I’ve been on the South Beach Diet for approximately 6 months now and this morning I decided to stray a little bit. I’ve been wanting to fix a Louisiana speciality called “Grits & Grillades” (pronounced “gree-yahds” ) for some time now, but due to the restrictions of the diet, I kept putting it off. Since I reviewed the cookbook “Tales From A Pantry“, I’ve been seeing the recipe staring at me every morning as I ate my breakfast. It’s been taunting me for far too long! Yesterday, when buying groceries for the dinner I’m cooking tonight for my Mother’s birthday, I threw in the ingredients for grillades too. 🙂
I set the alarm an hour earlier than usual simply because I’ve never made grillades before and I didn’t know how long it would take, etc. Not only that, but to be perfectly honest, I’ve never even HAD grillades before. “But you said that grillades were a Louisiana speciality?”, you might be asking. Well, that’s true, but I’ve never been anywhere where they were served. My Mom is from Kansas, so all of her Louisiana recipes are from friends and no one we knew, knew how to make them. The only restaurant that I know of that serves them is the Court Of Two Sisters and for one reason or another, I’ve never tried them.
There are plenty of recipes that I’ve done that I’ve never tasted before, but I usually have some indication of what it will taste like. I know what steak is supposed to taste like, so when cooking a steak dinner with some new exotic sauce, I at least have some indication of how everything should come out in the end. With grillades, I had no real frame of reference. I know what veal tastes like, but it’s covered in sauce in this dish and that was where the taste came from. My only recourse was to follow the directions and let Holly’s past experiences tell me if I was on the mark, or off.
I first prepped the ingredients
†, which are as follows:
1 ½ lbs. rounds of veal, beef, or pork
½ cup flour
2 tbs. olive oil
½ cup yellow onions [chopped]
¼ cup green onions [chopped]
2 whole ripe tomatoes [chopped]
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 cup of water
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. salt
5 cloves garlic [minced or mashed]
Optional: ½ cup of red wine
As I gathered together my ingredients, I realized that I didn’t have the tomatoes the recipe called for, so I improvised with a can of crushed tomatoes that I had in the cupboard. I chopped all of my ingredients and placed into little bowls, ready to be added to the dish when called for. I also prepared the ingredients for grits as well. I simply followed the recipe on the side of the box and measured out my water and grits. With everything prepared, it was time to begin.
I reviewed the grillades recipe one more time to make sure I knew how things were supposed to go†.
The meat should be trimmed of fat and any bones, then cut into serving size pieces, and pounded with a meat mallet. The flour should be mixed with the salt and pepper, and the meat dredged in the flour and browned in the heated oil in a Dutch oven. Scrape the bottom of the pan frequently, so as to keep the flour from burning. Remove the meat, add the onions and cool until softened. Add garlic and continue cooking a few minutes. Add tomatoes, the wine if using and add back the meat and bay leaves. Simmer covered until meat begins to get tender and remove lid. Allow to cook while gravy thickens. Serve with grits or cheese grits.
Right from the start, there was a small problem. In the instructions it says to mix the salt and pepper in with the flour. However, in the ingredient list, it doesn’t say how much pepper to use. Small thing, but it was an indication of things to come. I chose to season to taste and moved on. I didn’t have a Dutch oven, but I did have a big pot, so I used that instead and began heating the oil. Then it occurred to me, what temperature was I supposed to cook at? The recipe didn’t say. It just assumed you knew what temperature was best for browning meat. I chose medium. As I added the meat to the heated oil, the flour began falling off of the meat and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Now I understood why Beck says to scrape the bottom of the pan frequently. A lot of flour was going to end up in the pot and not on the meat, so in a sense we were creating a roux.
For those of you unfamiliar with Louisiana cooking, a lot of recipes call for making a “roux” (pronounced “roo”) at the start of a recipe. A roux is simply browned flour. It’s used as a thickening agent for gravies and sauces. All you do is brown flour in some oil at the bottom of your pot. You stir constantly so as not to burn the flour until you reach the desired color brown you’re going for. There’s a lot of mystique surrounding a roux, but it’s really rather simple – it’s browned flour.
I wasn’t actually making a roux per se, but it had the rough semblance of one. I continued stirring and scraping until I felt the meat was browned enough and I removed the veal and put it on a plate. With nothing but flour scrapings and oil left in the pot, I added the onions and continued stirring and letting the onions soften and brown. I referred back to the recipe and that’s when I ran into my next snafu. When do you add the water? The ingredients called for it, but the instructions omitted the step. Argh!
At this point I began to panic a little bit and was worried that I might blow the recipe. As a result, I got in a hurry and shortly after adding the garlic, added the water as well. I let the water rise up to the temperature of the pot and noticed that I was getting a nice brown color, that was very reassuring and I was somewhat hesitant to add the tomatoes. Was the sauce supposed to be brown, or red? Maybe reddish brown? I wasn’t sure, but I decided to stick with the instructions and went ahead and spooned in some of the crushed tomatoes. I then added back the meat and one bay leaf.
With the main dish at a simmer, I added the grits to the boiling water and let them cook for about 7 minutes. I kept stirring each pot occasionally and in no time everything was ready. I served up the plates, made my coffee and then sat down to hear Holly’s review. Was I close to the mark, or had all my improvisation caused things to go awry? I didn’t know how it was supposed to taste, so all I could do is sit and watch as Holly took her first bite.
Holly gave the dish a thumbs up! She said it was really good, but needed a little salt and pepper. That made me feel good. You always expect people to season your dish a little bit to their liking, so i took no offence at her comment. I then tried the dish and put a bit more critical eye on what I had prepared. I thought it was pretty good, but the flavors were a little flat. I could single out the various flavors, but they weren’t quite as married as I would have liked. Holly agreed that the dish lacked some kick. The flavors were good, but they could stand to be kicked up a notch. It was upon reviewing the ingredients again that I realized I’d left out an ingredient – cayenne pepper. When I saw that salt and pepper were supposed to be added to the flour, I was thinking black pepper not cayenne pepper. So I had completely left out an ingredient and replaced it with another one entirely. It wasn’t a disaster, but it was clear that this is why the flavors weren’t quite where we wanted them.
That being said, we definitely cleaned our plates, so the dish may have not been a 10, but a 7 was good enough for us. Now that I’ve had grits and grillades, I understand why they go together so well. The sauce mixes in well with the grits and really enhances the flavor. I’m now a big fan of this dish and hope to make it one of my signature dishes. 😛
I should have browned the onions a little longer. This would have given the sauce a richer color and the onions would have been a little sweeter, which would have balanced out the tomato and cut some of the acidity. Next time I’ll add another bay leaf, use whole tomatoes and not canned and I won’t forget to use cayenne pepper either. Lastly, I’ll add the water after the onions and garlic have had a chance to cook a little longer. I also will probably let the dish simmer a little bit longer to extract more flavor from the bay leaves.
All-in-all, the recipe is a pretty good one and I think I’ve just scratched the surface of just how good it can be. 🙂
†Excerpts reprinted without permission from “Tales From A Pantry” by Marjorie Sweeney Beck.