Food & Drink | February 2022

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Wacoan Food & Drink

Crescent City Cocktail Hour

The cocktail might not have been invented in New Orleans, but the Crescent City is certainly steeped in the history of it.

“New Orleans really is sort of the cocktail capital, not only of the United States, but globally,” said Sarah Baird, author of New Orleans Cocktails: An Elegant Collection of Over 100 Recipes Inspired by the Big Easy. “It really is a center where people come and start thinking about new ideas for drinks, pulling from the past and playing around with what the future could be on that front. New Orleans has contributed so much to the cocktail canon of the United States.”

In her book, Baird obviously writes about the “classic” cocktails of the city – Hurricane, Sezerac, Grasshopper and others – but, she said in a recent interview via Zoom, she also wanted to feature “those sorts of under-the-radar drinks as well.”

“There’s so many,” she said. “It’s not an unsung hero as much now, but I’m a huge Brandy Crusta fan. And Chris Hannah’s Night Tripper is a favorite of mine.”

Hannah is a legendary bartender in New Orleans, having spent 14 years at French 75 – where he won multiple James Beard awards – before co-founding Jewel of the South. He created the Night Tripper in honor of the late New Orleans musician Dr. John.

Baird shares in her book the recipe for Hannah’s version of the Sezerac, a cocktail that was created around 1850 when Sewell T. Taylor began importing a brand of cognac called Sezerac de Forge et Fils. A bar owner named Aaron Bird then changed the name of his bar to Sezerac House and began selling the Sezerac Cocktail, using the cognac as the main ingredient. Over time, rye whiskey replaced the cognac.

The original Sezerac recipe also called for absinthe, said Brent Rosen, president and CEO of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans.

Absinthe – an anise-flavored liquor – “was really important in New Orleans, because in its busiest port times in the 1840s, absinthe was at its biggest in France,” he said. “And that brought a ton of absinthe to New Orleans. In the Sezerac original recipe, you actually rim your glass with absinthe, then pour it out and then put basically an old fashioned on top. It’s the absinthe-scented old fashioned, which is so big in our drinking culture here.”

The Southern Food & Beverage Museum, which is located in a building that used to be a grocery store, also houses the Museum of the American Cocktail. One of the highlights of that museum is one of the oldest bars in the city.

“The bar that you and I are sitting at was installed in 1859 at a restaurant called Brunings. It was on the lakefront here in New Orleans, and it’s the third oldest bar in New Orleans,” Rosen said “During Prohibition, the bar, the restaurant that it was in was out on stilts, and it was about a 90- or 100-foot sort of gangplank to get out to it. The reason why they did that, so if anybody tried to raid them, they could throw the liquor out into the lake and then you couldn’t tell if it was theirs or not. So this bar saw a lot. Then the whole restaurant was taken completely down by Hurricane Katrina. The bar got salvaged and we were able to get our hands on it.”

For our recipes this month, we’re featuring five classic and newer New Orleans cocktails. The Sazerac, Grasshopper, Absinthe Frappe and Classic Hurricane recipes are used with permission from Baird’s book. And with Mardi Gras happening on March 1, there’s a recipe for a King Cake Martini.The Sazerac calls for herbsaint, which is an anise-flavored liqueur, and our liquor cabinet doesn’t contain any of that. Instead, we used lemon juice and a lemon rind twist.

If you’re going to be drinking, you don’t need to do that on an empty stomach.For some snack-type food to go along with your cocktails, Baird recommends New Orleans barbecue shrimp, which is made on the stovetop and doesn’t call for any Texas-style barbecuing technique. In fact, “it’s not barbecue in the traditional sense at all,” Baird said.

Baird also said mini muffalettas are always a good accompaniment to cocktails. The muffaletta was created at Central Grocery in New Orleans, and is featured on menus throughout the city. We shared a muffaletta recipe here in the July 2019 issue of the magazine, and it can be found at www.wacoan.com/food-drink-july-2019.

Finally, Baird said, hush puppies “with a shrimp element” are always good.

The Recipes

Sazerac

  • 2 sugar cubes
  • 1 1/4 ounces herbsaint, divided
  • 5-7 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey

Fill an old fashioned glass with ice and set aside.

