Sometimes you just have to go to a place where the food and the atmosphere pull you in, wrap around you, and make you settle back in total comfort - a place of happy people, happy food, and happy music. Ella Brennan has played her game on that premise for many, many years! She has been a signature presence in the restaurant business for most of her life, starting young in her brother's New Orleans restaurant as a kitchen grunt and working her way up to menu development and front house management. When his restaurant ran into financial trouble, she took over and as they say, ''the rest is history". She has spent her years creating just the kinds of places of which I speak!
photo by Steven Forster of the Times-Picayune
Okay, so that's the back story ... let's come forward. She is considered the grande dame of New Orleans haute creole/cajun, has worked with the likes of Prudhomme and Lagasse, has a chain of successful restaurants that the family runs, has stepped back because of age and family factors but still keeps a presence in the New Orleans Restaurant, Commander's Palace. Her awards are many, but when all is said and done, she is really just an excellent hostess with impeccable taste in food and style ... and a great business sense! What a lady!
I have no experience with haute Creole so I am falling back on a Creole/Cajun standard ... red beans and rice and blackened white fish fillets. To begin any of the Creole/Cajun spicy dishes, one uses a spice blend that's heavy on the peppers ... I've put together a small jar of Cajun spices -
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp each: onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, ground bay leaves, cayenne pepper, and black pepper
Measure the spices together and mix well with a fork. Store in an airtight container.
Red Beans and Rice with Andouille Sausage
1 piece pancetta
1 tsp. olive oil
2 stalks celery, small dice
1 medium onion, small dice
½ large green pepper, small dice
2 tsp. Creole Seasoning
2 - 15 oz. cans red beans (dark red kidneys or your favorite red bean variety), drained and rinsed
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
1 large link of Andouille sausage, sliced into quarter inch coins, then coins halved into half moons
Making the Dish:
1. Saute the vegetables with the olive oil and the pancetta until the vegetables glisten and begin to soften.
2. Add the Creole Seasoning and stir to coat the vegetables and release the scents.
3. Turn the vegetables into a crockpot and add the rest of the ingredients. Cover and set the control to 'High'. Cook for two hours, stirring once in a while to check the moisture. Add a bit more broth if needed and turn the heat down after the first hour.
4. One half hour before serving, remove about one cup of the beans and vegetables and smash them to a paste. Return the mash to the pot and mix to coat the rest of the beans. Cover and let the heat come back up in the pot.
5. Meanwhile, steam a batch of white rice and prepare the rest of the meal.
Making the beans and rice, presents a few issues for me. I love Andouille sausage so I am going to use it instead of the more traditional ham hock that one finds in a red beans and rice recipe. The sausage is a smoked sausage, though and I want some of the smooth fattiness of that ham hock, so I am using one piece of pancetta in the saute of the trinity vegetables.
When the vegetables have begun to glisten, I add two teaspoons of that Cajun spice blend and let the heat begin to release their smells and flavours. Then, the whole mess gets turned into my crockpot with sliced Andouille and two types of red beans. Add some broth to keep the moisture up. Time and heat will do the trick.
Later, these beans will be surrounded by the juices and some of the fatty spiciness of the sausage. Some of the beans and vegetables will be brought out and smashed to create a smooth coating for the rest of the mix and a big spoonful will be served over steamed rice. Mmm ... I can taste it already!
Blackened White Fish
your choice of thick white fish fillets (I used pollock this time.)
a cast iron frypan or a heavy metal grill pan
Making the Dish:
1. Rinse and dry the fish fillets. Sprinkle both sides with the Creole Seasoning. Set aside.
2. Melt about 2 tbsp. butter (real butter) on a small plate.
3. Twenty minutes before dinnertime, heat the pan over very high heat until it smokes. Pre-heat oven to
4. Roll the spiced fillets in the butter and drop them onto the HOT pan. Stand back as they sputter!
5. Sear them for about 4 minutes per side.
6. Place the pan with the blackened fillets in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes. The time depends on the thickness of the fish cuts.
7. When fish flakes nicely, lay it on the bed of steamed rice and place the beans in a separate bowl for serving.
8. Pour the wine! Eat!
To my chagrin, I must admit that this post is obscenely late for this past week's 50 Woman Game Changer blogshare. To see all the other tribute posts to Ella Brennan, please visit Mary at One Perfect Bite. There, you can link up to many more recipes that honor this woman, # 34 on Gourmet Live's list of 50 Woman Game-Changers. I'll try really hard to be on time this Friday!