Tag Archives: Louisiana

Calas: A New Orleans Tradition

 

It’s Mardi Gras, and down in New Orleans, the King Cakes, beignets and other gustatory delights are flowing freely. But if you prefer your culinary temptations with a side of history, allow me to introduce you to the calas, a Creole rice fritter with a storied past.

Never heard of a calas? Most people outside of New Orleans never heard of them either.

It’s basically a rice fritter. Calas are just one of the many rice dishes that actually made the journey during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean. Calas are made of leftover rice mixed into a sugary egg batter, then deep fried and served dusted with confectioner’s sugar. 

To  me, they are kind of like beignets, only better — with a more interesting backstory. Calas were once a vital part of African-American livelihood in the New Orleans, and even helped some slaves there buy their freedom. The cala became a very important part of New Orleans’ history.

Scholars think slaves from the rice-growing regions of Africa  who were brought to the Carolinas specifically to  grow rice.  And as slavery spread down to the Gulf Coast, calas  were eventually brought to Louisiana. Some culinary historians can trace calas to Ghana, others, to Liberia and Sierra Leone. If you were to go to Africa today, to Ghana or Liberia, you would find the women in the open-air markets making calas.

330px-Le_Code_Noir_1742_edition.jpgIn 1685, during the days of French rule, New Orleans was ruled by the Le Code Noir or the “Black Codes”, a decree originally passed by France’s King Louis XIV. The Code Noir defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire, restricted the activities of free Negroes, also known as free people of color,  and forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism, and expelled all Jews from France’s colonies.

The code has been described by Tyler Stovall as “one of the most extensive official documents on race, slavery, and freedom ever drawn up in Europe”.  The Code Noir resulted in a far higher percentage of blacks being free people of color during this period where the free color populations  was 13.2% in Louisiana compared to 0.8% in Mississippi. In by 21st Century standards, they were on average exceptionally literate and highly educated, sending their children abroad to study in some of Europe’s finest universities at the time.  Many were were doctors and lawyers, with a significant number of them owning businesses, properties and even slaves. Today, most people  are unaware that the free people of color were highly successful in the era of slavery. It was a very different climate in New Orleans than in the rest of the United States at the time.

In the Code Noir, it was stated that  all slaves were required calasby law to have at least one day a week off. The slaves’ day off usually was Sunday. Many of them would become street vendors. And so after church, African women would roam the streets of the French Quarter touting their wares with the chant, “Calas, calas! Belles calas tout chauds, madame, belles calas tout chauds!” — “Beautiful calas! Very hot!”

When the Spanish took control of Louisiana in the 1760s, they brought with them a powerful legal instrument, coartacion ,a specific type of manumission that pertained to slavery in the Hispanic Caribbean, through which slaves were allowed to purchase their freedom on a gradual basis. They were considered ‘free’ in exchange for compensation for the slave owner. In other words, coartacion  gave slaves the right to buy their freedom. For enslaved black women in the city, selling calas was a key way to earn money for these purchases. These women were able to buy freedom for their families and for themselves.

More than 1,400 New Orleans slaves bought their freedom under Spanish rule. But it’s not clear just how many did so with calas money.

African-American culinary historian Jessica B. Harris  has noted  in her writings that not all calas vendors were enslaved. And the ones who were  slaves often sold them for their mistresses. If they were lucky, they were allowed to keep a portion of the money, or perhaps have it go towards their freedom.

Americans ended the practice of coartacion soon after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. But New Orleans remained home to thousands of free blacks – and throughout the 1800s, many of them, especially women, made their living selling calas and other street foods.

In the 20th century, these vendors slowly disappeared, until, by 1940, according to an old Works Progress Administration report, just a single calas street merchant remained.

But indoors, calas “remained popular as a home treat” among African-Americans — especially during Mardi. Friends and neighbors prepared calas for their families and for the maskers who stopped by for a little ‘recess’ from their parading.

And the fritters did survive in at least one public eating space: The Old Coffeepot Restaurant, a French Quarter breakfast joint, where they’ve been on the menu for decades.

Waitress Gaynell James serves up calas cake from the kitchen at The Old Coffeepot Restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans on Jan. 28, 2013.

Waitress Gaynell James Serves up calas from the kitchen at The Old Coffeepot Restaurant in the French Quarter. Gerald Herbert/AP 2013.

After chef Frank Brigsten purchased Charlie’s in 2009, he replaced hushpuppies on the menu at the longtime neighborhood seafood joint —a fixture in Harahan, outside New Orleans, since the 1950s—with a savory take on calas. They have gotten to be so  popular that the restaurant now serve shrimp calas as an appetizer.

 In recent years, calas have also made their way into a higher-profile tradition as well.2010-Calas-Lady-_vo
In 1990, New Orleans’ Haydel’s Bakery revived the old tradition of including miniature porcelain dolls in their Mardi Gras King Cakes.  The Original 1990 Frozen Charlotte Doll quickly became a collector’s item.  Since then,  Haydel’s has choosen a different porcelain figure  that celebrates one of the traditions of  the city’s beloved Mardi Gras heritage and bakes them  into  their famous King Cakes. In 2010, that figurine was in the shape of the iconic calas lady, her basket of “belle calas” balanced on her head —not forgotten. a symbol of a New Orleans long gone but, but still alive in the hearts of many.

And so the cala, a rice dish that is a part of New Orleans’ history, will be saved for future generations to come with this recipe that is presented below.

Makes About 2 Dozen

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked white rice
6 Tablespoons all purpose flour
3 heaping Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
5-6 cups vegetable oil, for frying
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions:

Mix the rice with flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the vanilla and mix well.

Add eggs and when thoroughly mixed, drop by tablespoonfuls into the hot oil , heated to 360 ° F. Fry until browned on both sides.

