Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Tribute to Lola

The first trip I ever made to New Orleans was in the spring of 1999. I was in my second semester of graduate school and needed to perform the first bit of research at the City Archives for a project that ultimately became my first book. A friend of mine in Athens, Georgia was at the time a training officer for the Clarke County police department. He had recently been to the Crescent City for a law enforcement conference, and shared what dining tips he had gleaned from his colleagues. Cops, you see, have an uncanny ability to sniff out some of the best neighborhood-style places. High on his list was Lola's.

Located at 3312 Esplanade Avenue in the beautiful Bayou St. John neighborhood, Lola's is as critic Tom Fitzmorris observes, the longest running Spanish restaurant in town. The paella that I ate on my first visit was so memorable (along with the garlic spread on bread) that it was virtually all I ever ordered for perhaps my first half-dozen visits. These were the days when the restaurant was cash-only and didn't have a liquor license, but the original Whole Foods was across the way and one could easily pick up a bottle or two for the evening's table.

There have been many memorable meals at Lola's in the last twelve years. Trips with visiting friends, hot summer nights with one too many bottles of Malbec, that first return visit after Katrina - all link the flavors of the restaurant's small open kitchen with people and key moments during the last decade of my life. Today Lola's takes cards to pay for your meal and you can find wine at either Canseco's, which took the old Whole Foods space, or Swirl, a bonafide wine shop next door on Ponce de Leon.

At some point along the way, I began ordering the wonderful garlic shrimp appetizer. Imagine a cast iron pan the size of a paint can lid full of peeled shrimp cooked in an amazing garlic/pepper/butter sauce. Consumed with the aforementioned garlic spread and a pistolette, you approach something near garlicky nirvana.

The following is my tribute to Lola's garlic shrimp. It doesn't pretend to be the same thing. If you want to replicate what's made on Esplanade Avenue, go taste it and you will probably pick up on the modifications one needs to make to this recipe to get closer to the flavor profiles served there. This recipe contains elements of Shrimp Mosca and the various New Orleans-style "barbecue shrimp" dishes you will find on the internet.
Do not fear garlic!

The best thing about this recipe is its ease of preparation and compatibility with entertaining guests. All of the real prep work can be done hours in advance, with the actual cooking time taking no more than ten minutes. In that time you will fill your kitchen with aromas that make your guests quite ready to eat!

Use: 1 pound of shrimp. De-head, peel, and de-vein. Set aside in your bowl.
Add: A ton of chopped garlic. Are three tablespoons too much? No, that's probably a minimum.
a tablespoon or so of Worcestershire sauce (important)
a tablespoon of good paprika
two tablespoon of finely minced onion
two or three tablespoons of finely chopped parsley
two tablespoons or more of finely minced shallot
hot sauce, salt, pepper to taste

Mix all of this up with some olive oil in your bowl. This can sit in your refrigerator until guests arrive. The key to all of these seasonings is that they will flavor the massive amount of butter in which you will cook the shrimp. This makes a dipping sauce for your bread.

This is what it looks like all mixed and ready for the pan. You can hold this until guests arrive.
To cook: Heat a small skillet to medium high temperature. Make sure you are not so hot that you brown or, God forbid, scorch your butter.

Toss in a good 3/4 stick of butter.  Don't be bashful. This is what restaurants do. Get over it and go to the gym tomorrow.

When the butter is all bubbly and nice, toss in your mixture, making sure the shrimp aren't clumped together. Turn them after a few minutes. Sautee this concoction long enough to make sure that the garlic and onions are getting a little bit cooked. Yet don't cook it forever so that shrimp get tough. You should be able to take this off of the burner within 10 minutes. Probably less.

Garlicky goodness in butter. Notice that the shrimp have not yet been turned.

Serve in a bowl with a side of nice French bread. I'm sorry I don't have a picture, but this dish usually gets eaten before I can get a good shot!

1 comment:

  1. I'm opposed to eating anything that needs to be "deheaded" and "deveined." ;)