New Orleans, a city rich in culture and cuisine, is one of my favorite cities to visit. It feels like home away from home. I look forward to my next visit this spring. My husband often jokes that when we travel, I choose which restaurants I want to try before I even book accommodation for us. Yes, I always have a list of restaurants and cuisines that I want to experience when we travel to new places. I find it a great way to get a feel for the culture and flavors of the area.
New Orleans’ oldest restaurant, Antoine’s, opened in 1840 and is still owned and operated by fifth-generation relatives of the original founder, Antoine Alciatore. Antoine’s is the birthplace of the culinary classic Oysters Rockefeller. In fact, many dishes still popular today originated in New Orleans. In 1906, the muffuletta sandwich was created out of necessity to allow Sicilian farmers to eat their meats, cheeses and olive salad by hand. The po’boy sandwich originated during a strike by streetcar workers in 1929. The sandwich was a cheap and effortless way to feed the hundreds of strikers. Bananas Foster, bananas flambéed with vanilla ice cream, was first served at Brennan’s in 1951.
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There are many foods synonymous with New Orleans. The donuts served at Café du Monde were declared a state donut in 1986. The king cake is very popular during carnival season. In 2010, Haydel’s Bakery broke the world record for the biggest king cake by making two cakes that circled the Superdome. The rye-based Sazerac is the official slow-sipping cocktail in the Big Easy.
I like to look for seasonal foods when I travel. Luckily we will be visiting during “mudbug” season. Mudbugs, aka crawfish, boils have already started at many NOLA restaurants. Yum!
We will also catch the end of the oyster season which runs from October to April. Of course, oysters are available year-round, but historic restaurants like the one in Casamento, established in 1919, closed during the summer months when it was too hot to keep the oysters fresh. Still open today from September to May, Casamento’s is a great place to find raw oysters in the half shell, grilled, fried, sandwiched on oyster bread or even in a rich and creamy oyster stew.
Finally, I can’t talk about New Orleans dishes without mentioning Cajun and Creole cuisine. Although often used interchangeably, Cajun and Creole are two distinct ethnic groups with their own history, traditions, and culture. No matter how different their backgrounds, these two groups have made immense contributions to the state of Louisiana and, of course, the city of New Orleans. From cuisine to architecture, from language to customs, there is so much inspiration to note from each group that entire books are dedicated to them.
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Cajun food is a robust, rustic food found along the bayous of Louisiana, a combination of French and Southern cuisines. It was brought to Louisiana by the French who migrated from Nova Scotia 250 years ago and used foods straight from the land. Think meals with lots of smoked meats as well as meat dishes like jambalaya or the spicy rice-stuffed pork sausage known as blood sausage. Backyard crawfish boiling is another by-product of Cajun culture. While delicious Cajun food can certainly be found in New Orleans, the true heart of Cajun country is found northwest of the city in areas like Breaux Bridge and Lafayette.
Creole cuisine is a cosmopolitan cuisine created in New Orleans with European, African and Native American roots. The French influence is the strongest, but Italian, Spanish, German and even Caribbean remnants can be found in some dishes. The essence of Creole is found in rich sauces, local herbs, ripe red tomatoes and the predominant use of seafood caught in local waters. It is associated with the old-fashioned kitchens of New Orleans, where generations of traditions continue today. Think rich roux-based gumbo, shrimp creole, grits and grills, redfish courtbouillon and more.
I can’t wait to get back to the Big Easy and enjoy the rich culinary scene. Until then, I’ll be making a batch of donuts, browsing restaurant menus, making reservations, and possibly booking accommodation.
French Quarter Donuts
Prep time: 15 minutes, idle time: 90 minutes, cook time: 20 minutes
Yield: about 2 dozen
*1 cup of lukewarm water (105° to 110°)
*2 teaspoons active dry yeast
*1/3 cup sugar + 1 tbsp
*2/3 cup whole milk
*1 large egg + 1 yolk
*3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
*1 teaspoon of sea salt
*4 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
*neutral oil for frying
Add warm water, yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar to a bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until combined. Let sit for 7-10 minutes until it forms a raft on top.
Then add the rest of the sugar, milk, eggs and melted butter and whisk until combined.
Attach the bowl to the stand mixer with the hook attachment and add the salt and flour and mix on medium speed until the batter is smooth and the dough has pulled away from the inside of the bowl, about 2-3 minutes .
Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest at room temperature until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a large clean surface dusted with flour and roll out until it is ½” to ¾” thick and cut into 1 ½” to 2″ squares or rectangles.
Add 5-6 of the donuts to a pan with hot oil or a deep fryer set to 350° and cook for 1 1 1/2-2 minutes on each side or until golden brown.
Cook in batches until the donuts have all been fried and placed on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or paper towel and drain.
Coat generously with powdered sugar and serve.
Jolene Lamb is Culinary Coordinator, Communication Education, at Lincoln Land Community College.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management, Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry Certificates, and non-credit community courses through the Culinary Institute.
Questions? Email [email protected]