Every year, in the middle of January, I announce that THIS is the year I’m going to make a Mardi Gras King Cake from scratch. And this year was no exception, I announced it and I didn’t do it. Well, Mayans aside, there’s always next year.
I have to admit I’m intimidated by the yeast and rising and kneading and sugaring, but I really want to stay in touch with my New Orleans roots.
Then, at a recent neighborhood breakfast, I realized there’s an easier way to try a Cajun tradition. Our friends Tory and Brian are Louisiana natives, with families spread all around the Big Easy. And several times, we have been invited to their house for a hearty winter breakfast, enjoyed in front of a crackling fire. The star of the meal is their grillades and grits – tender veal fillets, quick fried and then braised with a spicy vegetable laden gravy served over grits.
It is the precurser of the ubiquitous shrimp and grits you can find on nearly every menu these days. And while we love that dish, grillades are a nice change, with a deeper flavor that encourages plate licking. It really does bring me even closer to my family’s roots, because my German ancesters were New Orleans butchers, who are often credited with creating this dish using cheap cuts of meat that they tenderized by beating the heck out of them.
Since I don’t buy or serve veal at my house (but eat it out of grateful politeness if served at someone’s home), I used round steak. It would also be good with pork loin. If you choose a cheaper cut of meat, you must grab a mallet (or, if you don’t have one, an iron frying pan) and whallop the cuts into a pliable thinness, because you want that protein to break down while it simmers.
Grillades is not a quick morning dish. It takes a couple of hours of braising, and tastes better after it has sat another one or two hours. If you’re an early riser, it will be just about perfect come brunch time. If you want to serve it earlier, make it the night ahead and let those flavors meld in the refrigerator. Then gently reheat it (no microwave!) You may have to wait until after the holiday madness to invite friends and family over for a treat. Then again, this humble dish is a nice change from fancy party foods.
Meanwhile, does anyone know where I can find food-safe, tiny baby dolls for that 2013 King Cake?
Grillades and Grits
1/2 cup bacon drippings
4 pounds boneless round steak
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chopped green onions
1 cup chopped sweet onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups canned diced tomatoes, drained
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. tarragon
1 cup water
1 cup red wine
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot sauce
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Grits, cooked according to directions on the package
Heat 1/4 cup of the bacon drippings in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Cut excess fat off meat and slice into thin pieces. Place slices between two sheets of waxed paper and whallop them a few times with a meat mallet. You want them about 1/4-inch thick. Brown the meat in the grease, then remove it to a platter and set aside.
Reduce the heat to low and add the remaining 1/4 cup bacon grease to the pan. Stir in the flour and cook and stir constantly until the roux is dark brown. Add onion, celery, green pepper and garlic. Saute until the onions are soft. Add tomatoes, thyme and tarragon and cook another three minutes. Stir in the water, wine, salt, pepper, bay leaves, Worchestershire and hot sauce. Add meat and its juices, cover and simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Discard the bay leaves and add the parsley. Cool for a couple of hours or overnight. Reheat, adding a little water or broth if it’s too thick. Serve over piping hot grits.