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'Emeril's Delmonico': A Classic Take on Creole

Wednesday is a red-letter day in New Orleans: the iconic Cafe du Monde, a 153-year-old restaurant at the heart of the French Quarter, re-opens after the devastating flood following Hurricane Katrina.

And another revered dining icon is getting new life with help from a most unlikely source: television celebrity chef and restaurateur Emeril Lagasse, best known for his bombastic on-screen demeanor.

The raucous, laissez les bon temps roulez atmosphere is central to Emeril Live, his successful show on the Food Network -- but it's the antithesis of Delmonico, one of New Orleans' landmark restaurants.

So it was a surprise to a lot of people -- including Lagasse -- when Angela Brown and Rose Brown Deitrich, whose family owned Delmonico for several generations, chose Legasse to take over the business. On the surface, it's an odd pairing. But the sisters liked what Lagasse was doing with his own restaurants, and Legasse wanted a chance to preserve classic Creole cuisine.

So in 1997, the sisters sold the restaurant and became Emeril's Delmonico, and the celebrity chef continued building on the Delmonico tradition. His newest cookbook, Emeril's Delmonico: A New Orleans Restaurant With A Past, is a homage to the rich Creole dishes that have now become legend.

Lagasse is committed to rebuilding the city's culinary reputation, and says the people of New Orleans will lead the way. "They won't lose the spirit, the won't lose the soul," he says. "People are discussing at lunch what they're gonna have for dinner that's the spirit of New Orleans. And it can't be blown away."

From Emeril's Delmonico: A New Orleans Restaurant With A Past:

Eggs Pontchartrain

In 1699 French explorer Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur d'Iberville, and his brother Jean-Baptiste, Sieur de Bienveille, traveled through Lake Pontchartrain (named for their French Minister of Marine) to found the city of New Orleans.

There are several interpretations of Eggs Pontchartrain in New Orleans. One features poached eggs atop crawfish and hash browns and another includes eggs on crab cakes and biscuits. Ours has poached eggs served with crispy-fried oysters and bacon, then drizzled with hollandaise flavored with tasso. Now that's what I call an over-the-top dish!

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon white vinegar

8 large eggs

4 English muffins, split into halves and lightly toasted

12 strips bacon, fried until crisp and strips broken in half

1 recipe Tasso Hollandaise Sauce (recipe follows)

1 recipe Fried Oysters (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon chopped green onions, green tops only, for garnish

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Pour cold water into a 10-inch sauté pan to a depth of about 2 inches. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat so that the surface of the water barely shimmers. Add the vinegar.

2. Break 4 of the eggs into individual saucers, then gently slide them out one at a time into the water and, with a large spoon, lift the white over the yolk. Repeat the lifting once or twice to completely enclose each yolk. Poach until the whites are set and the yolks feel firm yet soft when gently touched, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and either serve immediately, or place in a shallow pan or large bowl of cold water.

3. Repeat with the remaining eggs, adding more water as needed to keep the depth at 2 inches, and bringing the water to a simmer before adding the eggs.

To serve, reheat the eggs as necessary by slipping them into simmering water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Place 2 toasted English muffin halves on each of four large plates and lay 3 half strips of bacon across each. Place 1 poached egg on top of each muffin half and drizzle with the tasso hollandaise. Arrange the oysters on top of the eggs and around each plate, garnish each serving with the chopped green onions and parsley, and serve immediately.

Fried Oysters

Makes 16 oysters, 2 to 4 servings

1 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons Emeril's Original Essence or Creole Seasoning

16 freshly shucked oysters, drained

½ cup masa harina corn flour

½ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups vegetable oil for frying

1. Combine the buttermilk with 1 tablespoon of the Essence in a medium bowl. Add the oysters and marinate for 5 minutes.

2. Combine the masa harina and flour with 1 tablespoon of the Essence in a shallow dish.

3. Heat the oil to 350° F in a medium heavy pot with high sides.

4. Dredge the oysters in the flour mixture and shake the pieces in a strainer to remove any excess. Carefully add to the hot oil in batches, and cook, turning occasionally, until golden on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the oysters with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and serve immediately.

Tasso Hollandaise

Makes about 1 cup

2 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons water

3/4 cup Clarified Butter or 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon tepid water, as needed

1/4 cup finely chopped tasso (about 2 ounces)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1. In the top of a double boiler or in a medium bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water, whisk the eggs yolks with the lemon juice and 2 teaspoons water until the egg yolks are thick and pale yellow. Remove the double boiler or bowl and saucepan from the heat and gradually add the butter, whisking constantly to thicken. Add enough tepid water to thin to pouring consistency. Add the tasso, salt, and cayenne and whisk well to blend. Adjust the seasonings taste.

2. Serve immediately, or cover to keep warm for up to 10 minutes, whisking occasionally to keep from separating.

Fillet of Snapper Rome

This dish was named for Ernest "Jitterbug" Rome, who began working for the LaFranca family in 1939 and served as chef for Delmonico Restaurant until the family closed the restaurant in 1997, a span of nearly sixty years. While the preparation may seem complicated, this is a very straightforward dish to make and the end result is impressive and delicious. To simplify matters, you can prepare the béchamel-crabmeat mixture and the butter sauce ahead of time, and then cook the fish at the last minute.

The crabmeat topping makes Snapper Rome a very rich dish, so I suggest simpler side dishes to accompany it, such as Broccoli with Hollandaise Sauce (p. 214) and boiled small new potatoes tossed with a little melted butter and parsley.

Makes 4 servings

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) plus 1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire

1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs

4 8-ounce skinless red snapper fillets

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon plus a pinch ground white pepper

1 cup lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage

1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup half-and-half

8 thin strips green bell pepper

2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley, (optional) for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to broil and adjust the rack 3 to 4 inches from the top heat element. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

2. Combine 1 stick of the butter, the lemon juice, and Worcestershire in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is warm, about 4 minutes. Pour half of the butter mixture into a small heatproof bowl, add the bread crumbs, stir well, and set aside.

3. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the baking sheet with the butter mixture remaining in the saucepan. Place the fillets on the baking sheet and brush lightly with the butter mixture. Season the top of each fillet with a 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and a pinch of the white pepper and broil, basting twice, until lightly golden brown and just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave the oven on broil.

4. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. When foamy, add the crabmeat and cook, stirring and being careful not to break up the lumps, until warmed through, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

5. Melt the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly with a heavy wooden spoon, to make a light roux, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add the half-and-half, stirring constantly, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, pinch white pepper, and the crabmeat mixture and stir well to combine. Remove from the heat.

6. Divide the crabmeat mixture among the fillets, spreading evenly over the tops, and sprinkle each with the breadcrumb mixture. Place 2 bell pepper strips in the shape of an "X" on each fillet and broil until the tops are golden brown and the fish is heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.

7. Place one fillet in the center of each of four large plates and spoon any additional butter mixture over the tops. Garnish each portion with 1/2 teaspoon of the parsley and serve immediately.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.