February is a tough month. It hands you bitter cold, and then teases you with a few days that hover around zero. Then, just as you're getting used to the icicles that hang off your eavestroughs dripping all over you when you leave the house, the wind chill comes back to slap you upside your head. If you can't get away to a warm vacation, it's enough to make you feel like jumping out the window... except that then you'd be back out in the cold again, so you're really not getting any further ahead.
The next best thing is an indoor party with some spicy foods, and that means Winnipeg's version of Mardi Gras (see left for tickets and details). You'll want to grab some feathers and beads, but keeping your shirt on is entirely your call.
This weekend, along with live bands, dancing, shopping and other amusements, there will be the traditional southern-style menu that features some favourites such as gumbo, southern-style barbecued pork ribs, chicken creole and a jambalaya. The oyster bar will be in full swing again with oysters (of course), peel-and-eat shrimp and the truly exotic alligator fritters. But there will be something new at the oyster bar this year and Winnipeg Convention Centre executive chef Quentin Harty kindly shared that recipe.
It's one that confirms my suspicion that Americans will deep-fry anything... and then dip it in cheese.
That little bit of decadence is deep-fried pickle spears with a cheese sauce for dipping. Chef Harty says that the idea came from the show promoter.
"He had sampled that particular item down south and felt that we should introduce it as an interesting addition to the event. So we played with it and it seems to work."
The recipe is straightforward, but it is important to follow the instructions carefully before deep frying, particularly the instruction to dry the pickles.
"It's important because the pickles need to be dried, somewhat dehydrated in order to retain the breading, but also if you get too much moisture in your fryer you're going to have a safety issue," says Harty. "Your grease is going to overflow from your fryer, so it's really important."
You'll note chef has recommended canola for this recipe. He says he prefers canola when dealing with large numbers of people in order to accommodate those with allergies. However, he says peanut oil is also an excellent choice.
The other recipe chef Harty has on the menu is Louisiana Crab Cakes, the dainty little item you will find below.
Louisiana Crab Cakes
Crab cakes are always lovely by themselves, but you could also turn these into sliders or serve them on a potato pancake. A good side would be sweet potato fries. Coleslaw is always good as well.
Sometimes, when a recipe calls for an item to be dredged in flour, I find it easier to put flour in a shaker and cover the food by sprinkling flour on it. I can get a more even coating and because the food only has to be flipped once, it is less likely to fall apart from too much handling. It's also economical because the flour in the shaker can be kept where the flour leftover from dredging has to be thrown out. The other advantage is you can form all the patties first and then line them up on a tray before sprinkling the flour on them. The little assembly line speeds things up.
Yields 16 cakes that are 55 to 85 grams (2 to 3 oz) each
500 g (1 lb) cooked Blue Crab, flaked
30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley
5 ml (1 tsp) dry mustard
5 ml (1 tsp) Worcestershire sauce
5 ml (1 tsp) Louisiana hot sauce
2 whole eggs beaten
30 ml (2 tbsp) mayonnaise
125 ml (1/2 cup) cracker crumbs
2 crushed cloves garlic
10 ml (2 tsp) lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Flour (reserve for dredging the crab cakes)
Mix all the ingredients except flour together (salt and pepper to taste).
Form the mixture into 16 cakes. Dredge each one in the flour.
Pan fry in brown butter on each side until golden brown.
Serve immediately with fresh lemon and your favourite Cajun dipping sauce.
Southern Deep Fried Pickle Spears With Spicy Cheese Sauce Dip
These pickles are deep-fried, so it is important to follow the instructions, especially about drying the pickles, carefully. Peanut oil can be used in place of canola.
Serves 2-6 persons
12 large pickle spears
egg wash, recipe follows
breading, recipe follows
Canola oil, for frying
cheese sauce, recipe follows
500 ml (2 cups) milk
pinch lemon pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
1 ml (1/4 tsp) of Tabasco sauce
Whisk all the ingredients together.
20 ml (4 tsp) Cajun seasoning (commercial blend, your favourite)
625 ml (2 1/2 cups) bread crumbs
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
pinch cayenne pepper
salt to taste
In a stainless steel mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the flour with half the spices and seasoning. In a second stainless steel bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the remaining spices and seasonings.
Remove pickles from the brine and lay on paper towel to absorb the brine -- minimally 2 hours prior to breading -- and cool in refrigerator.
Preheat deep fryer to 190C (375F).
Thoroughly blend 10 ml (2 tsp) Cajun seasoning with the flour. Blend the remaining Cajun seasoning with the bread crumbs.
Using only chilled dill pickle spears, dredge the pickle into the seasoned flour and then dip pickle into egg wash and then immediately into the breading. Thoroughly cover with breading. Deep fry until golden brown or approximately 2-4 minutes.
Serve hot immediately with cheese sauce dip, recipe follows.
Spicy Cheese Sauce
Chef Harty says a fondue pot would be ideal to keep this dip warm. If you do use a fondue, remember to keep your flame low and watch it closely to prevent burning. If you have a mini slow cooker, that would also do the trick with a little less fuss. The pickles are meant to be served hot, so be sure to have plates and fondue forks at hand.
500 ml (2 cups) plain cream cheese
2 cloves garlic, mashed
250 ml (1 cup) milk
10 ml (2 tsp) Jalapeño peppers fine diced
125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped onion
10 ml (2 tsp) canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onion, garlic and peppers in the oil until onion is translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the cream cheese and milk on low heat. Blend all ingredients until texture is silky smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.