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A Cured Ham from Costco and a Briny Cocktail
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released an updated projection for the saltwater wedge inching up the Mississippi River, officially calling off any threat to water systems in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. This is a large relief here in NOLA, especially since few of the actionable mitigation efforts have actually been implemented, but neighbors further downriver in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes haven’t had the same luck and have been relying on bottled water for drinking, cooking, and bathing since June.
With the threat subsiding, we can go back to not thinking about how there’s still lead in our pipes and refocus on what matters most here: Food. This is a newsletter about
alligator hunting food, after all.
Work + life has been a grind these last few weeks, and I’m slipping deeper into one of those seasons where I feel like I’m barely treading water and losing sight of the shoreline. We all respond to this kind of stress in different ways; Rémy, for example, loves to reward herself with little sweet treats as she chips away at her to-do list. Some friends focus on home projects or mini excursions to balance out the workload. Others look ahead to more elaborate vacations. I…well, I make semi-irrational purchases. This week: I bought a 14-lb Serrano ham from Costco.
To be clear, this wasn’t an impulse buy, or a particularly irrational one. The idea has lived in a back corner of my brain since early last year, when I did a small photoshoot at Chef Nini Nguyen’s house. She told me about the hams—a seasonal offering from the retailer—and about how they come as a full kit complete with a stand and a carving knife, and how she had just left one out over the holidays so that anyone stopping by could slice off a little.
I love the idea of friends strolling through, taking a thin slice of salty ham while we share a brief catch-up. It’s very far from our current reality, but a cozy thought nonetheless.
Instead, I’ve been thinking through all of the dishes I can make with it. Not that a good ham needs much more than a piece of ripe fruit or funky cheese, but it sure is fun to play with in the kitchen. Examples:
Arugula with Ham and Roasted Persimmons
Fun fact: Plaquemines Parish is named after the trees that were found lining the lower Mississippi River when the French settled in the area. “Plaquemines” is derived from a French translation of the Atakapa word for persimmons, piakimin.
It’s a little early for local persimmons, but I had a few fuyus stashed in my bag from a recent trip to California, so I seeded and sliced those, then tossed ‘em in a little olive oil and roasted at 400°F for 20 minutes. The texture softened a little under the heat, and the edges got crispy from the natural sugars. I made an easy lemon vinaigrette to toss the greens in, then topped with the ham and roasted persimmon. So simple!
Don’t have any persimmons in your bag? Keep an eye out at Crescent City Farmers Markets and Laughing Buddha Nursery—both told me that they should start showing up in the coming weeks.
Tortellini with Serrano and Peas and Pistachios
This is a riff on a recipe Ali Slagle published in I Dream of Dinner, but she calls for mortadella instead of ham. The salty serrano works really well here, especially if you let it render and crisp a little when the tortellini are searing in olive oil. The pistachios are toasted and tossed in lemon peel to give the dish a little crunch + acidity, while butter and parm melt to hold it all together. 10/10 will make this again.
Other ideas still in the works:
Crispy, salty ham atop a bowl of stewed collards
Serrano ham in a gumbo (don’t @ me, salty pork with salty pork is a win)
Something with venison tenderloins…
A Briny Cocktail
Absolutely no one asked for this, but here’s a cocktail recipe to celebrate the retreat of the saltwater wedge. I call it “River Water,” a brackish nod to salting chicory coffee, which helps cut the bitterness.
1 oz. bourbon or rye whiskey
1/2 oz. Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur
1/2 oz. brewed coffee or cold brew (not concentrate)
1/2 tsp. very salty water (salty enough for a throat gargle), or 1 tsp. food-grade saline
Lemon peel, for garnish
Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Cover and shake vigorously. Serve up, in a chilled coupe or cordial glass, and garnish with the lemon peel.
Last week, I put out feelers to see if I knew any video editors currently available to help with this growing backlog of work. The response was overwhelming, yielding a couple dozen names and counting. As I clicked through work samples and websites, I was reminded of 1) just how much creative talent calls New Orleans home and 2) just how many creatives—especially those in film and video—are underutilized at the moment. Please, support your creative friends, y’all: Hire them, buy their art, refer them to coworkers/clients/bosses.
Anyway, one of the rabbit holes I found myself down led me to the YouTube channel of local band Bare Handled Bear Handlers, which has been a delightful journey/distraction. Here’s a personal favorite from their archives.
Thanks for reading, y’all—and for letting me talk so much about alligators in the last couple of newsletters. Stop by for a slice of ham sometime!