This may come as a shock, but food was not a big deal for me on this trip. This was a good thing because all the hot restaurants were closed for private parties when I arrived and even at the parties I attended, the hors d’oeuvres were mostly hoovered up before they got to me (on the upside, drinks flowed like water and I was talking a blue streak with other filmmakers –– not a bad thing). Instead, I had Japanese sushi and Thai noodles for dinner most of the time – until one of the last days when I went to a New Orleans Jazz brunch sponsored by the City of New Orleans – a smashing way to encourage films to shoot in their wonderful city.
Gumbo with potato salad
Aside from a Bourbon Milk punch that started the day off nicely, there were hush puppies, gumbo, fried oysters, shrimp, steak po’ boys – well you get the idea. It was a great spread.
One of my favorite dishes at the brunch was Eggs Sardou (that I neglected to photograph). It’s a perfect dish for a theatrical crowd with oodles of history to boot. The chef, from John Besh’s NOLA restaurant, presented it brilliantly, in a glass with the layers of goodness showing through. I have no excuse for the years that have passed since I discovered Eggs Sardou till having them again at the brunch. If you have never been fortunate enough to taste this delight, it’s a sublime combination of creamed spinach and artichoke hearts topped by a golden blanket of hollandaise sauce. Sometimes, truffles, ham and asparagus have entered the mix.
I gave a quick look to the history of the dish and then fell down a rabbit hole of research.
The prolific French playwright, Victorien Sardou (more than 70 plays), his stars (most notably Sarah Bernhardt and Gabrielle Réjan) and his plays, (the notorious Tosca, and Thermidor – of the delicious Lobster Themidor) inspired many a grand 19th century dish. It is infuriating that 98% of these named dishes have no recipe or description attached to them –– few people commented on food in those days, there were no restaurant bloggers and what reviews there are that might mention the composition of the dishes rest in dusty archives. As restaurants closed and the celebrities faded from memory, so did the recipes. Who knows what Lobster Réjane and Sarah Potatoes could be these days? Luckily, Eggs Sardou premiered at a restaurant that has remained in the same family for 170 years.’
Antoine’s in the late 19th century (from Antoine’s collection)
The Eggs Sardou myth says that the owner of the famous Antoine’s in New Orleans named them after Sardou after he made a visit there in 1892 (another article said it happened in 1908, the year he died). I looked and looked and couldn’t find any mention of Sardou ever visiting the US – if anything Sardou rarely left his beautiful estate, Château de Marly, outside of Paris because he was happiest living, writing, even gardening there. It seemed as if he only went to Paris to rehearse his new plays and to Cannes in winter because he did not do well in cold. He explained to an American journalist in The Galaxy in 1874 that he no interest in going to the United States.
Sarah Bernhardt, 1880
On the other hand, Sardou’s favorite star, Sarah Bernhardt, did visit New Orleans –– often performing Sardou’s plays and, I read HERE, she even purchased an alligator to add to her menagerie on a NOLA visit (she named it Ali-Gaga and it was said it died after drinking too much champagne). I am of the opinion Eggs Sardou was invented in 1908. Divine Sarah, performing her favorite playwright Sardou's play the year he died would certainly inspire Antoine Alciatoire to name a dish after Sardou –– to honor him, and in so doing, touch the heart the most famous actress in the world with his gallant gesture, n'est ce pas?
The recipe is based on a 1985 NYT recipe by Craig Claiborne, but the truffle butter in the hollandaise is my idea and it is delicious!
2 c hot creamed spinach
8 cooked artichoke bottoms*
8 anchovy filets (optional - I didn't like them)
8 poached eggs, drained
8 T hollandaise
8 T finely chopped cooked ham or 8 truffle slices
Put ¼ c of the creamed spinach in each of the warmed glasses. Place an artichoke bottom on top or sliced on the sides and top with crossed anchovy filets. Put a poached egg on top of that, sprinkle with chopped ham and spoon hollandaise over the top. If you are using truffle slices, put one on top of the hollandaise
1 ¼ lb spinach
1 ½ T flour
2 T butter
1 c milk
salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg and cayenne
Toss the spinach in a pan with a bit of water and sauté till wilted. Cool a bit, then squeeze the water from the leaves. Heat 1 T butter and add flour, stirring. Add milk and spices. Cook till thick. Either chop the spinach or puree and add to the cream sauce
Add 1 T butter
Hollandaise with Truffle Butter
5 T butter, melted, melted
3 T D'Artagnan truffle butter
2 egg yolks
2 t water
1 t vinegar
salt to taste,
½ t cayenne
1 T lemon juice
Combine yolks with water and vinegar and beat over a moderate heat. Add butter slowly. Add seasonings and lemon
* Method for cooking artichokes. Claiborne recommends cooking the trimmed hearts by the “blanc legume” method. For 6 cups of water add ¼ c of flour. I cooked 2 whole artichokes by this method and was pleased with the results. They were light and tender.
Bourbon Milk Punch (NYT recipe)
1¼ ounces Bourbon
½ ounce dark rum
2 ounces milk (use cream or half-and-half for a richer drink)
⅛ ounce vanilla extract
½ ounce simple syrup (see note)
Dash of grated nutmeg
1 In a mixing glass three-quarters filled with ice, pour the bourbon, rum, milk or cream, vanilla and simple syrup. Shake vigorously until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass. Dust with nutmeg.
To make simple syrup, warm 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature before using. (There will be extra syrup; refrigerate if not using immediately.)
Here's the director and cast at the premiere screening