking space right in front and a prime window table.
Inside, it really is a butcher shop, selling home-made sausages, prepared foods and sauces as well as artfully butchered cuts of pork and beef. At the back of the shop there is a set of 3 blackboard panels with today’s menus — small plates, sandwiches and beverages (it has a full bar). The decor is industrial chic with simple surfaces and raised tables and stools.
We order a number of items to split — from the small plates menu, some spicy brisket sliders, potato salad, boudin sausage with pickles and grainy mustard and a mac and cheese with pancetta. From the sandwich menu we order a Cubano to split — a pressed Cuban sandwich. We’re given a table marker (Dr. Morgus from the 1962 sci-fi classic, “The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus“, and in two blinks our food arrives. Here’s a run down of each dish:
The Brisket Sliders – Sweet with a BBQ sauce but rich and meaty. Perfect brisket and complimented by sweet pickles and a soft bakery slider bun. These are outstanding.
The Potato Salad – Nice, creamy with celery, chives and a little heat from hot sauce.
The Boudin Sausage – It was white boudin, made with rice, pork, liver and spices. Perfect with the pickle and mustard. Maureen’s not a huge fan of liver, so I had this all to myself, as if it wasn’t planned that way. It was rich, mildly spiced and the strong grainy mustard and pickle worked well with it. Butcher knows about pickles and how to use them. I counted three different kinds among our dishes.
The Mac and Cheese — Creamy and tangy. Maureen and I though it was possible that pimento cheese was used in the recipe because it had that colour and tang.
The Cubano – Although the bread wasn’t classic Cubano fare, it had a less chewy texture, but it was flat and crisp from the pressing and was great anyway. The roasted pork and ham on the sandwich were very flavourful and carried the day.
We picked up some of the jarred delicacies that Butcher sells to bring home and headed out for a day of exploring. Maureen was going to walk around and take some photos of the gardens, alleys and oddities of the French Quarter and I was bound for a little guitar shopping.
The kitchen smelling of celery, onion and bacon frying. A childhood memory. This simple chowder was quick and cheap and a favorite. With everyone but my dad. He had a curious dislike of this inoffensive soup. I was recently reminded of it when we visited New Orleans this August. We were sitting in Acme Oyster House waiting for po’boy sandwiches after a long flight in from Ottawa. I ordered a cup of their crab bisque, a cream based soup full of fresh corn and crab meat.
The small cup of soup also prompted a conversation around what exactly is the difference between a bisque and a chowder. From what I can discover, bisque is a fancy French word for chowder in everyday use where the terms are interchangeable and floated about fast and free. There are some essential differences purists would argue. Both are milk or cream based. Chowder is a little thicker and and chunkier, bisque is a little thinner and strained to be smooth. Bisques are more layered in flavour, time consuming to make and reduced to intensify flavours. Chowder is considered more of a poor man’s stew where ingredients are merely combined. Both are usually fish based but you will find vegetable and tomato based ones.
My mom has no memory of where she got this recipe, or even if it was a recipe. I am using her base and adding crabmeat and fresh corn, as inspired by Acme’s crab bisque.
Corn & Crab Chowder
1 can potato soup (Campbell’s)
1 can creamed corn
1 can milk (use soup can to measure)
1 rib celery, diced
1/4 pound bacon, diced
small onion, diced
2 ears fresh corn, corn taken off cob
1 cup crab meat
salt and pepper to taste
Render bacon for about a minute then add celery and onion. Sweat until vegetables are tender. Turn heat down low add potato soup, can of milk and then creamed corn. Heat through for 15 minutes on low. Add fresh corn and crab. Heat through. Serve with baguette.
Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.
It’s Monday and our Road trip hits the highway today. We check out of the Monteleone at 11-ish and spend some time getting the car wired….GPS (here on in referred to as Stella 3000 as it’s a significant upgrade from GPS models used on previous trips) and iPod. Warren Zevon comes on and we are off. We hope to be in Baton Rouge for lunch and in Natchez before dinner. It is already 93 degrees.
Rob made some executive decisions last evening while programing Stella 3000 for today’s trip. He opted to not take the Great River Road because it is massively circuitous and would add half again as much time to the trip. Other roadies recommended Highway 61. Stella is optimized for scenic routes and she does take us briefly off 61 to the River Road.
The first part of 61 or Airport Rd is a dusty, haze covered, divided highway, lined with billboards for hurricane shutters, seafood and po’boy vendors, gas stations, food marts, storage units, motels and fast food. After leaving the city the road runs alongside algae coated swamps filled with elegant ibis.
Stella 3000 takes us on a scenic detour at this point, past neat little homes and more seafood and BBQ shacks. We avoid another stretch of strip malls. We are on the River Road now but the river is hidden by huge levees. The detour is only a few miles long and she returns us to 61. We stop at a Roadrunner for drinks, ice and a cooler. A sign in the window advertizes “Hot Boudin,” a cajun sausage specialty. Boudin is a white sausage made with pork and rice. We order one to go to share. It is hot, medium spicy, course ground in texture, and loosely packed. Very tasty and holds us over until lunch. We wonder at the advisability of buying a home-made hot meat product at a gas station, but it is true road food. We’ll let you know in about 12 hours if it was a huge lapse of judgement.
