• ,

Food Porn: Attack of the Shakshouka

The Shukshuka-gator at Kingfish featured a softly baked egg over alligator ragu

The Shukshuka-gator at Kingfish featured a softly baked egg over alligator ragu

There are several reasons why my introduction to the Middle Eastern dish called shakshouka was both memorable and also kind of weird. First, I adore the food of that region, and while I can't claim to have ever been to the Holy Land or thereabouts, there's something in my Jewish DNA (if there is such a thing) that drives me to love the food of my ancestors, from stuffed grape leaves to hot pita with labneh, and creamy hummus adorned with shimmering olive oil, golden-brown falafel, and the ever wonderful "meat cone" that is shawarma.

So it seemed decidedly bizarre to me that, before this point a couple of years ago, I'd never encountered this particular dish of a rich tomato broth and eggs, generally served with good crusty bread for dipping, which happens to be exceptionally popular in Israel (and also Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Morocco and other places). That this introduction occurred in New Orleans is even more strange. Oh, and did I mention that this version had alligator sausage in it? Yeah, that's all pretty...odd, wouldn't you say?

All of this happened at the restaurant Kingfish, in the French Quarter, during Greg Sonnier's tenure as the eatery's head chef. I'd always loved Chef Sonnier's work, especially at his dearly departed restaurant Gabrielle. When I realized that, following flood damage from Katrina and subsequent failed battles with the City to reopen the classy French-Creole joint in a new location, I was forced to watch with profound sadness my dream of a renewed Gabrielle fade away, like a small child watching his balloon float off into the sky, never to return. It was heartbreaking.

Now, however, I was able to enjoy the wonders of Chef Sonnier's culinary mind come to fruition once more, and among some of the more notable dishes he brought to Kingfish at the time -- duck with ramen noodles, a gorgeous whole-stuffed quail, plenty of boudin and cracklins -- was his version of shakshouka, which he named "shakshouka-gator" owing to the aforementioned inclusion of savory gator sausage.

I loved it immediately. This shakshouka has so many things that I enjoy: a spicy, rich tomato broth, baked eggs, crumbly sausage, and, the most necessary and pleasurable part, excellent grilled bread to sop all the goodness up from hand-to-mouth. Maybe it has something to do with my fondness for playing with my food, or perhaps I'm just a philistine, but I just adore eating without needing utensils other than one's fingers. This probably explains much about my love of sandwiches, corn-dogs, and Ethiopian cuisine.

Now, you probably won't find alligator sausage in your shakshouka in Israel, largely because of that whole kashrut business. And although some versions contain meat, many don't. It's not necessary, but being something of a noted carnivore, I always enjoy the addition of a good crumbled sausage in the spicy tomato ragu, particularly lamb merguez. At its most basic, though, shakshouka is simply a hearty dish of a rich tomato broth, baked eggs and bread, usually flavored with garlic, cumin, and olive oil. And while the shakshouka-gator does not, sadly, exist any longer at Kingfish, I highly recommend Alon Shaya's version at Shaya (anything to go with that amazing pita there, really).

But perhaps the best thing about shakshouka is that you don't need to be a master chef in order to cook up a batch. It's great for breakfast, wonderful for dinner -- especially on colder days -- and it's relatively simple to make, either in a deep-sided cast iron skillet or a dutch oven like a Le Crueset. I'm fond of this recipe from Food 52, which uses mint, although, as I noted, I usually add a bit of ground and browned sausage to the mix as well. Although my results might not be as elegant as those produced by Chefs Sonnier and Shaya, the dish is always a crowd-pleaser.

So, if you're looking for something new, easy, and profoundly satisfying to cook up in the near future, I couldn't recommend shakshouka more. Especially since it's also a really, really fun word to say. Here, say it with me: Shakshouka. Shakshouka. Shakshouka.

See? Fun!


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.