New Orleans Food Tour, Day 3: New Orleans School of Cooking

As promised, my “missing” day 3 post! Better late than never, right? 
This was one of my absolute favorite things we did on this all-around amazing trip. We took a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking! The class was taught by Chef Kevin Belton and it was so much fun!

  
We all sat in a big room around tables. Chef Belton was up front cooking. He told us all about the food culture of New Orleans, which is so great. Like other places in the South, so many things revolve around food and eating together. It isn’t so much about what’s on the table, but who’s at your table, which is such a great way to live. Also, he said, the only way to do Louisiana cooking wrong, is to follow the recipe exactly, which is of course a philosophy I already adhere to! If you don’t like something, don’t put it in. If you really like something, put more in! There are no hard and fast rules. Make it how you like it. (Baking is still a bit more precise, but there is still wiggle room if you look for it!) 

As he was cooking, he gave us lots of great tips. He made Gumbo, Jambalaya, Bread Pudding, and Pralines. 

  
He started off with the bread pudding because it takes a while to bake. We all got packets with the recipes in them, but like he said, we don’t need to follow the recipes, because he wasn’t! 

  
I’ve never really been a fan of bread pudding, mostly for the same reason I don’t really like stuffing. I’m a big texture person, and the whole dish is basically soggy bread. To me anyway. Chef Belton made a pina colada bread pudding and let me tell you, it was delicious!! He gave us all sorts of suggestions for substitutions and flavor combos. I’m pretty sure he has made me a bread pudding fan! He made a rum sauce to go on top that could really be used for just about anything. Just writing about this and remembering makes me want to whip up a batch!

While the bread pudding was baking, he started on the gumbo and jambalaya. I’ve made both of these dishes before, but he did give me a lot of tips to try when make them again. The biggest tip was, what I thought, was a much faster way to make the roux. 

  
Gumbo is one of my favorite New Orleans dishes. It is basically a thickened stew (thickeners can be roux, file powder, okra, or a combination). There is creole gumbo and Cajun gumbo. While the history of the dish can be traced to 18th Century southern Louisiana, how it came about to begin with is up to much speculation. It combines the culinary practices of the French, Spanish, native tribes, Africans, and even Italians and Germans, all of whose cultures lived together within the small area of New Orleans and had heavy influences on each other. In fact, gumbo is often used as a metaphor for the mix of cultures that live in southern Louisiana. Like the “American Melting Pot”, Louisiana has Gumbo. 

  
Jambalaya is a dish of Spanish and French influence. Similar to a paella or risotto, it is a rice-based dish with meat—chicken, andouille sausage, shrimp, for example—and vegetables. The vegetables are usually what is considered the “holy trinity” in Louisiana cooking: onion, celery, bell pepper. There are two “types” of jambalaya: city, or red, jambalaya includes tomatoes and began in the French Quarter when the Spanish attempted to make paella, but didn’t have some of the necessary ingredients, like saffron. That’s why there are tomatoes. Eventually the French and carribbean influences became more prominent and this dish became completely distinct from paella. The rural, or brown, jambalaya does not contain tomatoes and originates from the swamp country. It is known as ‘brown’ jambalaya due to the absence of tomatoes. It is more smoky and spicy than the “city” jambalaya. 

  
Finally, he made pralines (pronounced “Prah-leens”), which is a very sweet candy made with sugar and pecans. French settlers brought the recipe to Louisiana. They are simple to make with only a few ingredients such as sugar, butter, cream, and nuts, but they do require a lot of attention, as most candy making does. Once the mixture is ready, you drop them on a baking sheet covered with parchment or wax paper and let them cool. They are always good, but they are especially good when they are still a little warm. Chef Belton gave us lots of tips for this too, including different mix ins.

Hopefully I’ll be able to make some of these dishes myself soon and put some of my new education to work!

 PS Sorry for the “stock food footage” but I was so into this class, and eating afterwards, I completely forgot to take pictures!

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