Place two sugar cubes in a mixing glass. Add 3/4 ounce of herbsaint and the bitters, and muddle. Add the rye and continue to muddle. Add ice and stir until diluted and chilled.

Empty the ice-filled old fashioned glass. Coat the glass with the remaining 1/2 ounce of herbsaint and spin. Give a quick dump, leaving a small puddle of herbsaint in the bottom. Strain the cocktail from the mixing glass into the herbsaint-rinsed old fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon peel. Makes 1 drink.

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Grasshopper

  • 1 ounce crème de menthe
  • 1 ounce crème de cacao
  • 1 ounce cream

In a cocktail tin filled with ice, combine all ingredients. Shake well.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Makes 1 drink.

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Absinthe Frappe

  • 1 1/2 ounces absinthe
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces club soda
  • 1 dash anisette bitters
  • Mint, for garnish

In a cocktail tin half filled with ice, combine the absinthe, simple syrup, club soda and bitters. Shake until chilled. Strain into a julep cup filled with crushed ice. Stir, top with more crushed ice, then garnish with a sprig of mint. Makes 1 drink.

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Ramos Gin Fizz

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 dash orange blossom water (or zest of 1 orange)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 ounce half-and-half or heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons club soda
  • Lemon, lime and/or orange slices, for garnish

In a large cocktail shaker, combine gin, orange blossom water or orange zest, egg white, half-and-half or cream, lemon juice, lime juice and simple syrup. Shake for 30 seconds. Fill the shaker 1/4 full of ice, and shake vigorously for 3-5 minutes. (This is called a whip shake, Baird says in her book. The long shaking time ensures that the egg white becomes smooth and creamy.)

Strain the drink in a tall glass. Slowly add the club soda. Garnish with fruit slices. Makes 1 drink.

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Classic Hurricane

  • 2 ounces light rum
  • 2 ounces dark rum
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces passion fruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1/2 ounce orange juice
  • 1/2 ounce grenadine
  • Orange slice, for garnish

In a cocktail tin filled with ice, combine the rums, lime juice, passion fruit juice, simple syrup, orange juice and grenadine. Shake until chilled. Strain into a hurricane glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange slice. Makes 1 drink.

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King Cake Martini

  • 1 ounce vanilla vodka
  • 2 ounces heavy cream
  • 1/2 ounce crème de cocoa
  • 1/2 ounce orange liqueur
  • Dash of cinnamon (optional)
  • Gold sprinkles or sugar, to rim the glass

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the vodka, cream, crème de cocoa, orange liqueur and cinnamon. Shake to chill. Strain the cocktail into a martini glass that’s been rimmed with gold sprinkles or sugar. Makes 1 drink.

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New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp

  • 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • 1 pound jumbo shrimp

  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning

  • 2 teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper
  • 
1 cup Abita Amber beer (or similar)

  • 2 sticks butter, cold and diced into large pieces
  • Thickly-sliced French bread

In a medium skillet, lightly sauté the garlic in the tablespoon of butter. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute on each side.

Increase the heat to high and add the Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, lemon juice, Creole seasoning and pepper. Add the beer and stir to deglaze the sauté pan. Cook until reduced by half.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter, one piece at a time, mixing until it’s completely incorporated after each addition. Cook until the sauce is thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Ladle into bowls and serve with French bread and more cold beer. Makes 4 appetizer sized servings.

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Shrimp and Grits Hush Puppies

  • 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking grits
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon creole seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, minced
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Toss the shrimp with 2 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté until nearly cooked through, 2–3 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a cutting board, allow to cool, and finely chop.

Whisk together the flour, grits, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, Creole seasoning and garlic.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, onion, bell pepper and parsley. Pour this into the flour mixture, stirring just until combined, then stir in the shrimp. Cover and chill for 15 minutes.

Heat 1 inch of oil in a deep skillet over medium heat to 375. Using a 1 1/2 tablespoon scoop, scoop the batter into the oil, in batches so as not to crowd the pan, and fry until deep golden brown, about 4–5 minutes per batch, rotating occasionally. Transfer the hushpuppies to a paper-towel-lined plate and wait for oil to come back to temperature before frying remaining batter. Makes about 6 servings.

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