Come Saturday, the NFL Playoffs will pit the Detroit Lions against the New Orleans Saints in a battle for football supremacy. But long before flesh hits pigskin, one victor has already been declared: The food of New Orleans crushes the eats from the Motor City.
“You kidding me? New Orleans wipes the floor with Detroit when it comes to food,” says Chef John Besh, owner of Restaurant August and the newly opened seafood restaurant, Borgne. (For more information on New Orleans recipes read John Besh's Basic Rules of Cooking.)
The man’s got a point. The Big Easy’s abundance of Gulf seafood, long growing season, and singular blend of Cajun and Creole influences have given the world spicy sausage gumbo and jambalaya, oyster po’boys and chicory coffee. What’s the Motor City done for your belly lately? (And seriously, that’s a question I’d love an answer to.)
And whether you’re gearing up for Saturday's fight or waiting for Monday's BCS title battle at N.O.’s Superdome, all eyes are on New Orleans, so we turned to Chef Besh for his take on the Saints' chances, secrets to amazing game-day grub, and how to keep it simple, New Orleans-style.
Men's Health: When you go to watch a game at the Dome, what’s your food strategy?
John Besh: Our game days begin rather early. The Dome is right in the middle of the city -- you can walk to it from any hotel. But first you'll stop in at a restaurant, then you stop in at a a couple bars, and then you hit the Dome. That's the way we tailgate in New Orleans.
MH: Most people think of New Orleans food as a bit heavy, but your new restaurant, Borgne, is all about seafood and simple preparations. How do you cook healthy at home?
JB: Right now, we're all in the throes of those New Year’s resolutions. Here in New Orleans it’s really hard, because we go from the holidays to sporting events to Mardi Gras. Every day is a damn party around here. So maybe I try not to eat as much fried food, and lean more towards the grill or the plancha. Keep the seasonings simple: Just toss shucked Gulf oysters with a little bit of olive oil and sliced garlic and throw them on the grill. The oil flames up and gets a smokiness on the oyster. Done and delicious. (Staying home and thinking of ordering a pizza? Bake Great Game Day Pizza instead!)
MH: New Orleans will probably see a fair share of Lions fans. Are you rolling out the welcome mat?
JB: I'm excited that they'll have a chance to explore our city, and share in the abundance of food and drink -- before we beat them on the football field. We don’t lose in the Superdome.
MH: If your buddies are coming over to watch the game, are you slaving away in the kitchen?
JB: My whole thing is, whatever you can do in advance, do in advance. The day before the game, make a Zatarain's Crab boil: Follow the directions on the box, and cook up a pot of big white Gulf shrimp. Then prep a couple dipping sauces, and people come in and help themselves. Then you have time to watch the game and actually enjoy the party. And of course down here we’re all about gumbo. Make a big pot. Some chicken stock, shrimp, sausage, maybe even some oysters. Those "iron-pot" dishes only get better overnight. (Another great “iron-pot” option: Chili. Check out our 11 Rules For The Ultimate Pot.)
MH: And what are you drinking alongside that gumbo?
JB: I'm an Abita beer guy. I was raised with the guys who brew it, grew up down the street from the factory. I love what Abita's done: Staying local but still distributed nationally. There's nothing better than oysters and beer. Well, as long as there's Tabasco and a little lemon.
1 cup canola oil
1 cup flour
2 large onions, diced
6 jumbo blue crabs, cut into 4 pieces each
1 pound spicy smoked sausage links, sliced ½ inch thick
1 stalk celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced fresh okra
Leaves from 1 sprig fresh thyme
5 quarts chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 pound medium Louisiana or wild American shrimp
1 cup minced green onions
Freshly ground black pepper
Basic Creole Spices (page 13 in My New Orleans)
4-6 cups cooked Louisiana white rice
1. Make a roux by heating the oil in a large cast iron or heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil. It will immediately begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate and continue whisking until the roux is a deep brown color, about 15 minutes. Add the onions, stirring them into the roux with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to moderate low and continue stirring until the roux is a rich dark brown, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the blue crabs, smoked sausage and stir for a minute before adding the celery, bell peppers, garlic, and okra. Increase the heat to moderate and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes. Add the thyme, chicken broth and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and skim off the fat from the surface of the gumbo.
3. Add the shrimp and green onions to the pot and cook for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, Creole Spices, Worcestershire, and Tabasco and serve in bowls over white rice.
-- From My New Orleans: The Cookbook by John Besh/Andrews McMeel Publishing
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