Wednesday, August 21, 2013

E.J. Bellocq, Pretty Baby, New Orleans and Shrimp and Duck Breast Gumbo

Pretty Baby, 1978, Brooke Shields, Keith Carradine and Susan Sarandon

It’s hard to believe it was 35 years ago.  Susan Sarandon still looks great, Brooke Shields is beautiful and has kids older than she was in Pretty Baby

In the 1970's, New Orleans was in the air in films, art, fashion and even food.  

New York’s art scene swooned over E.J. Bellocq’s Storyville photographs of ladies of the night at MOMA. In New Orleans, Paul Prudhomme was cooking up a storm at Commander’s Palace and then his own KPauls and his recipes started appearing everywhere. In NYC we were “blackening” everything in sight and buying gauzy chemises like mad. 

The time was ripe for an old New Orleans/Storyville film but Louis Malle's  Pretty Baby shocked  sophisticated urban audiences when it came out in 1978 because of the character of Violet.  As with Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, people were horrified by 12-year old Brooke Shields role in the film. Not only was her character living in a “sporting establishment”, she was served on a silver tray at a gentlemen’s virgin auction –– a shocking  environment for a child even if it was less sordid than the reality of a 1917 New Orleans brothel. The film was a sensation.

Bellocq's Desk

Pretty Baby's visual milieu was rooted in E.J. Bellocq’s eloquent photographs of the demimondaine of New Orlean’s Storyville –– a red light district set up to contain misbehavior in a few blocks around Basin Street in 1897 (by a NOLA alderman named Sidney Story).   Keith Carradine played Bellocq in the film.

The quality of the pleasure houses went from squalid to elegant.  At the height of Storyville, 4000 women within the area were priced anywhere from 50¢ to $10 (although individual celebrities could go for considerably more). Arlington House, which was one of the posher places, boasted that it was a $5 house.

As in Paris and New York, a New Orleans Blue Book was published that let patrons know the services and women available at each “house”.

 Arlington's Vienna Parlor from the Storyville Gallery

Josie Arlington

Hilda Burt's Boudoir

An advertisement for one of the ladies

After its 20 year run of graft, prostitution and drug and alcohol abuse, Storyville was closed by WWI.

US military brass shut it down after a murder or 2 of some of their enlisted men.  They decided it was not a suitable environment for troops on their way to the European front.

Nearly all the buildings (including the beautiful mansions) were torn down during the Depression to build grim housing blocks called The Iberville Projects.

The women live on through Bellocq's work, posing forever –– connecting with those who see them with ancient eyes that have seen too much.

Insoucient pose but a glaze of sadness too… 

My favorite photograph might offend since it is full-frontal (you can click HERE to see it without my polite retouching) but the model is terribly beautiful and the photograph just sensational with all it’s damaged bits –– actually, that adds to its haunting quality (you can see more of Bellocq's photos HERE).

As in the film, Bellocq gained the confidence of the girls, much as Toulouse Lautrec had done in his time with the working-women of Paris (I wrote about that HERE).  Neither man judged or objectified his subjects so there seemed to be an open dialogue between them.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec,  The Sofa 

Prostitutes playing cards, Bellocq

I started thinking about New Orleans spicy past last week when I helped out on a D’Artagnan shoot and found myself the lucky recipient of Andouille, tasso ham, duck breast and duck fat.  I couldn’t think of a better use for them than to make my own version of New Orleans Gumbo (sans okra). 

Something about gumbo and the earthy quality of the ladies of Storyville went together in my mind –– like the legend of garlicky, pasta puttanesca goodness wafting from ladies of the evening’s rooms, enticing patrons in Italian port cities. Storyville was probably scented with gumbo pots burbling away in many a bordello kitchen. It does have a marvelous dusky odor -– a gorgeous dark caramel-colored, roux-thickened sauce brings all the parts together.  Since I had beautiful duck breast, I decided to just barely cook the duck meat with the shrimp at the last minute so the duck would be juicy and rare and the shrimp pillowy ––  provocative textures to compliment the earthy flavors. 

My own first effort at gumbo in the 80’s was nearly a disaster.  Who knew that simmering fish stock over night would turn my lovely Village apartment into a Superfund-site of dead fish smells?  Borrowed fans and a bit of luck saved the special birthday evening and my gumbo was insanely good – the fish stock was perfect when mixed with all the rest and I didn’t burn the roux (it is a bit dangerous if you go to full dark).  

Here’s a fairly easy recipe for it.  You could even make the base earlier in the day or the day before and reheat it with the duck and shrimp minutes before serving (I like it better the next day). I served it with brown rice but it's also delicious with grits. 

Duck Breast and Shrimp Gumbo, serves 4

1/4 c D'Artagnan duck fat + 1 T

1/4 c flour

1 small green pepper, sliced or chopped

1 small onion, chopped and/or sliced

2 stalks of celery, sliced

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 T + 2t cajun seasoning *(recipe follows)

1/4 t celery seed

3 c shellfish stock or chicken stock, HOT**

6 - 8 oz D'Artagnan andouille sausage, sliced into rounds

2 - 4 oz D'Artagnan Tasso ham, chopped

1 pound large shelled shrimp with tails (4-5 per person)

2 -3 D'Artagnan duck breasts, without the skin (depending on the size of the breast)

salt and pepper to taste (Cajun seasoning has some salt in it, so taste before adding salt)

Hot sauce to taste

2 c cooked Rice

sliced scallions

Filé powder (optional)

chopped parsley for garnish

Heat the duck fat in a skillet and add the flour after it is hot. At medium heat, stir for about 5 minutes until the flour is a light caramel color. Lower the head and stir regularly until the mixture is a dark caramel color, about 30 minutes. Do not walk away. It can burn easily.