Using a spyder, remove the fritters from the oil and drain on baking sheet lined  with paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve hot with coffee or Cafe au Lait. 

 

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Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

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Photo Credit:  Chris Granger, 2014

According to my Grand, “The secret to a great gumbo is that it takes as long as it takes—It’s  time that makes it good.”

And just in time, here is a chicken gumbo recipe you can  prepare for Mardi Gras!

The real star of this dish is the Sauternes wine used to braise the chicken in this classic gumbo dish.  I used a 2011 Le Tertre du Bosquest Sauternes for this recipe. This barrel-aged Sauternes features a beautiful, brilliant, golden-yellow color and an attractively fresh bouquet with delightful hints of vanilla, peach, citrus fruit, and honey. Smooth and powerful on the palate, this delicious Sauternes has mandarin orange and quince flavors, and a slightly botrytised aftertaste. When using a good quality Sauternes, what you will get is a get a rich, balanced liquid for the gumbo, and plenty of tender poached chicken meat.

If you cannot find a good quality Sauternes in your neck of woods, your favorite white zinfandel or a riesling are excellent substitutes.

Serves 6

Ingredients:
One 3 pound chicken, cut up into 8 pieces.
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground Black Pepper, to taste
3 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 Tablespoons Lea & Perrin Worcestershire sauce
1 1 pounds andouille sausage (or smoked sausage or kielbasa)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
4 cups water
4 cups Sauternes wine (or a white zinfandel or a riesling)
1 12 teaspoon  filé powder
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Cooked white rice, for serving

Directions:
Season chicken lightly with salt and black pepper, cover and set aside in the refrigerator. For best results, let the chicken stand over night to get seasoned. Slice the sausage into 1/4 to  1/2-inch rounds; cover and set aside.

To make the roux, heat oil in a Dutch oven that is very clean over high heat until the the oil should  begins to shimmer – and gradually begin to stir in flour, using a long-handled wooden spoon. The roux will take about 3 to 4 minutes to cook and must be stirred constantly so that it does not burn. If you see black specks in the roux, it has burned and you must start over again.

As you make the roux, it will change in color from cream to blonde, from tan to brown and then to dark chocolate red-brown. Remove from heat. Stir in the garlic, onions, green peppers, celery and Worcestershire sauce, stirring constantly until roux stops getting darker. Bring to stove once more, and cook over low heat about five to seven minutes, stirring constantly until the onions are transparent.

In a another large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil remove from the heat  and add  to the roux in the Dutch oven, stirring to dissolve the roux thoroughly. Add the Sauterne wine. Add the cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Carefully add chicken and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook about 35 to 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken, and set aside to cool.

De-bone the chicken, and cut into bite-size pieces. Add sausage, to the Dutch oven, and simmer for another 35 to 45 minutes, uncovered, stirring frequently. Taste, and adjust the seasoning with salt, as needed.

Stir in the chicken, and remove the gumbo from the heat. Skim the surface to remove the fat that the sausage renders during cooking.

For best results, cover and store the gumbo in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day,  remove the gumbo from the refrigerator and stir in the filé powder. Bring the gumbo to a boil and then reduce and simmer the stew for 25 to 30 minutes.

Garnish with parsley and serve over rice with French bread.

Laissez le bon temps rouler , ché!

 

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Photo Credit: The 99 Cent Chef, 2011

 

Cook’s Notes:
Considered to be one of the finest white wines in the world, Sauternes is a French sweet wine from the Sauternes is region of the Graves section in Bordeaux.

sauternes.jpgAs in most of France, viticulture is believed to have been introduced into Aquitania by the Romans. The earliest evidence of sweet wine production, however, dates only to the 17th century. While the English were Bordeaux’s main consumer since the Middle Ages, their primary tastes were for red claret. It was the Dutch traders of the 17th century who first developed an interest in white wine. For years they were active in the trade of German wines but production in Germany began to wane in the 17th century as the popularity of beer increased. The Dutch saw an opportunity for a new production source in Bordeaux and began investing in the planting of white grape varieties.

Sauternes is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have beensautern.jpg affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot. This causes the grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in concentrated and distinctively flavored wines. Due to its climate, Sauternes is one of the few wine regions where infection with noble rot is a frequent occurrence. Even so, production is a hit-or-miss proposition, with widely varying harvests from vintage to vintage.

220px-Yquem99.jpgWines from Sauternes, especially the Premier Cru Supérieur estate Château d’Yquem, can be very expensive, due largely to the very high cost of production. Barsac lies within Sauternes, and is entitled to use either name. Somewhat similar but less expensive and typically less-distinguished wines are produced in the neighboring regions of Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac and Cadillac.

In the United States, there is a semi-generic label for sweet white dessert wines known as sauterne without the “s” at the end and uncapitalized.

On the other hand, cooking wines like sauternes date to the days when wine wasn’t something the average home cook kept on hand in the pantry.  Wines that we find on the supermarket shelves labeled “cooking wine” usually contained preservatives, particularly salt, to make them shelf-stable after opening.

Basically, the standard advice for cooking with wine is “never to cook with something you wouldn’t drink”.  Think about it, since most of us would not  want to drink salty wine, the old cooking wines are slowly  disappearing.

But for people who do not  commonly drink wine with meals, that leaves the problem of what to use in recipes that call for a small amount of wine. One handy solution is the miniature four-pack. Since a bottle is only 187ml, or about 3/4 cup, you will not waste much, and the packs usually cost $7 or less.

Since Sauternes is a sweeter wine, something like a white zinfandel or a riesling should be a good replacement, if you cannot find it at your local wine and liquor stores.

TODAY.com Parenting Team FC Contributor