When you are given a cookbook which has more recipes for oyster dishes than vegetables, there’s a good chance that it may relate to the cuisine of New Orleans. A friend gifted me an old cookbook which she no longer wanted. Since I live in Louisiana, I seemed like the natural person to get the cookbook. Little did she know what a treasure it is — if you like cookbooks. The vintage cookbook, era 1960s, is written by the parents whose daughters attended the Ursuline Academy of the Old Ursuline Convent — which dates to 1727. The cookbook is filled with classic recipes of New Orleans — these Catholic parents would have come from established families in the city. As I skimmed through the pages, I stopped at “Brabant Potatoes.” Now, here’s a dish you won’t find outside of New Orleans. I decided to make a version of this classic Louisiana dish of “French Fries.” If you like potatoes, you will love this dish!
Ursuline Convent and cookbook
The Ursuline Convent was founded in 1727 in New Orleans by the Sisters of the Order of Saint Ursulas. The nuns came from the Ursuline Convent of Rouen in Normandy, France, at the request of the French territory Governor Étienne Perier. Their mission was to found a convent, run a hospital and take care of educating wealthy young girls. During the war of 1812, the nuns used the convent as a hospital, taking care of soldiers from both sides. The nuns did many health care activities as well as educate. They established an orphanage, treated malaria and yellow fever. In addition to educating wealthy young girls in the city, the nuns were the first to educate freed slave girls and Native American girls. The academy which they established is the oldest continuously-operating school for girls and the oldest Catholic school in America. It still exists — we have several relatives who attended there — and is a top-rated all-female academic school in Louisiana.
The cookbook, Recipes and Reminicences of New Orleans, was published by the Parents Club of Ursuline Academy in 1971. It contains many historical stories about the convent as well as traditional New Orleans recipes. If you are a history buff, this is an interesting “book” read. Several recipes caught my attention which I have featured in past blog posts including Gumbo Z’ Herbs, New Orleans Grillades and Dirty Rice. The cookbook includes many French, Creole and Cajun recipes for oysters, crabmeat, shrimp and fish as well as unusual ones such as Calf’s Brains Vinaigrette and Hogs Head Cheese (made with raw pigs feet and calfs feet), Rest assured, I won’t be cooking the last two recipes. Classic recipes of famous restaurants are included such as Mile High Ice Cream PIe of the Caribbean Room of the Pontchartrain Hotel. Of course, the nun’s famous recipe for pralines is included. I’ll have to try the praline recipe in December! Meanwile, I’m making “Brabant Potatoes” today.
Brabant Potatoes don’t look like french fries. But they are “fried potatoes” to the folks of New Orleans and are sometimes known as “Louisiana Fries.” These potatoes are found as a side dish on the menus of just about every traditional Creole and French resturant in the city. I tried to research the origins of these potatoes and the name, but came up short. It seems that “Bradant” means “a former duchy in Westerm Europe, now divided between the Netherlands and Belgium.” Nothing related to food or to the French origins of this city.
This dish is unique. To make these fried potatoes, a firm-variety of potato is diced and first parboiled. The diced potato pieces should still be solid after boiling just for a few minutes. After draining, the potatoes are then deep fried in hot oil resulting in fries which are crisp on the outside and creamy and smooth in the center. Often the fried potatoes are finished by dousing in garlic butter, spinkling on fresh parsley; and then served as a side dish.
Yum, crispy potatoes with garlic butter. These are delicious.
I decided to attempt to make the recipe a bit healthier by making a few adaptations to lower the fat content. Rather than deep frying in oil, I baked the potato cubes in the oven. With a little practice, I achieved potatoes which were crispy on the outside and not overcooked or dried out. In one version, I added the garlic butter. However, omitting the butter and just tossing the potatoes in a little parsley worked, too. It would be easy to update this recipe by serving it with a Chimichurri Sauce or pesto.
