DARROW, LA. - When cotton candy ended up as part of a dessert, I knew that people in Louisiana take their sugar seriously. At the Sugar Baron's Dinner, the menu designed by Chef Jeremy Langlois of Houmas House Plantation & Gardens created a whimsical yet classic look at how cane sugar can be used in every course of a menu.
The dinner held Oct. 9 for food journalists as part of their annual conference in New Orleans and Baton Rouge was a contemporary look at the tradition of Old Louisiana dining. At Latil's Landing Restaurant at Houmas House, Chef Langlois creates dishes in a style called "Nouvelle Louisiane." The Sugar Baron's Dinner was held in a room with a table long enough to seat 60.
Not far from Baton Rouge, which is the state capital of Louisiana, amid the sugar cane fields, the Houmas House Plantation & Gardens has 38 lush acres of gardens, ponds, and a majestic live oak alley. It's open for tours. The plantation has been the site for filming movies such as Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte in 1963 and more recently an episode of Top Chef which aired last winter.
Although you can usually feel the breeze of the Mississippi River beyond the levee, the day was heavy with rain, heat and humidity.
Dinner started with soup.
As with many recipes in Louisiana, onions, bell peppers, and chopped celery are at the heart of Bisque of Curried Pumpkin, Crawfish and Corn. The vegetables were sauted in olive oil, although most of the time you'll find butter or bacon fat as the preferred fat. Flour is added to make a roux, and then Steen's cane syrup, curry powder, crawfish stock, unsweetened pumpkin, corn kernels and peeled Louisiana crawfish tails are added. The soup is finished with whipping cream, salt, and butter. (Steen's is 100 percent cane syrup and I have not found it locally. It's often used to pour on top of pancakes, glaze over hams, roasted yams or as a flavoring in barbecue sauces.)
Beet and Crab Salad was garnished with candied bacon. For 12 strips of bacon (thinner bacon is better), combine one cup brown sugar and one cup white granulated sugar. Dredge each strip of bacon in the sugar mixture. Shake off any excess and place on a baking sheet. Bake the bacon for 25 minutes in a 350-degree oven, or until golden brown. Cool bacon on a clean baking sheet.
Lacquered Duck Breast with Whipped Sweet Potatoes showcased yet another way to use sugar. The boiled sweet potatoes were whipped with unsalted butter and two tablespoons cane syrup. For the sauce drizzled over the roasted duck breast, one-half cup honey was combined with one cup light brown sugar, half a stick butter, and one-fourth cup beef broth in a heavy saucepan and boiled gently for five minutes. The duck breast was sliced on the bias into half-inch pieces and fanned around the whipped sweet potato.
For, dessert, Chocolate Mousse Filled Crepes nestled on the signature plates with a mound of freshly made green cotton candy. (It was my first time to eat cotton candy with a fork.) "I figured I had to do something unique," said Chef Langlois about the Mint Julep Cotton Candy. "I wanted to do something fun. We have a cotton candy machine." He added spiced rum and mint extract and a little green food coloring. Then he dried the sugar under a heat lamp to keep the flavor. "It was a garnish to highlight sugar."
Fresh crepes are cooled before they are filled with a quenelle of chocolate mousse. The chocolate mousse filling made with a little sugar to taste had a splash of Tabasco to "get a little spice on your palate."
For more information on sugar, see my story in Sunday's Living section.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.
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