Darina Allen: Why New Orleans should be on your food bucket list

New Orleans, the Crescent City, nestled into a bend in the Mississippi, is truly wonderful — you might want to add it to your US bucket list.

Darina Allen: Why New Orleans should be on your food bucket list

New Orleans, the Crescent City, nestled into a bend in the Mississippi, is truly wonderful — you might want to add it to your US bucket list.

I was enchanted by the architecture, the oak lined streets, the buildings and the Creole cottages each with porches, verandas and its own unique features.

I particularly loved the old French Quarter, Marigny, Burgundy and the Garden District, the vibrant art and culture scene. The street cars date back to 1893 and then, of course, there’s the food.

I stayed at Hotel Peter and Paul, owned by a former Ballymaloe Cookery School student Natalie Jordi and her husband New York Times journalist, Brett Anderson.

A four year restoration of a historic New Orleans church, school house, rectory and convent, now with 71 bedrooms.

I was tickled to find myself in the Mother Superior’s bedroom, complete with a king canopy bed, adorned with tassles and holy fillials.

But this is a food column, so I‘ll concentrate on the many new Orleans specialities I managed to taste on my far too brief visit.

My first taste of New Orleans was at a super cool café, Molly’s Rise + Shine in the Irish Channel for a brunchy lunch before a tour of New Orleans.

I loved every bite, a huge glass of fresh orange juice squeezed just moments earlier, roasted carrot yoghurt with granola and other good things, a southern biscuit (moist, tender scones to you and I) with sausage scrambled egg and pickles and Texas toast — one inch thick triangles of toasted brioche like bread with a little bowl of superb butter and jam on a speckled blue enamelled plate.

Don’t miss their sister restaurant Turkey and the Wolf if you make it to New Orleans — superb sandwiches with a permanent queue.

My sojourn didn’t coincide with the famous cray fish season so I missed those but went along to an iconic Irish pub Erin Rose — with a Lill Killer Po Boy joint at the back.

The name is short for Poor Boys a term apparently coined by the Martin brothers during the 1929 Street Car strike when the brothers served this kind of robust sandwich to the hungry strikers.

To make a New Orleans Po Boy, split a French bread roll, crackly crust and soft fluffy interior, slather with a spicy mayo, add pickles and shredded salad, maybe some freshly chopped herbs or tomatoes and a topping of roast beef or fried sea food.

Next stop, Congregation Coffee and cool café, superb pastries and a tempting potato and turnip soup with horseradish dill and mushroom and a braised rabbit sandwich with blue cheese and watercress.

Christina Balzebre’s, Levee artisan bakery just off Magazine Street was also exceptional, superb naturally leavened bread, and handmade pastries.

After an intriguing tour through New Orleans, dinner that night was at Apolline where chef, Michael Shelton cooks contemporary American food.

I got to taste okra in New Orleans, one of the many good things I ate there.

My final meal was at the iconic Upperline Restaurant on Upperline Street, classic New Orleans dishes, contemporary Creole cooking and a warm welcome from the utterly charming, feisty 80-year-old hostess JoAnne Clevenger.

I really long to go back to New Orleans and next visit maybe I’ll have time to taste the famous Beignets from Café du Monde….

New Orleans Beignets 

Makes 12 Servings 

  • 170mls lukewarm water 
  • 1 x 7g sachet of dried fast acting yeast
  • 115ml evaporated milk 
  • 70g sugar 
  • Pinch of salt 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 400g–450g plain flour 
  • 3 tbsp melted butter Corn oil or any flavourless oil for frying 
  • Icing sugar, for dusting 

In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine lukewarm water and yeast, let it sit until it dissolves for about 5 minutes.

Lightly whisk evaporated milk, sugar, salt, egg and vanilla extract. Add it to the yeast mixture.

Mix in about half of flour and continue mixing with hand or dough mixer. If using a stand mixer, mix for about a minute or 2.

Finally, add the melted butter, mix until dough is sticky but smooth. Add in additional flour (if needed) to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 – 2 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the dough.

Cover loosely with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.

Once risen, punch the dough down and remove from the bowl. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a long piece until approx ¼ - 1/3 thickness.

Cut the dough into 1½ or 2 inch squares, you can use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Let it rest for about 10 minutes before frying.

Working in batches so as not to crowd the oil, fry the dough squares until they are puffy and golden brown.

Remove from the oil, drain on paper towels briefly and immediately dust with icing sugar.

Serve immediately.

Southern Hush Puppies 

Serves 6 

Inspired by a recipe in Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart

  • 280g cornmeal 
  • 1 tbsp white flour 
  • ½ tsp baking soda 
  • 1 tsp baking powder 
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 3 tbsp green onions, finely chopped 
  • 270ml buttermilk 
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten 
  • Vegetable oil or pure olive oil for frying 
  • Honey Butter 110g (4oz) butter 2 good heaped tbsp fresh honey

Sieve flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl, add the cornmeal. Add the onions, buttermilk and egg, stir until thoroughly mixed.

Heat the oil to 375°F and drop the batter by spoonful (about 2 teaspoons each) in the hot oil.

Fry until golden brown, about 3-5 mins.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot.

At Peche Restaurant they served the hush puppies with honey butter.

To make the Honey Butter:  Cream the butter in a bowl.

Add the honey and stir with a spoon to evenly distribute the honey through the butter.