Add the vegetables to the mixture and stir at medium low heat for 5-8 minutes, then add the Cajun seasoning and celery seed.

Slowly add the hot stock, stirring as you add. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the andouille and tasso ham and cook another 5 minutes.

At this point you can reserve the mixture for later or proceed (I think the base is better the next day).

Salt and season the duck with 2 t Creole seasoning and sauté for a minute or 2 on each side in 1 T of duck fat and remove –– it should be very rare. Add the duck to the gumbo stock for a few minutes then add raw shrimp to the pan and cook for a minute or 2. Slice the duck and serve individually plated or on a platter with rice and chopped parsley and sliced scallions. Sprinkle with filé if you would like.

**one trick is to shell the shrimp and cook the shells with the chicken stock for 20 minutes to get the flavor.  Then toss the shells and you have the best of both worlds.

*Creole seasoning, Emerils Essence

2 1/2 t paprika

2 t salt

2 t garlic powder

1 t black pepper

1 t onion powder

1 t cayenne

1 t oregano

1 t thyme

Combine all and put in spice jar.

I always complain I never win anything. Well I must stop complaining now! The brilliant site FRESH  had a contest and I won. So many beautiful things from El's beloved New England suppliers.  Lavender products, chips, granola, chocolate, brownies, coffee, a gift certificate from Formaggio Kitchen and gorgeous placemats from Easton Place all perfectly personalized. Do stop by El's blog HERE. You will want to be a part of her world (her photos will delight you!).


Amber said...

Lovely post!
Wonderful dish!

Warren Bobrow said...

gorgeous writing

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Oh what a lovely win there - all looks delicious and love the new blog suggestion. Love the movies mentioned but never been one for the food of New Orleans -maybe i'll have to try this recipe!
PS -have you ever been to Quebec City? I'm going in 2 weeks for an extended work trip and don't know where or what to eat!

Diane said...

Those photos are amazing.

I am usually in a hurry when in the kitchen, but I may just slow down and try this recipe it sounds great.

Thanks for another fantastic post. Keep well Diane

La Table De Nana said...

I will have to watch that movie again.. I have forgotten a lot~
Brooke Shileds.. so popular,remember The Blue Lagoon?
She is lovely.. prettier now than then i find..
I did click of course.. she is beautiful:)

Especially lying on one's side:)

Your dish looks superb!
It must be so lovely to dine with you.
Architect Design..Google best places to eat and see in QC..
I ahve not been in eons.. but we were supposed to go in June..and I did just that..had to cancel..
You may enjoy Laurie Raphael~
Chef Daniel Vezinas' resto.
My daughter and son-in-law have been and enjoyed.

Creations by Marie Antoinette and Edie Marie said...

Well Honey, Guess what???
I was born and raised in New Orleans. I just cooked gumbo last week. of course everyone has their own way. I always loved Pretty Baby, It was a very good movie.I was a teenager in the 60's, it was a wonderful time for us then. The drinking age was just 18.The stories I could tell you. Another main dish of New Orleans is Good old Red beans and rice. Yummy. My blog partner and best friend lives in Ohio. She came down here twice to visit me. She left here knowing and loving how to eat Crawfish.
Ya'll take care now,
XXOO Marie Antoinette

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I haven't been to New Orleans for many, many years but then, there was still a definite baudy side to the city in the French Quarter. Such a beautiful place with gorgeous architecture and wonderful history. So interesting about Bellocq'a photography and similarity to Lautrec. I learn so much here :)

Your gumbo is one I would eat in a heartbeat!

Anonymous said...

Your gumbo sounds absolutely delightful!

I'm also a fan of Bellocq's photography. I was fortunate to model for a photographer who was looking to recreate that look. think he was successful -- at least I was I happy with my portraits! The result was the book Erotic Flashback.

Barbara said...

Such a fun post, Deana. Love NOLA. Took 25 women there the year before Katrina. Had been before, but not since. Never have attempted gumbo, but you are inspiring me. There are so many versions!
(No okra?!)
Sounds like you had a fun gig.
Couldn't resist commenting, even though I'm not doing it for anyone else until we get back.

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Awesome. (And funny story about a fishy smelling apartment.) I'll have to watch the movie!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

This post is to timely for me personally as we will be headed to New Orleans soon! I loved this post Deana! :D

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

An evocative, and sensual dish, indeed! So interesting to see actual photos contrasted with the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec - and the similar imagery shared between both.

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

What a lovely (and polite) presentation of gumbo - much more mannered than the overflowing pots on the street of the French Quarter.

My hubby loves gumbo and I'm going to give your recipe a try.

Love the set up with the Bellocq's photos and Pretty Baby, but the dark underbelly of child prostitution is still alive and well in the quarter. I was once hanging around and saw a young girl 10 or 12 (maybe) get into a pickup with a big old country working man. One of my companions mentioned that the girl was a well-known "professional" in the area. I was flabbergasted (ain't that a good word).

Besides all that, this is a great post! Thanks!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good morning Deana! I have not seen that movie Pretty Baby in SO LONG, and to think that Susan Sarandon still looks as stunning as back then, and that Brooke Shields has kids older than herself in this movie! Now duck is one lovely meat...and I love the French dish with the beans (cassoulet, non?) but there's nothing like a good gumbo. Rich as ever are your posts, and those photos of the working' girls really are telling of the timeless plight of women, stuck behind the facade of elegance with who knows how many sad stories to tell. Thank you for coming to leave a comment...yeah, I think the way to attack the world's flinging insults and hardships is with a good dose of love. BE WELL! Anita

LQ said...

I made this yesterday with some wonderful Brome Lake duck products brought home from my recent vacation in Montreal, and it was superlative. I don't know how I could ever go back to a non-duck-fat-based roux!! Thanks so much for the amazing recipe, and as always, for the lovely writing.