Crescent City Cooking: Refined Recipes from Susan Spicer

Crescent City Cooking: Introduction

Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer surveys the recipes of her native (from the age of 7) New Orleans and beyond and is an excellent book to add to your cookbook collection if you are interested in the cuisine of this fascinating city.

We have eaten many times at her lovely cottage restaurant called Bayona in the French Quarter as well as Herbsaint in the Warehouse District and regard her as one of the best chefs in the city.

In the Introduction to Crescent City Cooking, Spicer explains that she first saw the beautiful Creole cottage on Rue Dauphine in the French Quarter on her way to her to her first cooking job. She was enchanted but little did she know that she would end up owning it and opening her famous restaurant, Bayona, in that very cottage.

But a little bit more about her younger life as it is reflected in her food and her approach to running a restaurant. Her mother was Danish and her father was a naval officer and she spent several years in her youth living in Holland where her mother cooked dishes brought to Holland by Indonesian immigrants as well as French and Danish dishes, which, as Spicer claims, helped develop her taste for exotic flavours.

When she left home as a teenager she travelled to San Francisco and Massachusetts and then on to Europe. She enjoyed her culinary experiences there but returned to New Orleans and eventually began cooking, first in catering and then at a restaurant. A short stint at the Hotel Sofitel in Paris followed. She then returned to New Orleans to assist with the opening a restaurant called Savoie Faire which has a strong French theme.

Finally, with financial assistance from a customer at the now very popular Savoie Faire, she opened Bayona in 1990 which then went on to become one of the most revered restaurants in the city.

We should add that New Orleans is a difficult town to get to know. Food critics flying in for a three day visit will inevitably write a superficial and misleading account of this complex melting pot. They will be taken to the grand Creole restaurants such as Galatoire’s and Brennans and Arnauds. They will dabble in ‘modern’ Cajun cooking at K-Paul’s Kitchen and they will praise the coffee at Café du Monde. They will do this because they have to get a story.

But New Orleans doesn’t reveal its secrets easily. You have to be there for a long time to work out what is real food and what is rubbish dished out to the tourists.

Three places in the city seem to rise above this categorisation. Commanders Palace deserves its reputation as a great restaurant and a place where you can have a very good food experience. Lilette serves beautifully cooked meals based on the freshest possible ingredients. The other place that seems to float above the pack is, in fact, Bayona.

We visited Bayona six times during our visits to New Orleans to make sure that we were going to be accurate in our descriptions of this local treasure!

Crescent City Cooking: The Book

Crescent City Cooking seems to capture the ethos and spirit of Bayona very well. When we first bought the book over a decade ago, we looked for recipes that we had tried at the restaurant.

One dish that still stands out as a perfect combination of textures, flavours and presentation was seared sea scallops which sat on carrot and cardamom cream and were accompanied by very crisp onion and carrot bajji (bhaji) and a sesame chutney. It looked great on the plate and it tasted wonderful. The softness of the scallops was offset by the crunch of the bhaji. The delicacy of the scallops was counterpointed by the hit of the depth of flavour of the sesame chutney.

In Crescent City Cooking we found the components in three separate recipes. On page 213 there is a recipe for Seared Scallops with Corn Cream and Maque Choux. Here the Corn Cream is used instead of the Carrot and Cardamon Cream. Here the scallops are cooked the same way being seared in a hot pan and being served on the cream sauce.

On page 321 there is the recipe for Onion Bhajis which sees sliced onions and carrots dipped in chickpea flour mixed with spices and yoghurt then fried in a skillet.

Our other appetizer on this occasion was a cream of garlic soup. This had great texture and an enormous depth of flavour. Another memorable dish.

On another occasion we tried shrimp with black bean cake. Shrimp is usually pretty ordinary in New Orleans. You are rarely served them non-frozen. Well, these ones were very good, but it was the black bean cake that we got excited about. It had great texture and enormous flavour. If you tried the shrimp with a big dollop of the cake it was a lovely combination.

There is a recipe in Crescent City Cooking for the black bean cakes in the Appetizers section on Page 75. It is well-worth trying to re-create this dish

Even as we are writing this we can taste the main course. Moroccan poussin served with a spicy tomato sauce was cooked perfectly, had the bones left in and had been barbequed to enhance the flavour.

Crescent City Cooking contains recipes for many of the New Orleans standards (sometimes re-interpreted) as well as recipes from throughout the world.

Local recipes include Po-Boy Creolaise, Smoked Duck Gumbo (with Andouille sausage and the obligatory filé powder made from the leaves of the sassafras tree), Gumbo z’Herbes (made with the tops of turnips, collard greens, mustard greens and others) and Muffuletta (the sandwich beloved here, that was first introduced by the Central Grocery in the early 20th Century).

Crescent City Cooking is not a survey of Creole cooking in New Orleans, but is more focussed on Spicer’s unique approach to cooking and to influences from far and wide. The Picayune Cookbook that is also in the Foodtourist Top Fifty Cookbooks is a better reference for the traditional recipes. However we think that Crescent City Cooking also deserves a place due to Spicer’s unique interpretations.

You can read more about the restaurant by clicking on the link below:

Bayona New Orleans

You can order this book from Amazon by clicking on the link below:

Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer