The Gravy: In the Kitchen with John Boutte

oct 08 gravy boutte“The house I grew up in was actually built by my father and grandfather, and I can honestly say that it was built on po-boys. My mother would make the po-boys on Sundays, Saturdays. My dad would get his cousins and his friends and some beers. We came together as a community and built that house. We always had fresh produce. Beans and greens and lettuce, cabbage and roots. My great aunt was a true horticulturist. She had this beautiful bush, what they call ham and eggs, or bridal’s wreath. And wonderful roses, you’d walk through those neighborhoods, man, you’d smell food and wonderful flowers. People did that because the streets weren’t always that clean and they used their gardens as a bumper for the foul air of the sewerage.

My mom made po-boys with whatever my dad would catch. If there was no fish, she’d fry chicken livers. We had fried chicken liver po-boys, man. She fed a lot of kids and we ate well. Something we would beg for—this sounds a little gross—were brains, cow brains! We ate them for breakfast, man. She soaked them in cold water and took the membranes out, ran them through cornmeal and we thought we were eating oysters. It was delicious! Surprised I don’t have gout. We’d have cow brains and scrambled eggs. Our brains wouldn’t be scrambled because we always went to school with a full belly and well tanked up to attack the day. How she fed 10 children on a postman’s salary? I don’t know how, but she did.

My dad would go out fishing—this is how bountiful Louisiana was—he would go out fishing and catch so much fish, man. When he got tired of scaling and cleaning and stocking up, we’d literally give it away to the neighbors. My mama, she’d cook it, but she didn’t want to clean no fish. And my dad would not eat fish unless it was right out of the water. So we had a lot of seafood in the house and we also had game, because he was a hunter. We had venison and cowan [turtle], duck and poule d’eau–a little black duck–water hen is what it is, basically.

This is my stove. I looked it up and it used to be on cruise liners, and those stoves were built well, because you can’t have a fire aboard no ship. Don’t look, now. It’s not too clean. Who’s got time to clean their stove? Screw that!

This morning, I cracked two nice organic eggs and whipped them up really well and heated up the olive oil just right and slid it across there, there’s something beautiful about seeing that egg go. Just flipped it over and put a little sour cream and parmesan and a little wheat toast. That was just quick. I like breakfast. In the morning, I’ll do sweet potato pancakes. Instead of water or milk, I’ll use—here’s the trick—orange juice. And coffee, I drink coffee, coffee doesn’t bother me.

I like the red wine too. Actually, I was in Colorado and doing a benefit for one of their public radio stations. Guy asks me, do I like red wine? I said, “Sure,” and he poured me a glass of this syrah and it was really good and then he turned the bottle around and it was a bottle that was made in my honor. That was very humbling. I’ve done a lot of records and stuff, but to have your face on a wine bottle, that will really impress your friends.”

John Boutté’s Glorious Oyster Pie

“You’ve got to make two, or everybody’s going to get mad!”

(Makes 2 pies)

2 deep pie crusts + 2 roll-out tops
4 tbsp olive oil
4 shallots (or 2 small white or red onions), chopped
12 cloves garlic (about one head), minced
2 ½ stalks celery, chopped
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne
2 pounds ground beef
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 quart fresh oysters
1 bunch green onions, chopped
½ bunch parsley or cilantro, chopped

Sauté shallots, garlic and celery in olive oil over low heat until soft. Add white and black pepper and cayenne. In a separate pan, brown meat, adding thyme and salt at the end. Add shallots, etc., to meat. Add breadcrumbs, oysters, and enough of the oyster liquor to make a soft dressing. As soon as the oysters start to cook (edges curl), turn the heat off. Fill piecrusts and cover pies with roll-out tops. Stick a fork in the tops a few times. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.