“Pontchartrain” is a wonderful seafood sauce, to be eaten either on its own in a big wide bowl with plenty of Tabasco or over something else, as long as there is plenty of Tabasco. I’ve had Pontchartrain over broiled catfish, on sourdough toast, over rice, grits, and on one memorable occasion, instead of Hollandaise on poached eggs. I decided to make a batch and post the recipe, but as often happens when I’m eating something delicious, I didn’t take a picture. Instead, here’s a photo of Pontchartrain herself.
The pictures on the left are from the last big flood, in 2005. The Mississippi should crest tonight just below that record high in Memphis. The upper photos in “real color” detail sediment and drift and that thin tan line that looks like a scratch on the photo is the Causeway, the worlds longest bridge at 38 miles and change.
To be honest, this dish isn’t the most picturesque recipe to come out of NOLA. That honor would go to blackened snapper, maybe, or quince paste with beignets. Pontchartrain sauce is a poor man’s dish, with lots of finely chopped mushrooms and green peppers to fill out the seafood and an overall “lumpy” white appearance. Now that I think about it many of the dishes I loved and learned to make in Louisiana have that look: smothered hare (pale green and lumpy, in its herb sauce), duck’s blood gumbo (you can picture that without help, right?), cheese biscuits (lumpy yellow). All equally delicious, without being particularly photogenic.
3/4 cup green onion or leeks, 1 cup mushrooms, and 1 cup green pepper, chopped fine (I actually whir them briefly, separately, in the food processor. Be careful not to puree.) 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
5 tablespoons butter, in 1 tablespoon pieces and 4 tablespoons flour
1/2 to 1 cup vegetable stock or broth, depending on how much seafood you’re adding, and 1 cup Chardonnay
salt, black pepper, cayenne, and tarragon to taste
2 cups (or more) seafood. It’s easier to throw the dish together if all the fish and shellfish are pre-cooked, but it’s also possible to add raw shrimp and other delicates while the sauce simmers.
Cook the onions, green pepper, mushrooms and garlic in the butter, adding in that order, until the vegetables are soft and “reduced”. Add 3 Tbs flour and stir until the roux thickens, about 2 minutes tops. Add the Chardonnay and stock, blend over a very low heat. Taste before adding the spices because you may not need to add salt.
Shortly before serving add the seafood to the mix. I generally use cooked leftovers and anything goes: lobster, shrimp, crabmeat, or flaked whitefish, or any combination. Serve as is with beer and crusty bread, or ladle over hot white rice, thick slices of toast, eggs, fish filets, or crumbled milk crackers. Hand around bottles of Hiracha and convince your guests that all the vegetables you need for healthy living are in the sauce.
And all best wishes to those living along the Mother River tonight.