Shrimp Risotto

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Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons butter, divided
½-¾ pound shrimp, uncooked, peeled and deveined
½ cup diced onion
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
¼ cup frozen artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup dry Chardonnay
5 ½ cups chicken stock
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh  Italian flat leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Toss in shrimp and cook until pink. When done, remove and set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the same pan over moderate heat, then cook the onion, bell pepper and artichokes until translucent. Add the salt and white pepper. Pour in the rice, stirring to coat it with oil.

Pour the wine into the pan and turn the heat up to moderate-high, stirring gently to allow the rice to absorb the wine. After the wine evaporates, add stock in ½ cup increments and simmer while stirring, again until the liquid is nearly absorbed. Repeat for 15 minutes until rice is al dente, then remove pan from heat.

Stir in Parmesan, remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve,  place a 2 inch, greased ring mold in the center of the plate. Add risotto and smooth out the top with an off set knife. Remove the ring mold and place two interlocking shrimp onto of the risotto timbale. Garnish with a single parsley leaf.

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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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Jerk Chicken with Coconut Saffron Rice and Black Beans

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The best jerk recipe I have ever tasted, delighted the senses, as it was fragrant, fiery hot and smoky all at once.The original recipe was developed by Paul Chung, an adventurous self-taught cook who grew up in Jamaica and has sampled jerk from just about every corner of the island. Making a few adjustments, I added  fresh ginger, dark brown sugar and apple cider vinegar to the marinade. For best results and maximum flavor, let the chicken marinate overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.

As side dishes goes, this saffron rice recipe cooks up pretty quickly, making it a great dish if you are in a hurry. Another added bonus is that is one of those rare dishes that gluten free and vegan. However, if you are allergic to coconut milk, soy milk is a suitable substitute.

Serves 8

Ingredients:
For the Chicken:
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 medium scallions, chopped
2-3 Scotch bonnet chili peppers, stems removed, chopped (or Habaneros)
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon five-spice powder
1 tablespoon allspice berries, coarsely ground
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Two 3 1/2- to 4-pound chickens, quartered

For the Saffron Coconut Rice and Beans:
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon plain water,at room temperature
2 cups uncooked white basmati rice (or any long grain rice)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 3/4 cup coconut milk
2 cups water
1 teaspoon agave nectar, (or 1/2 teaspoon of sugar)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
a pinch of ground nutmeg
One 15-ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
Lime wedges, for garnish

Special Equipment:
Latex gloves for handling the chilis and massaging the marinade under the chicken skin.

Directions:
For the chicken start preparing it a day or two ahead of actual cooking.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels.In a food processor, combine the onion, scallions, chiles, ginger, garlic, five-spice powder, allspice, black pepper, thyme, nutmeg, salt and brown sugar; process to a coarse paste. With the machine on, add the the soy sauce and oil in a steady stream. Put on latex gloves and pour the marinade into a large, shallow dish. Slather the marinade all over chicken, including under skin, and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring the chicken to room temperature before cooking and lightly sprinkle with more salt and ground allspice, before proceeding.

Prepare a charcoal grill: Clean and oil grates.Light a grill and preheat to medium heat using one chimney of charcoal. The temperature can start as high as 300°F. For best results, coals should be at least 12 inches away from chicken. If necessary, push coals to one side of grill to create indirect heat. Add two large handfuls of soaked pimento (allspice) wood sticks and chips (See Cook’s Notes) or other aromatic wood chips to coals, then close grill. When thick white smoke billows from grill, place chicken on grate, skin side up, and cover. Let cook undisturbed for 35 to 45 minutes.

Uncover the grill. The chicken will be golden and mahogany in some spots. Chicken thighs may already be cooked through. For other cuts, turn chicken over and add more wood chips, and charcoal as needed. Cover and continue cooking, checking and turning every 10 minutes. Jerk chicken is done when skin is burnished brown and chicken juices are completely clear, with no pink near the bone. For large pieces, this can take up to an hour.

While chicken is cooking, begin to prepare the rice.

In a small bowl, soak saffron threads in the water, at room temperature, for 5 minutes and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat peanut oil over a medium heat until it begins to shimmer, about 2 minutes. Stir in chopped shallot and garlic, and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in rice, mixing with a wooden spoon until all of the grains are coated with peanut oil. Fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly.Gently stir in the coconut milk, water, saffron mixture, agave or sugar, turmeric, cumin taking care as the oil will splatter. Season with salt, and gently stir, making sure that nothing sticks to the bottom while everything comes to a boil.

Once liquid achieves a boil, reduce heat to low. Place lid on pot, slightly askew to allow some steam to escape. Stir occasionally to make sure rice does not stick to bottom of pan and the sugar in the coconut milk does not burn. Allow to simmer *very* gently for 15-20 minutes, or until rice is tender.

Stir in the black beans and cook for a few minutes more until hot. Remove from heat and cover the saucepan. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork when you are ready to serve.

When the chicken is done, transfer to a platter.Garnish with lime wedges and serve with the rice.

Cook’s Notes:
Pimento wood sticks and chips are available at www.pimentowood.com.

Alternatively you bake the chicken in the oven if a grill is not readily available.After marinating and you are ready to cook the chicken, heat oven to 350°F and bake chicken for 45-55 minutes, until done.

Also, if time is of the essence, you can first bake the chicken at 300°F in the oven then finished off on the grill. This will result in crispy skin, with perfect texture and flavor.

All photographs and content, except where noted, are copyright protected. Please do not use these photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this photograph and all other contents, then we kindly ask that you link back to this site. We are eternally grateful and we appreciate your support of this blog.

Thank you so much!

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