New Orleans food museum offers a taste of the South

New Orleans food museum offers a taste of the South
October 21, 2009

NEW ORLEANS — To appreciate Southern food, it must be tasted. But to help understand the cuisine, there’s the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, a living history archive that celebrates the food and drink of the South.

“We’re probably the only freestanding museum in the country devoted to food,” said Liz Williams, the founder and president of the entity known as SoFAB, located in the Riverwalk Marketplace in downtown New Orleans.

Stroll the airy space and you will find exhibits devoted to quintessential Southern ingredients: rice, corn, jambalaya, hot sauce, red beans, gumbo, fish and seafood, calas (rice fritters), okra, po’ boys, beignets, boudin (pork-and-rice sausage), tasso ham. You can learn about the ethnicities — African, Caribbean, French, German, Spanish, Italian — that have melded to create Southern food and drink traditions. And you can study the recipes of restaurateurs and home cooks that have been passed down for generations.

“When you come in here, you wonder why it wasn’t here before,” said Williams, about the museum that opened in June of 2008.

In the fledgling museum, galleries devoted to each Southern state are being constructed, the largest is the Louisiana Gallery.

It not only highlights the edibles from that state, “we document the effect of Hurricane Katrina and the importance of the reopening of the restaurants,” said New Orleans native Williams, an army veteran and lawyer who writes about the legal aspects of food policy and economics.

A grand 19th century bar from Brunings restaurant — broken into 176 pieces by the hurricane and submerged under water for three years — has been reassembled inside the museum. It is used to serve drinks at the many events held there.

The food and beverage museum shares space with the Louisiana Film Museum, a collection of 600 artifacts from movies shot in the Pelican State. Films include “Easy Rider,” “Deliverance,” “Live and Let Die,” “Sounder” and “Jezabel.”

Also on the premises is the Museum of the American Cocktail — displays of tankards, bottles, beverage menus, advertising and other cocktail memorabilia. A section is devoted to explaining Prohibition, while another shows how a whiskey still works.

The food museum regularly hosts special exhibits, demonstrations and lectures. Tastings include dishes from celebrated New Orleans chefs and restaurants, such as those below.

Emeril’s Delmonico Pork Cheeks

From chef Emeril Lagasse

2 1/2 pounds pork cheeks, cleaned and trimmed of all tough membranes

8 cloves garlic

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

Vegetable oil as needed

1 cup all-purpose flour, with more as needed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 recipe Creole Dirty Rice (see accompanying recipe)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the pork cheeks, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper and coriander seeds in a baking dish just large enough to hold the pork in one layer. Add enough vegetable oil to completely cover the pork. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake until cheeks are fork-tender, usually 4 to 4 1/2 hours.

When the pork is tender, remove from oven and cool while still in the oil. Remove the cheeks from the oil and pat dry with paper towels. (Oil may be strained and used for another purpose.) The recipe can be made ahead to this point.

Dust the cheeks lightly with flour. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the pan; when oil is hot and shimmering, add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Sauté the cheeks — in batches if necessary — until golden brown on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes; add more oil and butter as needed.

Serve the cheeks hot, accompanied by Creole Dirty Rice (see recipe).

Note: Cooking time will depend on the size of pork cheeks, so check periodically.

Makes 4 servings.

Creole Dirty Rice

From chef Emeril Lagasse

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

1/4 pound ground pork

1/4 pound chicken livers, pureed

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno (seeds and membranes removed if desired)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 cups cooked long grain white rice

1/4 cup beef stock or canned, low-sodium beef broth

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Dash of Tabasco or other Louisiana hot sauce, to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add butter, onion and bell pepper; sauté vegetables until tender and lightly caramelized, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Add pork and cook, using spoon to break the pork into small pieces of meat, until well-browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the liver puree, bay leaves, jalapeno, salt, coriander, cumin and cayenne. Cook until spices are fragrant and liver is cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add rice and beef stock; continue to cook, stirring, until well-combined and rice is heated through, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Finish with hot sauce to taste.

Makes 4 servings (about 3 cups).

Drago’s Charbroiled Oysters

From chef Tommy S. Cvitanovich

1/2 pound butter, softened

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch dried oregano

1 1/2 dozen large, freshly-shucked oysters on the half shell

1/4 cup grated parmesan and Romano cheeses, mixed

2 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley

Mix butter with the garlic, pepper, and oregano.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill and put oysters on the half shell right over the hottest part. Spoon the seasoned butter over the oysters enough so that some of it will overflow into the fire and flame up a bit.

The oysters are ready when they puff up and get curly on the sides, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the grated parmesan and Romano and the parsley on top. Serve on the shells immediately with hot French bread.

Makes 18.

Chicken Andouille Gumbo

From Broussard’s Restaurant

1 1/2 pounds chopped andouille sausage

1 pound chopped chicken (white and dark)

3 cups chopped onions

1/2 cup green peppers

1/2 cup celery

1 pound chopped okra

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon thyme

2 tablespoons file powder (note)

1 pound butter

1 pound flour

Salt and pepper

Saute sausage and chicken, then add onions, bell peppers, celery and okra. Add 1 gallon water or stock and all of the spices. Cook 30 minutes.

In a separate pot, melt butter. Add flour and cook until dark brown. Add to gumbo and cook 30 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with plain white rice.

Note: Gumbo can also be made with seafood such as shrimp and crabs. File powder is used to thicken and flavor gumbo.

Makes about 1 gallon.

Rum and Pecan Spice Cake

From chef John Folse

2½ cups cake flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole milk

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1½ cups chopped pecans

¼ cup water

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup rum

Roasted pecan halves (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2 (9-inch) cake pans with 2-inch lips. Line bottom of pans with buttered parchment paper or spray well with vegetable spray.

In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar and 1 cup white sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until light yellow and ribbony. Continue until all eggs are added. Blend in vanilla.

Slowly blend in flour mixture in three equal additions alternately with milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Blend in cinnamon, cloves and chopped pecans. Divide batter equally between 2 pans. Place cakes in center of oven and bake 30–35 minutes or until tester inserted into center of cakes come out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and peel off parchment paper. Cool completely.

To make a rum syrup, combine water, ¼ cup sugar and rum. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce to simmer and cook until sugar is dissolved completely and syrup coats the back of the spoon. Syrup should be reduced by 25 percent. Cool slightly.

Using a toothpick or skewer, insert at 10–12 intervals around the cake and brush with syrup. The holes will allow the syrup to reach the center of the cake. To serve, you may wish to cut into serving pieces or using a 2-inch pastry cutter, cut into circles, or frost whole cakes with your favorite icing to create a layer cake. Top with roasted pecan halves (optional).

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Pecan Pralines

From chef Chiqui Collier

1 pound light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups coarsely broken pecans

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Place parchment paper in a rimmed baking sheet and lightly coat with pan spray. Set aside. In a 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugars, butter, pecans, and cream. Bring to a gentle rolling boil, stirring frequently.

Cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, beat vigorously until mixture begins to thicken (the color will change distinctly). Quickly drop by tablespoons onto prepared parchment paper.

Allow candy to set until firm, at least 20 minutes.

For recipe variations, try:

Chocolate: 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Coconut: Omit pecans and add 1 cup shredded coconut

Coffee: 2 tablespoons instant coffee

Peanut butter-chocolate: 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1/2 cup peanut butter

Makes about 36.

Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520.

Southern Food & Beverage Museum

Location: Riverwalk Marketplace, 1 Poydras St., New Orleans

Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $10 adults; $5 students and seniors; free for kids under 12 with an adult

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