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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Mardi Gras!

Tonight I broke out my Emeril Lagasse cookbook to find something to make. I figured I could find something good and BOY did I. My goal was to not go to the store for anything, so of course I made some minor adaptations to it. Here is the recipe.

From Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch

Chicken Fricassee and Fried Polenta

Fried Polenta
3 TB olive oil
1/4 C chopped onions
1 TB chopped garlic
2 TB chopped fresh basil (I used a tsp of dried rosemary)
1/2 tsp salt
3 turns freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 C milk (running low on milk used 1 C milk and 1/2 C water)
1/4 C freshly grated Cheddar cheese (used 4 Cheese Mexican Blend from a bag)
1/4 C coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 C yellow cornmeal

Recipe calls for a greased 9" tart pan with a removable bottom. I greased a 9" cake pan. Heat 2 TB of olive oil in a good-sized sauce pan over high heat, when the oil is ht add the onions, garlic and basil (rosemary) and saute for 30 seconds. Add the salt, pepper and saute for another 30 seconds. Stir in the milk and bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and whisk in the cheeses, just until the cheeses melt. Whisk in the cornmeal slowly, a little at a time until the mixture os the consistency of thick roux. Remove from the heat and working quickly pour and pack the polenta into the prepared pan. Refrigerate for one hour.

If you were not inclined to wait an hour or to make fried polenta, you could serve it as soft set polenta right from the pan. They are like the best, fanciest cheese grits you ever did see. I did refrigerate mine for an hour and while it was setting up I made the chicken fricassee.

Chicken Fricassee

1/2 pound skinned and boned chicken breasts, cut into thin strips. (I had a 1 pound package of chicken tenderloins.)
1 TB of Emeril's Creole Seasoning (I had a jar of Emeril's Southwest seasoning and used that.)
1/4 C olive oil
1 onion cut in half and sliced vertically. (I used half of a giant onion)
1 TB minced garlic
1/2 C peeled, seeded and chopped Italian plum tomatoes (I used a can of chopped tomatoes.)
2 TB chopped fresh basil (1 tsp dried oregano)
2 TB chopped fresh sage (1 tsp dried rosemary)
1/2 tsp salt
3 turns freshly ground pepper
1/2 C of Basic Chicken Stock (I didn't end up using any.)
1/2 C Parmesan cheese (Didn't use this either)

In a bowl toss the chicken pieces with the seasoning, coat it well. Heat the oil in a medium non-reactive skillet over medium high heat. Add the seasoned chicken and saute, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes and spices and saute for 3 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and stock (I skipped that because I accidentally added the canned tomatoes WITH their juice.) and heat until you see bubbles around the edge. Remove from heat and keep warm. Makes 2 cups (made a lot more because I accidentally used 2x the meat!)

Finish the fried polenta

I ran a rubber spatula around the edge of the polenta pan and turned it out onto a plate. I cut it into 8 wedges and then placed the wedges a few at a time in my heavy iron skillet with 3 TB of olive oil. When they were golden brown (about a minute per side) I put them on plates. They were then topped with chicken fricassee and served. You can top each serving with more freshly grated parmesan if you like.

This was FANTASTIC! A great dish and very economical, but still FULL of flavor and felt decadent enough for Mardi Gras.

As soon as dinner was over I threw my plates into the dishwasher, cleaned up the stove a bit and went to work on my dessert.

Before dinner I had chopped up 3 pints of strawberries and let them macerate with 3/4 tsp of almond extract and the juice from half a lemon and 1 C of granulated sugar. I put the macerated berries in a sauce pan and let them cook (breaking them up further with a wooden spoon) for about 5 minutes. Then I put the berries and their juice in the blender and let them get completely liquified. The resulting strawberry sauce can be used in smoothies, salad dressings, to add to fruit salads, to garnish grilled fish, as an ice cream topping or as a terrific sauce for BEIGNETS!

I have had the pleasure of sitting in the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans eating with gusto their famous hot fresh beignets. Each little pillow of fried dough is literally obsured by a cloud of powdered sugar and washed down with a strong cup of cafe au lait. I haven't been in years, but when I thought of celebrating Mardi Gras it only seemed right!

I tracked down a wonderful recipe here at Deep South Dish and she even has a version that you make by frying canned biscuit dough! I made the from scratch yeast dough and it was not very difficult at all. I do not own a deep fryer (probably a good thing) but I did pour about 3 inches of oil into an iron skillet and heat it up over medium to medium high heat. After I rolled out the dough to my best approximation of a large square I cut off the little squiggly sides and tried those one piece at a time to see if the oil was hot enough. After awhile they began doing the trademark "puff" that lets you know they are ready to turn. I made a dozen for our down the street neighbors (after trying some test beignets myself, of course) and half a dozen for the couple next door. My family and I WIPED OUT the rest of them, but I think all in all the dough made about 2 1/2 dozen small beignets. If you make the recipe be prepared to share!

My family dipped them in the still warm strawberry sauce and it was quite an experience. Let the good times roll! HAPPY MARDI GRAS!


  1. Dessert sounds divine. Will make the polenta tomorrow!

  2. The polenta was WONDERFUL! I usually just make the soft set polenta, but I decided to be all fancy tonight and do it fried and the crispiness was great.