Saturday, November 11, 2006

Second time's the charm

Actually, there are several accounts of how hush puppies got their name, all involving fried cornmeal being thrown to a barking canine, variously by fishermen, hunters, trappers, Confederate soldiers and a cook from ... Atlanta - ha! Few folks deny that this Southern staple originated shortly after 1727 in the settlement of Nouvelle Orleans, with a group of Ursuline nuns who had emigrated from France. The nuns called their fried cornmeal croquettes de maise. The Old Ursuline Convent still stands at the corner of Ursuline and Chartres (pronounced chahr-ters) streets in the French Quarter, not far from the supposed "House of the Rising Sun."

Well, it didn't take us long to get back on the horse and plan a menu of blackened rainbow trout, roasted potatoes, collard greens and - wait for it - hush puppies. (Incidentally, our interim dinner last night was at a charming North African restaurant around the corner, rather un-exotically named the Adams Café. We got a free "plate of invigorating nibbles," including some spicy mini meatballs - kefta - and pickled vegetables. Tam ordered a roasted lamb skewer, served blistered and rare with tomatoes and rice, and Laura had a tagine of chicken with pickled lemons and green olives. Mmm. We're pondering making our own pickled lemons and putting them in everything. Any recipes?)

As for tonight's "blackened" fish, we'll leave discussions of the Maillard reaction to Harold McGee. Well... okay. The Maillard reaction is named for the chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who figured out why golden brown equals delicious. Turns out, flavor compounds are created as the result of a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars when exposed to heat. With continued cooking, these flavor compounds yield new compounds - and new flavors - and the right combination of these flavor compounds yields yumminess. Mr. McGee notes that the typical cooked food contains between 300 and 800 compounds. Our trout had at least a thousand - Tam was counting - and with the rest of the meal, they added up very quickly. Back home in the States, we've often blackened catfish or tilapia, but trout works very well.

Hush Puppies

1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup buttermilk (or milk with 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice added)

Generous 1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Canola oil for frying

Pour buttermilk over onion in small bowl and let sit for 15 minutes.

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Add beaten egg to onion-buttermilk mixture. Combine dry and wet ingredients and mix just until combined.

Pour 1 inch of oil into cast iron skillet. Heat over high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Carefully drop large tablespoons of batter into oil, leaving space around each piece. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to paper towel.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately with butter. (No, this is not a low-fat menu item! But it's really excellent.)

Serves 4 as appetizer.

Blackened Rainbow Trout

1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 fillets rainbow trout

Lemon wedges

Mix flour and spices on large plate. Dredge fish thoroughly in spice mixture, shaking off excess.

Heat oil in large skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add fish fillets, skin side up, and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Serve with lemon wedges.

Makes 2 servings.


Kalyn Denny said...

The trout looks delicious. Rainbow trout is actually the state fish of Utah, where I live! Most of the restaurants here serve it, at least in the summer.

Jeanne said...

Mmmm hush puppies! I finally got to try them on our US trip this yeas - addictive little things aren't they ;-) Southern cooking in general gets my vote. And the blackened trout is something I'd love to try.