Here are the ingredients for my recipe:
The potato variety for this recipe should be one which holds its shape when cooked and doesn’t fall apart. I used larger potatoes which I could cut into chunks giving more surface area of cut edges for crisping. Yukon Gold as well as all-purpose white potatoes work in this recipe. They have a medium starch content which falls between starchy and waxy potatoes. (Russet potatoes are starchy and red potatoes are more waxy with a higher moisture content.) Since I had a bag of mixed all-purpose white and red potatoes on hand, I used both — and they held their shape and crisped in the oven. You may have to experiment around a bit.
Making the Recipe
To make this recipe, first cut the potatoes into cubes which are about 1″ inch in size. No need to peel the potatoes unless you really want to do that task. (I tried smaller 1/2 – 3/4″ inch diced potatoes, but it was too easy to over-boil the potatoes and they just didn’t crisp up in the oven.)
Steam the potatoes in a large pot of salted water for a few minutes — 5 minutes for potates which are 1″ dice. The potatoes should still be firm in the center. Don’t overcook the potatoes. That is critical — the potatoes will finish cooking in the oven.
After parboilling, drain the potatoes completely. Toss with oil, coating all sides of the potatoes. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet which is lined with foil. Place in a single layer — not touching is better. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Use a spatula to carefully turn the potatoes over. Bake for 10 additional minutes. The potatoes will continue to roast and crisp. (All sides may not be completely crisp, but most of the potato cubes will crisp up. That is okay. Overbaking will result in burnt potatoes which are dried out in the center.)
Meanwhile, melt butter on the stove. Add in several large crushed (or minced) garlic cloves and cook for about a minute over low heat.
(I’ve been served these potatoes in restaurants which were just swimming in butter. Really, we don’t need that. A little butter is plenty.)
Remove the potatoes from the oven. Transfer to a serving dish. Toss with the garlic butter, add minced fresh parsley and serve. As noted above, the garlic butter can be omitted — simply toss with parsley and perhaps add minced garlic if you are a garlic-lover. These potatoes are best served hot.
I tried several versions of this “Bradant Potato” recipe. They all tasted great (I love potatoes as well as garlic!). The larger diced potatoes (1″ dice) of all-purpose white potatoes — which I didn’t over-blanch — crisped the best in the oven keeping the insides soft and flavorful.
Now I have a classic New Orleans recipe to add to my list of “ways to cook potatoes.” With a little effort, this is a healthier version. They go along with just about any main course entree which might be served in a New Orleans restaurant — chicken, beef or fish — or in your home.
I also have another cookbook to add to my collection — as you can never have too many cookbooks. This vintage cookbook of New Orleans recipes is a treasure trove of recipes of our southern cuisine. Thanks to my friend for passing the cookbook along to me rather than putting in in a garage sale where she lives in Ohio! LIttle did she realize what she was giving me. Can’t wait to try some more recipes! Be on the lookout for pralines this winter!
- 2 lb large all-purpose white potates or Yukon potatoes (may substitute large red potatoes, if desired)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil, more if needed
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Method and Steps:
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Rinse potatoes, remove any blemishes. Do not peel. Cut potatoes into 1″ cubes.
- Add potatoes to a large pot. Fill to 1″ depth with water adding in salt.
- Bring to a boil. Then cover and lower temperature to just boiling. Cook for 5 minutes, timing after potatoes begin to boil. Potatoes should still be firm in the center. Do not overcook.
- Remove potatoes from pot and drain off water, shaking well to remove water.
- Transfer to a bowl (or return to pot). When just cool enough to handle, pour oil over potatoes. Stir gently to mix oil on all sides of potatoes. If needed, add an additional tablespoon of oil.
- Transfer.to prepared baking sheet, placing as many cut sides of potatoes facing down as possible. Leave some space between potato pieces. Roast for 15 minutes.
- Using a spatula, gently turn potato pieces over. Roast for 10 additional minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add in the crushed garlic. Stir and cook for about 1 minute.
- Transfer the potatoes to a serving bowl. Spoon the garlic butter over the potatoes.
- Sprinkle with fresh parsley.