Just as there is no definitive recipe for gumbo, there is no definitive cookbook for traditional New Orleans cuisine. Many cooks have thrown their hats in the ring, and the latest is Stephanie Jane Carter. “The Little Local New Orleans Cookbook” was released Aug. 20 by The Countryman Press, and it features her takes on classic recipes. Carter is the former editor of Vox Media’s Eater New Orleans and former publisher of Edible New Orleans. She also co-wrote “The A-Z Encyclopedia of Food Controversies and the Law.”
Gambit: How is this book different from other New Orleans cookbooks?
Carter: There are lots of books of classic New Orleans recipes, but the New Orleans canon is changing all the time. As our food evolves and the way we eat changes, we accept new dishes into that canon. Some dishes that used to be very popular become less popular. I think someone could do a classic New Orleans recipe cookbook every 10 years, just to watch how the culinary landscape changes.
Since I was doing the book with a big publisher, we had to have some dishes in there that people expect, like crawfish etouffee and jambalaya. But I also got to think about what makes good New Orleans gumbo. While we have tons of dark roux here, the classic New Orleans gumbo is lighter and more vegetable based, with Creole tomatoes and okra and either no roux or very little roux. So, against all the popular dark gumbos, I got to include this one that you don’t see as often anymore. And in a lot of the older, classic New Orleans cookbooks, you never see yakamein, and now yakamein is sort of huge. So it’s a blend.
G: Did you find any of these recipes intimidating?
C: There were quite a few that intimidated me. New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp — because I think it’s really hard to get that specific Pascal’s Manale version of it, which I love. I found a message board where someone said its flavor comes from the kitchen using this batch of butter and cooking shrimp in it all day, so it becomes infused with the flavor of shrimp over time. In a home kitchen, you really can’t do that, so I reduced shrimp stock until it was like a demi-glace and whisked it in. But that one intimidated me.
Seven Three hosts its first cocktail competition Saturday, Aug. 24, and attendees will determine the winner.
The yakamein is one that’s become a standard in our house. I will never be the new Ms. Linda (Green), but I do enjoy making it at home. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and it is really so restorative.
G: Is there a recipe in here that you don’t think has gotten enough love elsewhere?
C: Calas. For me, a recipe gets its legs not just from tasting good but from the culture and history that surround it. People love things with good stories, and calas have a great story. They were traditionally sold in the French Quarter and Congo Square by African-American women who carried them in baskets atop their heads and called out “Calas! Belle calas! Tout chaud!” According to historians, the proceeds helped some of those women [gain] their freedom. I think a lot of people outside New Orleans don’t know that history, so I was excited to share it.
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