Egg and Sausage, Melted Gouda and Hot Sauce in a Brioche Bun 

Serves 8 

  • 8 brioche buns with poppy seeds sprinkled on top 
  • 8 sausage patties 
  • 8 organic eggs 
  • Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • 100g to 175g (4oz-6oz) Gouda, grated 
  • Hot chilli sauce 

Homemade Sausage Patties

  • 225g (½ lb) good, fat streaky pork (rindless) 
  • 1 tbsp mixed fresh herbs (eg, parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, and a little rosemary) 
  • 30g (1¼oz) soft white breadcrumbs 
  • 1 small garlic clove 
  • 1 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • 1 small organic egg 
  • Dash of oil for frying 

Tomato and Chilli Sauce 

  • 30g (1oz) green chillies, deseeded and chopped, or 2-3 depending on size 
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and cut in 1 inch (2cm) dice 
  • 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed 
  • 1 dstsp castor sugar 
  • 1 dstsp soft brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • 2 tbsp water 

First make the sausage patties: Mince the pork at the first or second setting, depending on the texture you like.

Chop the herbs finely and mix through the breadcrumbs. Crush the garlic to a paste with a little salt.

Whisk the egg, and then mix into the other ingredients thoroughly. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Fry off a little knob of the mixture to check the seasoning. Correct if necessary. Divide in 8 and flatten into patties.

Keep covered and chilled.

To make the Tomato and Chilli Sauce: Put the chillies, pepper, tomatoes and garlic into a stainless steel saucepan with the sugar, vinegar and water.

Season and simmer for 10 minutes until reduced by half.

To serve, split the brioche bun in half but keep attached at one side.

Fry the pork patty in a hot pan in a little extra olive oil while you quickly make a 1 egg omelette.

Heat a small frying pan over a high heat.

Whisk the egg, add a little dash of milk, flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Add a little clarified butter to the pan, when sizzling add the egg, tilt the pan and quickly make an omelette and fold.

Sprinkle a layer of grated cheese onto the base of the bun and pop under a grill.

When the cheese has melted top with the pork patty and the omelette.

Drizzle generously with the hot sauce, fold over the brioche and serve ASAP on a square of parchment.

Brioche Pecan Bread Pudding with Toffee sauce 

Serves 6-8 

  • 8 brioche buns or good bread sliced 
  • 50g (2oz) butter, preferably unsalted 
  • 3oz plump sultanas 
  • 4 oz pecans, very coarsely chopped 
  • 450ml (16fl oz) cream 
  • 225ml (8fl oz) milk 
  • 4 large organic eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 2 tsp grated ginger 
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
  • 110g (4oz) sugar plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling 
  • Pinch of salt  

Toffee Sauce 

  • 110g (4oz) butter 
  • 150g (5oz) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar) 
  • 75g (3oz) granulated sugar 
  • 300g (10oz) golden syrup 
  • 225ml (8fl oz) cream
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract 

Equipment 1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) square pottery or ovenproof china dish.

Slice the brioche into 1/3 inch thick slices. Butter and arrange buttered side down, in a single layer in the buttered dish.

Sprinkle with half the pecans and half the sultanas and then arrange another layer of brioche, buttered side down, over the nuts and fruit, sprinkle the remaining nuts and fruit on top.

Cover with the remaining bread, again, buttered side down. (Make sure the fruit is fully covered or it will shrivel up.)

In a bowl, whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and the pinch of salt. Stir in the grated ginger and pour evenly over the pudding.

Sprinkle the tablespoonful of sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, loosely covered, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Place the pudding in a bain-marie and pour in enough water to come half way up the sides of the baking dish.

Bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is crisp and golden. Meanwhile make the toffee sauce.

Serve the pudding warm with some softly whipped cream and toffee sauce.

To make the Toffee Sauce: Put the butter, sugars and golden syrup into a heavy bottomed saucepan, stir as it melts gently on a low heat.

Simmer for 4 or 5 minutes, remove from the heat and gradually stir in the cream and the vanilla extract.

Put back on the heat and stir for 2 or 3 minutes until the sauce is absolutely smooth.

Hot Tips 

Ballycotton RNLI Annual Gala Dinner - Friday, January 31 

Ballymaloe House has supported Ballycotton Lifeboat with an annual fundraising gala dinner since opening their Yeats Room restaurant in 1964.

The theme for 2020 is Downton Abbey and tickets are available from fundraising committee member Margie Houlihan on 087-6485480 at €110 per person.

Please book accommodation directly with Ballymaloe House on 021-4652531.

Marmalade Orange Season 

Dash off to the shops or Farmers’ Markets and buy some of the bitter Seville or Malaga oranges, they’ll only be in the shops for another few weeks.

Throw them into the freezer if you are too busy to make marmalade immediately.

It’s super therapeutic after Christmas. Check out my column for lots of recipes and tips.

First Guest Chef of 2020 at Ballymaloe Cookery School 

We are thrilled to welcome Eoin Cluskey of Bread Nation and Bread 41 fame back to the Cookery School as a guest chef.

Eoin runs the extremely popular Bread Nation Bakery in Pearse Street, Dublin.

The course runs on Wednesday, January 22, starting with lunch at 1pm, finishing at 5pm.

For more information or to make a booking www.cookingisfun.ie or 021-4646785.

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