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Jazz Fest New Orleans

USA | Wednesday, 30 April 2014 | Views [818]

New Orleans

New Orleans

Jazz Fest New Orleans And Its Heritage of Food

At the 45th edition of Jazz Fest, the air resonates with brass bands, gospel songs, jazz tunes and blues riffs. It comes alive with the catching sound of Cajun accordions, the washboard-beat of Zydeco, and the steady drum of the Mardi Gras Indians. Santana salutes Duke Ellington, and his performance at the very first Jazz Fest. "Man that's a way to start something". The year was 1970. Eight years later, in 1978, four young New Orleans jazz musicians performed here for the first time as Astral Project, and have been playing at the Fest since. The deep-rooted musical heritage of the Crescent City is but one aspect of the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. As much as it is a world-class music festival, it's the heritage of food that grabs a fervent gourmand even more. The combination of it all makes for festival heaven.

Remember the shrimp-scene from Forrest Gump? Overwrite "shrimp" with "crawfish" and that's me going around the New Orleans 2014 Jazz Fest. Crawfish Beignets. Crawfish Monica. Crawfish Remoulade. Even if they played the polka all day long every day, I'd still love the Fest. Crawfish Po'Boy. Crawfish Bisque. Crawfish Bread. Of course there is shrimp too.

In fact, at Jazz Fest you can sample all of Louisiana's "four seasons": crawfish, shrimp, oyster and crab. Soft-shell crab, to be precise. Not a fan of seafood? Go for the Alligator Pie, Muffaleta, Spinach Artichoke Casserole, Cajun Duck Po'Boy, BBQ Pork Ribs, a traditional Red Beans & Rice, or move away from Louisiana food and go for Vietnamese springrolls, Brazilian Acaraje, or Jamila's Lamb Tajine and Merguez. Quench your thirst with Rosemint Herbal Iced Tea or Strawberry Lemonade. Satisfy your sweet tooth with any number of pies, bread pudding, pecan praline, sno' balls or mango freeze. Too bad you can't borrow someone else's taste buds and belly space to eat more, and more of more.

John Hiatt's soulful gritty voice sounds from the Fais-Do-Do stage. Swaying to my favorite Cry Love, I ladle juicy chunks of pheasant and quail from the eye-popping good cup of gumbo in my hand. Jazz Fest made perfect. Eric Clapton is about to start on the Acura stage, but the Houston-bound flight is calling. As we walk away from the Fairground festival fields, we hear Clapton's guitar howl its opening tunes.

From a melted-cheese hot-crusted uber-delicious toasted crawfish bread for breakfast, must-eat Crawfish Monicameaty and moreish white beans with BBQ pork ribs to crisp sugar-dusted original Cafe du Monde beignets, we tried a lot. Here's a random rundown of a few favorites:
soft shell crab
Po-Boys Galore
Not all the breads I tasted this year at Jazz Fest were crisp in crust and fluffy at heart, but the stuffing invariably was oh so goo-hood! Plump flash-fried oysters, raw with a delicate crust. Succulent slow roasted cochon de lait. Cracking good fried alligator meat. Crispy curled-up crawfish tails coated in light, spiced breading. And the best one yet: crunchy fried whole soft shell crab.

A Taste of Alligator
"If gator is said to taste like chicken, it must be a chicken who likes seafood," was my son's comment. I've only tried minced alligator meat in boudin before, a spicy Louisiana "sausage". Hesitant about the "whole pieces of gator meat", I was glad he ordered it, and had me venture a taste. I'm all the richer for it. The fried alligator meat was sensational: firm with a taste spectrum that spanned from juicy chicken to fleshy shrimp. Alligator meat also made a tender-stewed appearance in a traditional Louisiana sauce piquante. It is a tomato-based sauce that simmers for hours and embraces the depth of spice and "holy trinity" (a mirepoix of celery, onion, and bell pepper) of Cajun cooking. The alligator meat was chopped, stewed in this sauce piquante and served with mushrooms over white rice. Loved it!

The Sack, The Beignet & The Pattie 
Talk about a festival staple: for decades, fest-goers have carried a plate of Patton's trio to the far reaches of the fairgrounds: Crawfish Beignets, Crawfish Sack & Oyster Pattie. It's been twelve years since the last time I waited patiently in line to finally parade away with mine, only to find my then-toddler single-mindedly going for my crawfish beignets. Couldn't tell him off either, trying to be the kind of mother who encouraged the child's culinary explorations. Today, at my insistent request, he totters off to queue on my behalf. Crawfish beignets are addictive fried doughy bites, drizzled with a creole remoulade. The Oyster Pattie has sea-soft oysters swimming in a creamy ragout and spilling over the rims of a puff pastry vol-au-vent. The Crawfish Sack is a crisp-fried pastry pouch holding the tasty tiny tails.

Louisiana Food Traditions
French for "suckling pig", Cochon de Lait in Louisiana is so much more than falling off the bone roast pork with the best ever crackling. Roasting a cochon de lait is a social event in Louisiana: as the split pig slowly cooks in front of an open wood fire, families pass the time eating and dancing to Cajun music - a lively and infectious music that even the most determined non-dancer will find hard to resist. Cochon de Lait even has its own annual festival, celebrating its 40th edition this year. But then, in Louisiana, everything edible seems to have a dedicated festival, including the mirleton(pronounced, like often in New Orleans, not like you'd think: it's "mellaton"). Needless to say, our delicious Cochon de Lait was pulled from its po'boy in no eatin' time!

Pheasant Quail & Andouille Gumbo
Warm dark brown, silky soft and convincingly divine, the Pheasant Quail & Andouille Gumbo is sensational. The flavors run deep and sumptuous, the meats are juicy and tender. That deep dark color with its lush shine comes from the famous Lousiana dark oil-based roux, where flour cooks in smoking hot oil before a "holy trinity of Cajun cooking" adds a traditional layer of flavor. I still cannot believe I shared my only cup of that gumbo...

Veggies At The Fest
Sweet potato pone (easier to order without a risk of embarrassing spoonerisms than corn pone) is almost like a cake, full of sweet spice. It comes from the same vendor who also sells a creamy, lush artichoke and spinach casserole, and the combination makes for very happy palates. The stuffed artichoke is chockfull with a crumbly stuffing of parmesan, herbs, and garlic. Wrapped in foil, the artichoke is baked until soft. Plonked in our fold-out chairs near the Jazz & Heritage Stage, we also shared a plate of fried green tomatoes: crisp crust, gorgeous acidic firm green flesh, they didn't need the remoulade that came with it. I haven't tried the Mirleton Casserole. Maybe you did and will tell me about it?

Next week's lineup: http://lineup.nojazzfest.com/

pheasant quail and andouille laden gourmet gumbo
where y'at John Hiatt?

Tags: festival, food, music

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