How's Bayou? When You Get the Itch, Start from Scratch
Madewood's quick-fix kitchen holy trinity
It all depends on how you define "scratch." For purists, it's all about fresh ingredients, possibly organic, certainly local and gathered just hours ago.
Millie and I had two acquaintances who dug clams almost daily for guests at their high-end retreat in Canada. But I'm not sure that the shark filet appetizer that they served was just-caught fresh, as I couldn't bring myself to eat it.
Dinner at their upscale establishment always started late, and I was sure the delicacy could tell I was drowsy and attack. I took one look at it and leaned back in my chair, distancing myself from Jaws.
Their meals were uniformly fabulous, and I’m sure they’d be horrified to learn how I respond to a culinary crisis, as in, "Help! I need a different soup for the guests staying a fourth night, and we're out of everything.”Meals at the lodge were uniformly fabulous, and I’m sure the TPL boys would be horrified to learn how I respond to a culinary crisis, as in, “Help! I need a different soup for the guests staying a fourth night, and we’re out of everything.”
In my personal gastronomic lexicon, scratch doesn’t have to come straight from sun-kissed fields or be free–range. It can come from a can, a bottle or a distillery.
Enter my Quick Fix Holy Trinity: LeSueur petit pois, marinated artichoke hearts and Praline liqueur. With these three treasures in hand, any man can be a king in his kitchen.
Many guys say they’ve always wanted to open a restaurant. I never did; but with Madewood, I can. And do, whenever anyone in the kitchen wants a night off. In truth I enjoy the creative part, and I’ve even learned to cherish dishwashing as an art in itself, greatly undervalued.
The previous three nights before I tied on my apron, my assistant, Angie, had served the guests gumbo, roasted tomato and Portobello mushroom soup, and shrimp and corn bisque. Time was ticking, and I was at a loss as I stared into the glass-fronted cupboard.
And there it was . . . my salvation: a can of peas. Quick as a flash, the contents were in the blender. Some heavy cream, a little crème de menthe, a pinch of Cajun seasoning and garlic salt, and some finely chopped parsley. Down went the puree button, and, with a quick pour into a saucepan, soup was on.
It was a hit. After one guest praised the veloute-like quality of the soup while I cleared the bowls, I quickly disappeared to Google “veloute.”
“It’s nothing to achieve that ‘simple smoothness’,” I assured the guest when I returned and slipped the main course in front of him. “It’s one of our new specialties.”
I can’t claim that my then-favorite new toy, a Samsung magnetic induction range with double-fan convection oven, had anything to do with the success of the first course. But I give it full credit for the success of another concoction several months later, Madewood’s now-signature Pecan Encrusted Breast of Chicken with Praline Sauce, a true crowd-pleaser.
Once again, panic had set in as I stared at the dozen or so chicken breasts waiting to learn how they’d be prepared. With that many, you have to be careful. A fricassee is always an option, but wasn’t appropriate for that occasion. And too fancy can get you in trouble when everything has to be ready all at once.
We’d just collected a bucket of pecans from the pasture, and someone had shelled them. Into the chopper they went, full speed ahead, until they looked like cornmeal. Now what?
Carolyn, whose family has lived at Madewood for six generations, was polishing the top of the honor bar in the parlor, and had moved the liqueurs into the kitchen while she worked. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied the distinctive bottle of pecan liqueur and thought of my favorite ice cream, Blue Bell’s Pecan Pralines ‘n Cream.
Voila! The salt-and-peppered chicken breasts were bathed in praline liqueur and swaddled in pulverized pecans. A pat or two of butter on each one, and into the quietly-efficient convection oven they went.
A jar of marinated, quartered artichoke hearts came to my rescue on a cold winter night when I wanted to serve something warm at the wine-and-cheese reception in the library that precedes dinner each evening.
It was near Valentine’s Day, so, sprinkled with a Romano/Parmesan cheese mix, wrapped in filo pastry and popped in the oven, the tidbits were christened, “Broken Hearts.” The guests ate them up.
I’m not against fresh, slow-cooked food by any means. I make a celebrated pasta sauce from overripe Creole tomatoes that farmers offer at $5 for 10 pounds at the end of the season. I hand-chop the real trinity of onions, garlic and bell pepper and simmer the tomatoes for hours. I’ve even learned to like cilantro, arugula and other foodstuffs that sound like Caribbean islands.
But if I had to choose three things to have with me on a deserted Caribbean island, you know what they’d be.
How's bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville. For more information on NolaVie, visit NolaVie.com.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.