Back on 61 we pass oil refineries dotting the shores of the Mississippi and field after field of sugar cane, much like the corn fields back home at this time of year. Entering Baton Rouge we come into a sea of box stores, fast food outlets, auto malls and drive-thru daiquiri joints. Only in the South: Drive-thru liquor and road pops on ice.
We don’t enter Baton Rouge downtown but remain on the outskirts where we have chosen Chimes East for lunch. Foodie buzz from a variety of sources rates it one of the top three lunch spots in the city.
Chimes is large and typical of a chain resto in decor. There are a couple locations in Baton Rouge but no where else apparently. The beer menu is extensive and we order small Blue Moons. They are refreshing in the now 100 degree heat of the day. We order up crawfish mac and cheese to share and a po’boy each. Rob gets shrimp and I choose catfish. The mac arrives nicely blistered and bubbling. The loose sauce is garlicky, cheesy and has a medium spice heat that is soaked up by large shell pasta. AND there is lots of crawfish.
Our dressed po’boys arrive with good fries. Rob’s shrimp has a very light crisp batter which allows the delicate taste of the gulf shrimp to shine through. A previous complaint with other po’boys containing fried shrimp was the heavy handed batter treatment. Rob douses his liberally with Tabasco sauce, which results basically in Tabasco-infused mayo. My catfish po’boy contains a nice sized fillet and is also lightly battered. The bun is good, slightly crispy and chewy. The ridged pickles really make this sandwich. The only downside to Chimes is the water they serve. It tastes and smells chemically. Buy a drink (we’re sure that was the plan all along).
Back on the road which is now being called Scenic Highway 61. This is pretty much a joke until about 25 miles from the Mississippi border, when the highway becomes peach coloured, the landscape turns to gently rolling grassy hills lined with soft pines and deciduous trees, and we start passing the entries to Antebellum homes. Last time we drove from New Orleans straight north to Jackson on a dull interstate which revealed none of Mississippi’s character or charm.
Highway 61 lead us directly into Natchez, one of the most adorable towns in the United States. We will explore it a little more this evening and tomorrow before heading up the Natchez Trace to Jackson.
We walk to dinner at “Pig Out Inn“, a BBQ joint on Canal Street, a stones throw from the Mississippi, and not far from the Eola Hotel where we are staying overnight. The streets of Natchez are deserted of both cars and pedestrians due to the stifling heat. We can walk in the middle of the downtown streets. It is almost eerie. The walk gives us a chance to see a little of this pretty Southern town, which imparts the slight scent of mildew on the still hot evening air. I would imagine that this place never quite dries and that is carried in the breeze. No matter, as we approach our destination the scent turns intoxicating: woodsmoke from a BBQ pit…aaahhhh.
The Pig Out Inn which advertises itself as “Swine Dining at it’s Finest” is all but empty as is the whole town it seems. The decor is an eclectic mix of old doors serving as table tops, junkyard finds, coke paraphernalia, a tag cloud on one wall about “Why I Love The South” and Elvis presiding over the whole place from a corner. While we’re there, a trickle of take-out and dine-in customers flow through the place.
We chat with one of the folks behind the counter about the town and what to see. She explains that it is a very slow time of the year due to the heat. As we are ordering at the counter, she tells us that everything is made in house. We both ordered a two meat combo so we could share a bit of everything. The dinners also included two sides. We shared a large orders of ribs, smoked chicken, beef brisket, hot sausage, beans, potato salad, coleslaw and of course soft, squishy white bread.
The Pig offers some of the best BBQ we have had in the South. We both agreed that the sausage and beans were right up there with Austin’s Green Mesquite (sausage) and Famous Dave’s (beans). The sausage was firm and juicy and hotly spiced. You could see the chunks of red pepper. Excellent. The beans are of the sweet variety which are my personal preference, but at the Pig they smoke them along with the meat. These beans would be overly sweet if not for the smoke. The smoke cuts the sugar and creates a perfect balance in flavour. The potato salad was creamy with large chunks of potato and green onion. It was nicely dressed and not too vinegary. The coleslaw was perfectly serviceable and not overdressed. It was quite fine coleslaw by any standard but it was just outclassed by the quality of everything else on the plate.
The brisket was succulent and tender with a dark black bark and a rosy smoke ring that exceeded a 1/4 inch. The house BBQ sauce comes warm and is smoky sweet with a spicy finish which complimented the strong flavours of the brisket. The ribs were also excellent, meaty, juicy and with a nice amount of smoke. The smoked chicken was flavourful but slightly on the dry side. The BBQ sauce corrected that. After an extremely satisfying meal that found us picking at leftovers on our plates, our server brought us over a cob of corn to try. It is also cooked in the smoker along with the meat. I don’t order corn in a BBQ joint and if it comes with the meal I generally discard it after a bite. It’s the one thing BBQ places cannot cook. It sits in a pot all day, and is overcooked, mushy and waterlogged. Not so at the Pig. The corn is actually a treat here. It is toothsome, bursting with flavour and a delicate smokiness. Well done!
As we finished up dinner she also presented us with two of their homemade mini pecan pies which I cannot wait to try but am too full of excellent BBQ to contemplate right now.
Here’s a sampling of reasons why we like the genteel charm of Natchez.