Calas, ca 1890 at Big Jones
Calas, ca 1890 ($7)
"Calas belle! Calas tout chaud!" was the cry of the cry of the calas lady as she roamed the narrow streets of the French Quarter at night, carrying a basket filled with sweet rice fritters, hawking them to anyone with a sweet tooth - partiers, policemen, barkeeps, sailors on leave...
We've featured calas (pronounced call-ahs) on occasional special-occasion menus but I've always had the itch to offer them on our regular dessert menu. They certainly fit my philosophy - here's a storied old dish, that it's simple is even better, that has been more or less forgotten as beignets have become the donut of choice in the Quarter. If you try them though... personally I'd take them over beignets any day or night of the week.
The history of calas might shed a little light on why they have fallen by the wayside. Author Jessica B. Harris traces them back to West Africa in her book High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America and points out that under the relatively permissive slave laws of New Orleans, salves could work for themselves once their duties were done for the day, and selling calas on the street was one way to make money, and many a slave bought their freedom from money minted by calas. Perhaps they were forgotten as the generation after emancipation aged out of work, perhaps it was the rise of the great Creole cafes and restaurants that featured the French-inspired beignets. Whatever the reasons for their disappearance, they are undergoing a bit of a resurgence in New Orleans and for good reason - by any objective measure they are as delicious as beignets, I'd argue better - more nuanced and elegant, with more textures bringing each bite to life.
Ours start with leftover rice as would be tradition, which we innoculate with a little sourdough starter and leave to sour overnight. The following day the rice is built up into a batter with some eggs, butter, and flour, and again left to sour and ferment until bubbly and hot, then a little more flour is added to tighten the batter to our desired consistency, they are left to rise for an hour or so, then iced quickly to arrest fermentation and held for service.
To serve, quenelles of the batter are dropped into hot oil and fried until crispy and golden brown, then tossed with a little powdered sugar. The miracle of calas is the souring of the rice and then the dough - like with a good sourdough bread, the crust the fritters develop has a super sharp crackle, which gives way to an impossibly creamy crumb (again facilitated by the souring) reminiscent of the texture of creme brulee, studded with toothsome pearls of rice, a wine-y, spicy aroma lacing everything together.
We serve them with a bitter chocolate sauce made of cocoa, espresso, and coconut milk, and home made dulce de leche, the luxurious result of kilgus cream, sugar, Tahitian vanilla bean, and about twelve hours over a very low flame.
If you're a fan of our beignets, or just love donuts, these are a must-do. They are on the dessert menu for all services and likely will be until May.
Pairing: Cafe au lait, or a sipping bourbon
Skillet Cornbread: ($7)
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Pairing: Everything, anytime, day or night.
Posted 01/16/14 - Share this entry
Savannah Red Rice: ($14)
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Pairing: Fried chicken, seafood, champagne, or bright lager
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Posted 01/07/14 - Share this entry
Persimmon Pudding Pie: ($9)
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Pairing: Rye whiskey, neat
Posted 10/28/13 - Share this entry
Virginia Catfish Curry, ca. 1840: ($18)
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Pairing: Prima pear cider
Posted 10/24/13 - Share this entry
Crispy Fried Walleye with Crowder Peas and Smothered Okra: ($23)
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Pairing: An off-dry Loire chenin such as Vouvray sec, or a malty brown ale
Posted 10/15/13 - Share this entry