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Chef John Besh Shares Cooking Tips and His Best New Orleans Recipes

Food & Wine welcomed New Orleans chef John Besh to our Facebook page for a live chat with fans. Here, he answers questions about adding Creole flavor to everyday recipes.

How can I put a New Orleans twist on the ol’ steak & taters supper?
There’s nothing more New Orleans than pommes souffle and béarnaise sauce, but this will take some doing. I encourage you to try a really cool Creole-flavored compound butter by placing some butter, a shallot, a clove of garlic, dash of Worchestershire and Tabasco and a sprig of tarragon into a food processor, turn it on and let it all mix well. Grill your steak and just before serving, top it with a dollop of this Creole-flavored butter that has a lot in common with the Bearnaise sauce, just ten times easier! If not pommes souffle, make some home-made sweet potato chips.

Hi, Chef! My husband is allergic to shellfish and I cannot tolerate anything spicy. Do you have any ideas or recipes for "knock off" New Orleans staples that we could try?
Certainly. New Orleans and spicy really don’t go together. Trout Meuniere would be the perfect dish for you to try. All you need is fresh trout if you can find them, flour, butter, lemon and some parsley. If you want to be real New Orleans, throw some almonds into the pan and you’ve got the perfect trout almondine.

What’s a signature dish that defines your style of cooking?
The other day I slow-cooked one of our Mangalitsa pork bellies from the farm at La Provence and lacquered it with a cane sugar glaze, serving it sliced with a warm crawfish tarragon and blood orange vinaigrette over the top. That about sums it up!

I am cursed with a shellfish allergy, but can eat crawfish. What is your favorite unusual way to prepare them?
First of all, I’ll pray for you. My favorite and most unusual way of preparing crawfish is what I lovingly refer to as the French crawfish boil. With a hot pan and some olive oil, I saute live crawfish and toast these shells until the room is perfumed with the beautiful nutty aroma. Then to the pan, I add a shallot and some garlic, armagnac and then flambe. Once the flames begin to subside, add a little heavy cream. Season with salt, pepper and tarragon. If you happen to have a beautiful truffle lying around, cover the entire pile of crawfish in truffles. Reduce the heat to medium and allow them to bathe in this glorious bath. Don’t waste an ounce of the sauce—make sure you have lots of bread for sopping.

When making gumbo, have you played with different roux, like using crawfish fat from the heads for the roux? Could you offer some examples of nontraditional roux?
I’ve a chapter in my book devoted to gumbo and an extensive excerpt on making a roux with whatever fat you have, but be aware what people think of as crawfish fat is not fat at all, but a gland that seems to look and taste like fat. The most exciting roux I’ve ever made was out of chicken or duck fat that I saved after roasting the bird.

What is your favorite cooking method and why?
Don’t know if I have just one favorite! I like the old-fashioned slow-cooking one-pot meals of my youth. Most people would say this is a braise—I call it dinner from a cast iron pot because it takes true devotion to pull off a truly spectacular braise.

How do you stay inspired with your busy schedule?
Good question. Ella Brennan told me years ago to spend at least 30 minutes of each day reading about food. I try to do that along with experimenting with my best friends who happen to be my partners and chefs at our restaurants. I’m inspired each time I walk through the market or our farm for that matter.

How would you incorporate new veggies into meals for kids?
Wraps are one way that I do it. It’s amazing what you can do with roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and sugar snap peas that have been blanched, when stuffed into a whole wheat tortilla rubbed with a little hoisin sauce. Kids love to eat with their hands so make it easy for them—buy some great dips for the veggies. Get away from the raw ones and blanche them slightly to make it a little more palatable.

We just enjoyed an amazing anniversary meal at Domenica. (We got engaged after dining at August!) Where do you procure the amazing proteins and ingredients used there? And how do they make that incredible satsumacello?
First of all, we raise much of the pork that finds itself on the menu. The goats come from a friend of ours, Stuart Gardener, as do the lamb, when they appear. We try to stay as local as possible. The satsumacello can best be mimicked with fresh satsumas, split, wrapped in cheese cloth, covered in pure grain alcohol, left to age refrigerated for a month.

Can you suggest dinner party recipes that will impress and won’t keep me in the kitchen all night so I can spend time with my guests?

Starters: In my neck of the woods I love starting with a chilled salad of fresh sweet peas, baby carrots, end-of-the season-baby turnips, and blood oranges drizzled with a little vinagarette. Blanch the vegetables ahead of time and dress at the last minute. Of course, I love to throw in some crawfish tails or jumbo lump crabmeat for a little extra somethin’.
Main courses: Stick to slow cooking like braised short ribs or daube of pork shoulder that can be done in a big old cast iron pot of even a crock pot if need be. Then it’s a matter of heating a serving just as your guests arrive. Over fresh pasta. What could be better?
Go-to desserts: Pot de creme or creme brulee will never go out of style. They can be made a day or two in advance and keep perfectly well while wrapped in the fridge. This menu will keep you in the kitchen cooking well before the guests arrive and out of the kitchen while you socialize with your friends.

Video: John Besh

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