New Orleans is one of the most diverse "melting pot" regions of America, with heavy Native American, African, and French influences in its cuisine. As seen by novel New Orleans foods such as the muffaletta, the impact of many other cultures is also uniquely apparent in New Orleans cuisine. (The muffaletta is a part of "Creole-Italian" cuisine, which started when Sicilians began immigrating to New Orleans in the 1880s.)
After the end of the Vietnam War, a huge influx of Vietnamese immigrants came into the New Orleans area because of the presence of the Catholic church in Vietnam and the population of Catholic church sponsors in Louisiana. Therefore, recently, Vietnamese culture and cuisine has slowly been influencing the already diverse and historically rich culture in New Orleans. For this year's Mardi Gras, I wanted to celebrate all of New Orleans' cultures, with a particular focus on Vietnamese food. I believe that it is more important than ever to preserve the wonderful culture of New Orleans. Furthermore, although I just moved from New Orleans to San Francisco a few months ago, New Orleans is still in my heart and home.
Mardi Gras is a huge holiday in Catholic communities and the South (and it goes without saying, in New Orleans). Furthermore, although the cuisines of New Orleans and Vietnam are distinguishable, they are also surprisingly similar. Both have (1) a prominent focus on fresh, seasonal, and locally available ingredients, such as the seafood catch of the day and both cuisines have (2) an underlying and strong French influence. Vietnamese cuisine has inherited cooking styles and traditions from the Chinese during the Chinese occupation of Vietnam, and from the French during the French colonial occupation of Vietnam. New Orleans and Vietnamese cuisines have adapted and evolved throughout time, and will continue to do so. My unique approach to my Mardi Gras celebration is to honor tradition, and also celebrate diversity. Therefore, my ultimate Mardi Gras meal is a fusion of the two cuisines.
This year, in addition to serving the classic "N'Awlins" fare for a group of my friends, I also tried my hand at making some innovative Vietnamese fusion items. The foods on the menu for my party (and the links to the associated recipes and step-by-step pictures) are as follows:
Several of these recipes call for extensive use of peeled and cooked shrimp. Thus, here is a little primer, or "shrimpy" orientation on how I peel shrimp.
First, I like to purchase shrimp with the "head-on." I was taught that head-on shrimp stay fresher longer and retain more shrimp flavor. With large prawns (see upper pictures) and smaller shrimp (see lower pictures), the removal is the same. Just use your thumb and forefinger and carefully pinch off the head.
Next, starting with the underside of the shrimp (where the legs are and the shell is "open"), grab a hold of and peel off the shrimp's calcified armor. Use your pinched fingers to pry open the shell from the shrimp meat. The legs will fall off with the shell. You could also remove the legs first, with a pinching and pulling motion, and then remove the shell.
Finally, score a slight vertical line on the back of the shrimp, where the natural line of symmetry is located. Delicately open the incision and using a paring knife and a paper towel, remove the black intestinal vein from the shrimp. Don't worry about cutting the vein, but don't cut too deeply into the shrimp. And don't throw away those shells! You can use them for making shrimp stock later!
And now that we've peeled the shrimp, here is my first recipe for my Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 post, for Creole-Spiced Shrimp.
6 medium-sized peeled and deveined shrimp
1 tbsp of butter
1/4 cup of water
1/2 tsp of Creole seasoning
tabasco sauce, to taste
Heat the butter in a non-stick pan on medium-high, until melted. Add the shrimp, the Creole seasoning, water, and the tabasco sauce and cook until the shrimp is fully pink and firm and springy to the touch.
Please check out the other recipes (which are linked to above) that I wrote up for this Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 post. Just to recap, here are the links again:
- Hearty Gumbo with Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, and Okra
- Savory Vietnamese Turmeric Crepes (Banh Xeo) with Creole Shrimp
- Vietnamese Tamarind Soup with Catfish, Pineapple, and Okra (Canh Chua Cá)
- Vietnamese Summer Rolls (Goi Cuon) with Creole Shrimp
- Mini, Individual-Sized King Cakes