Adventures: Grand Isle, New Orleans

BBQ Shrimp with French Bread at Grand Isle Restaurant, New Orleans

Q:   What’s the worst thing about Amercia?

A:   It’s full of Amerians.

And you might think full of nasty, fatty, processed foods.  In parts yes, but there is also some fabulously good eating too.  New Orleans for example is a VERY good city for eatin’.  A melting pot of french, afro-carribean and other influences its a fantastic city full of fabulous music and food.  We visited for a week in July 2009 and I’m looking forward to visiting again one day soon.

Forcing ourself into the timezone, we checked into our hotel in the Warehouse/Cultural District, not too far from the Superdome and set off towards the centre of the city to sample the local cuisine.

Following Hurricane Katrina, this neighbourhood has emerged as a great example of urban renewal with warehouses converted to apartments with ground floor restaurants, shops and offices.  There’s no master plan to it so its a great area to wander around and discover.  Despite misconceptions its also a safe area at night.

We settled on Grand Isle Restaurant, a charming seafood restaurant in a new development a few blocks from our hotel.  Designed to replicate a New Orleans ‘Fish Camp’ the decor features a beautiful collection of black and white vintage photos, gorgeous Pecky cypress lined walls,  and an old style wrap around mahogany bar.   Comfortable surroundings to relax in after a long flight.

‘Grand Isle Restaurant will take you back to the days when cold beer, 10 cent oysters and air conditioning were advertised on the windows.’

Our knowledgable waiter was happy to guide us through the menu which featured typical old style fish camp favourites like oysters, onion rings, jumbo lump shrimp cakes, turtle stew, gumbo and po boys.  We were feeling game and encouraged by a couple of glasses of suprisingly crisp and drinkable Californian chardonnay we ordered onion rings, crawfish étouffée, BBQ shimp and a seafood tasting plate.

The onion rings were amazing – thick, juicy with crispy light batter and expertly fried.  The seafood plate was a nice way to try out the local catch and was the first of several kilos of catfish we were feed throughout the week.  The joys of conference food for 5000+ delegates!

I was intrigued by crawfish étouffée before we went to New Orleans and I still am.  A Creole dish that typically includes onions, green capsicum and celery sauteed in butter (known in Creole cooking as the ‘holy trinity’) plus garlic, cayenne pepper and of course crawfish, its finished with a dark roux and winds up something like a simple version of gumbo and is served with rice.  Perhaps the flavour combination was too far from the familiar or my digestion wasn’t up to the strong taste of crawfish after the long flight but it really wasn’t for me.

The BBQ Shrimp with French Bread compensated entirely.  The simple description and $13.50 price tag were  misleading.  This was spectacular, rich yet perfectly balanced with lovely slices of crusty baguette to mop the sauces.  With every bite I puzzled at the combination of flavours, not quite able to put my finger on the ingredients.  It haunted me for a several months until I wrote to the Grand Isle and requested the recipe.  I’ve yet to try and replicate it at home but with a few small tweaks for localisation it does look achievable.  Here’s the recipe and lovely email I received from the general manger Jeff Hof.  I’ve not yet whittled down the recipe to a domestic quantity but this will give you an idea of how they do it.  The bay leaves, worcestershire and hot sauce provide the unusual flavours I’d been unable to identify.

“Hi Keira,

Please find the attached recipe that you requested. Thank you very much for the wonderful comments and we hope to see you for the next Microsoft convention. Your company has been very kind and supportive of our city during our time of need and we greatly appreciate it.

The attached recipe is a base that you must make first.  In the recipe we use Abita Amber which is a local beer. You can use any Amber beer and it will be the same provided the beer is not a bitter style. After the base is made, season the shrimp with salt and pepper and put into a hot sauté pan. Ladle in enough base to cover the shrimp. Bring the base to a low boil as quick as possible and fully cook the shrimp. Reduce heat to low and add in some whole, unsalted butter to bind the base and thicken it slightly. Squeeze a wedge of lemon in it and serve immediately.”

BBQ Shrimp Base

1 gallon Abita Amber

1 quart white wine

½ gallon mirepoix

½ gallon Crystal hot sauce

½ gallon Worcestershire sauce

10 Bay leaves

2 gallon shrimp stock

2 cups oil, Canola

1 cup garlic cloves

2 cups chopped Rosemary

Zest and juice of 25 lemons

1 quart Heavy whipping cream


Place Abita, wine, mirepoix, hot sauce, Worcestershire and bay leaves in a stockpot and reduce by half.  Add shrimp stock, reduce by half.  Strain.  Brown garlic cloves in oil.  Add rosemary, garlic, cream, lemon juice and zest  to liquid.

Warehouse District, New Orleans

Lots more fabulous eating in New Orleans followed our visit to Grand Isle and I’m looking forward to sharing some highlights with you.

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