Make yourself a plantation meal

Published 1:03 am Saturday, June 24, 2017

We had some visitors to come from Wilmington, N.C., and they wanted to see a “real plantation.” Well I don’t know if we have a real plantation but we do have cows and a garden. I thought a plantation meal was in order so I brought out my old Lee Bailey cookbook which had beautiful pictures and delicious recipes from Natchez. This is an old cookbook from 1990, but some recipes are timeless and pictures never get old.

Lee Bailey had a favorite aunt in Natchez, called Aunt Freddie. On every visit he was struck by the warmth and charm of the place, and by the fresh, wonderful food. It was on one of those trips that he decided to put together the best recipes of Natchez and he did with the help of the Pilgrimage Garden Club.

I decided to use the menu from “Lunch in the Belvedere at Monmouth.” This would be a wonderful summer luncheon for any occasion, since most can be done ahead. Creamed chicken has always been a popular luncheon dish in Natchez, so shrimp was added (but I added crawfish), along with sweet red peppers and tarragon. This is served over Cat Head’s biscuits instead of rice. We have lots of green beans in our garden so the vegetable was to be the rosemary green beans. Dessert was our blueberries (which are delicious right now) and whipped cream. As Lee Bailey once said, what do you need with good fresh blueberries but some whipped cream?” I would agree with that.

Tarragon creamed chicken and shrimp

From Lee Bailey’s Southern Food and Plantation Houses 1990.

Serves 6-8

Tarragon Creamed Shrimp and Chicken

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter

½ cup chopped green onions, including some green tops

1 teaspoon dried tarragon (I used fresh Russian tarragon) about 2 tablespoons (Just can’t keep the French tarragon alive in the garden or in pots.)

1 cup chopped sweet red peppers

2 cups thickly sliced fresh mushrooms

¾ cup dry white wine

2 cups coarsely chopped chicken breast meat

2 cups small peeled and deveined shrimp (I used 2 cups crawfish tails)

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups half-and-half, scalded

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Dash of nutmeg (optional)

Dash of paprika (optional)

In a large saucepan, melt ¼ cup of the butter. Add the green onions and half the tarragon. Sauté over medium-low heat about 5 minutes, until onions are wilted. Add the red pepper, mushrooms, ½ cup of the wine, and the chicken. Increase the heat to medium-high and sauté about 5 minutes, until chicken is opaque. Add the shrimp or crawfish and remaining tarragon. Sauté tossing occasionally, for 2 minutes, until shrimp turn pink. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a separate saucepan, melt the remaining ½ cup of butter. Sprinkle flour over it when the butter bubbles and whisk to mix well. Add half-and-half, whisking vigorously over medium-low heat until sauce is smooth and thick. Flavor with remaining ¼ cup wine and salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Continue to cook, whisking, for 2 minutes. Do not let boil.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken shrimp mixture back to a simmer and add the sauce. Adjust seasonings. Serve hot on a split, buttered biscuit. Sprinkle with paprika.


Cat Head Biscuits

Makes 10 large biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

1/3 cup solid vegetable shortening cut into walnut-size pieces

1 cup buttermilk

Unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets.

Combine the dry ingredients and shortening in a food processor. Process until the mixture has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Add the buttermilk and process, using a pulse motion, until mixture is moistened. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly 3 or 4 times.

“Choke off” 10 small pieces of dough; roll and flatten each into a ½-inch-thick round (“about the size of the average cat’s head,” to quote the lady herself). These biscuits are actually called “Carrie Bass’s Cat Head Biscuits.” Brush each top with melted butter and bake for 12 minutes or until golden.


Rosemary Green Beans

Serves 6

2 quarts water

3 tablespoons dried rosemary tied in a piece of cheesecloth (1 used 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary)

2 pounds of string beans, snapped with tips and stems removed

Unsalted butter

Salt to taste

Bring salted water to a boil and add the rosemary. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the beans and boil slowly for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how tender you like them. Top each serving with a dab of butter and a sprinkle of salt, if you wish.