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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Butter Bombs

I was 14 years old. She was a stripper.

Several years ago, during summer break, my high school band traveled to Dallas to march in a downtown civic parade. Afterward, for a little fun, we boarded our rickety bus  and made a severe detour to visit New Orleans on our way back home to Kentucky. Trudging through the intense heat and thick humidity, we meandered around the streets of New Orleans before taking in the historic above ground graveyard and vaulted tombs of the St. Louis Cemetery.  Row after row, we lost ourselves amid the sun-bleached tombs, rusty wrought iron gates, and elegant decay of the city of the dead. When our band of merry wanderers had soaked in enough of the fun, we made our way to the French Quarter, a few blocks away, for lunch. With promises of gumbo, barbecued shrimp, and po' boys, we were more than happy to depart the land of the departed.

On our way to the French Quarter, I guess I lolly-gagged a bit and fell behind most of the group. While trying my best to catch up with my people, I passed a dimly lit  hole-the-wall brick bar. I stopped dead in my tracks and froze with adolescent awe when I saw her from the dank doorway. My stripper. There she was, dancing on a small round tabletop wearing nothing but 5 inch black stilettos and a red heart-shaped fun fir merckin. Squirming, squatting, splaying, her undulating wet flesh rippled to the guttural thump of a relentless pounding base. Transfixed  by her voluptuous wonder, my blossoming gayness briefly betrayed me. I could not stop watching. When our eyes finally met, she winked and slowly brushed back her hair. Loosening her plumped puckered lips into a gentle smile, my merckin Valentine shot me a private lapless lap dance from across the dingy room through the cheerless wake of smell and smoke. Framed by the doorway, between inside and outside, my eager backlit silhouette absorbed every pulsing thump of my siren's song.

Thump. In a flash, a forceful tight-fisted grip yanked me from the doorway. Within seconds, I'd rejoined my band for a carefree lunch. Secrets. With doe-eyed innocence, I coyly sucked down a steaming hot platter of sticky butter-drenched barbecued shrimp.

When Mardi Gras rolls around, I always embrace my merckin  muse. Let the good times roll.

Yep, it's that time of year. Mardi Gras. I've prepared tons of food for thousands of Mardi Gras revelers over the past several years. In doing so, I've left no stone unturned prepping and cooking for all kinds of Fat Tuesday food frenzies. That said, I kept one little gem to myself, New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp. I wasn't being selfish, I was being practical. There's not enough butter in North America to prepare enough  New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp to feed hundreds and hundreds of people in one short drunken night.

New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp.
A simple little lap dance.
I smacked a large saute pan over a high flame and dropped 1/4 pound of sliced unsalted butter into the pan. When the butter started to sizzle, I added 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 1/4 cup worcestershire sauce, a juiced lemon, several lemon slices, 1/4 cup white wine, 2 bay leaves, 3 tablespoons sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 tablespoon creole seasoning, 1 heaping teaspoon cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper.

Just before the highly aromatic buttery bath came to a boil, I tumbled 1 pound of unpeeled head-on shrimp into the pan. When the shrimp started to turn pink, I reduced the heat to medium and added an additional 1/4 pound butter a few pieces at a time to emulsify the sauce.  After about 3 minutes, I pulled the pan from the heat, covered the pan, and let the shrimp steep for 5 minutes before finishing with a handful of snipped chives and crusty bread to sop.

Pop off the heads. Suck. Repeat.
Then, grab a bib, plastic gloves, or full on latex body suit to dig into these slippery sweet and spicy butter bombs.

Packed with intense acidic buttery heat, they're wonderfully messy, rich, succulent, and perfectly indulgent.

Eat. Suck. Lick. Sop.

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Eat Your Heart Out

I'm a sucker for the offal bits,  organ meats, or the more polite term, variety meats. While tender sweetbreads (thymus glands), honeycombed tripe, and kidneys make me swoon, I'm particularly fond of livers and hearts. I'm not picky. Foie gras (my personal favorite) might be the standard bearer in the liver world, but I'll take a basket of fried chicken livers covered with peppered cream gravy or calf's liver smothered in onions any day. Crunchy. Soft. Irony. Heaven. Hearts, on the other hand, beat to a different drum. Depending on the animal and the size of the heart, the  textures and flavors vary wildly. When cooked, chicken hearts tend to tighten up. Whether grilled or braised, they turn into little chewy savory gumdrops.  Larger turkey hearts, (most often relegated to giblet gravies or stuffings) also pack a firm bite, but have a stronger flavor. Big robust beef hearts, the king of hearts, have meaty steak-like qualities. Long cooked, grilled, or pan seared, the tender meat has subtle mineral high notes while still retaining a slight chew.

And then we have lamb hearts. Bigger than poultry hearts, but much smaller than beef hearts, lamb hearts have genteel sensibilities. They're more...well... manageable. When cleaned, their hollowed out chambers are perfect vessels for stuffing. A natural fit, so to speak. Perfect pouches. Stuffed with anything under the sun, lamb hearts become meltingly tender when braised low and slow. That said, they can also be grilled or quick seared with a hint of pink for a lighter touch.

Grilled Lamb Hearts.
In the heart cleaning world, I got lucky. After ripping open a small package of Four Hills Farm Lamb Hearts, I realized that the folks at the farm did most of the dirty work. The hearts graciously arrived butterflied and cleaned of their tubes, arteries, vessels, ventricles, and valve flaps. Win. I simply trimmed the fat from the outer chambers before flipping them over to trim away the remaining sinew, silver skin, and stringy membranes from the inner chambers.

With all the junk dispatched, I sliced the cleaned hearts into bite sized pieces and tossed them into a small mixing bowl before marinating them in 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, a dusting of citrusy sumac, salt, and pepper.

After 3 hours, I carefully stabbed the marinated broken heart pieces onto pre-soaked wooden skewers along with roasted garlic cloves, shaved zucchini, tiny pickled Peruvian peppers, slivered shallots, and sliced red bell peppers.

Working over a high flame, I brushed a heavy cast iron grill pan with vegetable oil. When the grill pan started to smoke, I slapped the skewered hearts onto the grates, brushed them with the marinade, and seared them for 2 minutes on each side before pulling them from the heat to rest.

With the slightly charred hearts on deck, I used a vegetable peeler to shave 1/2 pound of gorgeous organic rainbow carrots into ribbons and tossed them with a blood orange vinaigrette (3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons fresh blood orange juice, 1 minced  shallot, 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, salt and cracked black pepper).

I nestled the lamb skewers into the feathery ribbons, scattered a few  peppers to the side, and seasoned the meat with flaky sea salt before finishing with fresh mint and pea greens.


The offal bits.
Eat your heart out.