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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Wednesday, August 10

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"Laissez les bon temps rouler!"

That's how it sounds right now down in New Orleans. In a few hours it will sound a lot more like "Slur slur slur slur! Show us your tits!"

Outside of Chicago, New Orleans if my favorite city. A very big part of that is the food. Not only does the city ooze with creativity that expresses itself in paintings and literature and music, it wafts out of kitchen doors and windows. The smells of onions cooking in butter just smell better there than they do here. But that doesn't keep me from trying to recreate those tastes I love so much. Sure, it's harder to find andouille sausage and no restaurant that could pass Chicago health codes would serve you a bucket of boiled crawfish, and olive salad is nearly impossible to find here.

If you're ready to throw caution to the wind and enjoy Fat Tuesday for all it's worth, you probably aren't going to be doing it at home alone. But, tomorrow when you're nursing a headache you'll be ready for the quietude of a home-made meal. What better way to do that, then make soup and sandwiches and wash it down with a little of what bit you the night before?

Oh, but these aren't your average soup and sandwiches. Oh no, steaming bowls of etouffée and muffalettas will make your belly happy as the alcohol in a homemade hurricane helps to alleviate that pain in the back of your eyes.

Chicken Etouffée serves 4
2 bounds of chicken thighs, bone-in (boneless skinless breasts can be substituted, but the dark meat will stand up better to stewing and the bones will add flavor to the meal)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions chopped
2 medium bell peppers chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, stemmed, and minced (if you want smoky flavor without a great deal of heat, substitute 1 dried poblano pepper without the stems and the seeds)
15 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (or crushed in a garlic press)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried sage
3 cups of water
Hot sauce to taste
2 cups of boiled rice

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dunk them with in the flour. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot or skillet on medium high. (If your oil starts to smoke, turn it down a little bit.) Add the chicken and cook for 7 minutes (5 minutes if using chicken breasts.) then flip the pieces and cook for another 7 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and turn off the burner. Let the chicken cool a bit and dump the juices that come off the chicken back into the pot or skillet.

Turn the heat back up to medium, then add the onions, peppers and garlic to the pot and stir. Cover and let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every minute with a wooden spoon to keep the vegetables from burning. If the vegetables do burn you'll have to start over or the dish will wind up bitter. Now add the flour to the mixture and stir constantly, scraping the sides and the bottom. You want to get the flour mixture to turn a light carmel color. (You're making something called a roux. It is usually cooked until it resembles dark chocolate. It's very hard to get it this dark without ruining it. If things are going smoothly you can let it get as dark as you want but as soon as the oil and the flour start to separate take the pan off the heat. To play it safe, cook it until is the color of light caramel.) Add the thyme and sage and taste to see if you need more salt and pepper. Gradually add the water while stirring constantly to keep from geting lumps and to keep it from burning. When everything is well mixed, return the chicken to the pot and bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Cook for another 20 minutes or until the chicken is tender and falling off the bone. Stir occasionally. Remove the chicken and either add more water or boil uncovered to get it to the consistency you find appealing. Now is a time to skim off fat if you like. Serve over plain boiled rice and season with the hot sauce.

Muffaletta Sandwich
Most cultures have an inexpensive sandwich that hard-working but not wealthy people would eat for lunch. Chicago has a bevy of these (hot dog, polish, Italian beef, etc.) but New Orleans has po' boys and the Muffaletta sandwich. Ah, the Muffaletta: A round loaf of bread that is cut in half and piled high with lunchmeat, cheese, and olive salad. You're unlikely to find a muffaletta bun up here in Yankee country, but you could substitute a round loaf of Italian bread.

You'll need:
1 round loaf cut in half and spread with garlic butter on each side
16 pieces of Genoa salami
8 ounces of thinly sliced ham
6 pieces of thinly sliced provolone
4 thin slices of tomato
4 pepperoncini peppers sliced
Olive Salad (see below)

Layer the bun with the ingredients in the order listed, ending with the peppers. Bake the sandwich in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bread is warm. Top with the olive salad, slice in quarters and serve.

Olive Salad
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup black olives, pitted
1/2 cup green olives, pitted
1 stalk celery
2 tablespoons capers
2 red peppers
2 cloves fresh garlic
1 teaspoon each of dried basil, oregano, and parsley

Chop all ingredients coarsely, place in tightly sealed glass jar and store for up to three weeks. However, since Mardi Gras is today here's a shortcut: get some mild giardiniera, drain and add some olive oil. Chop up some black olives and cocktail olives (with pimientos) and add those to the mix -- this concoction will be a bit more vinegary than true olive salad, but it'll do in a pinch. Have enough hurricanes and you won't even notice the difference.

The hurricane cocktail is interestingly not named after storms that regularly pound New Orleans, but rather after the hurricane lantern-shaped glass it is served in. There are just as many varieties of hurricane as their are etoufée recipes. Whether or not this is the true story, it's the one that gets bantied about enough to be true: During World War II, whiskey was in short supply. If bar owners wanted to buy whiskey, they were also forced to buy large quantities of rum, which was plentiful. Pat O'Brien's was the first place to come up with a sweet concoction tourists can't seem to get enough of.

A hurricane contains:
1.5 oz light rum
1.5 oz dark rum
1 oz orange juice
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. passion fruit juice or 1 tablespoon passion fruit syrup
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 teaspoon grenadine
2 cherries with stems and 1 orange slice for garnish
Ice cubes

In a cocktail shaker, combine the rum, juices, and sugar; shake until the sugar is dissolved. Add the grenadine and stir to combine. Add ice and shake one more time. Fill a glass halfway with ice and strain the drink into the glass. Add garnish. Hide your car keys. Call tomorrow off.

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Seth Zurer / February 24, 2004 12:37 PM

for a muffalatta that resmbles the one from the central grocery in New Orleans, i'd recommend starting from the foccaccia available at Caputo's Cheese store in Melrose Park (On 15th just north of North Ave). It's a little thinner than the bread upon which they build the sandwich in the french quarter, but it'd be damn tasty nonetheless. Plus, you could pick up your olives and coldcuts and cheese and olive oil at the same time. Great post!

Seth Zurer / February 24, 2004 12:47 PM

and here's a chowhoudn bonus thread on muffaletta from this week:

emily / February 25, 2004 11:30 AM

A little late for Fat Tuesday, but here is a great reasonably priced site to order some authentic andouille sausage and crawfish meat for a special cajun meal.


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