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My New Orleans: The Cookbook by John Besh

My New Orleans: The Cookbook

by John Besh

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White chocolate and Meyer lemon semifreddo with vanilla-poached berries, p.102, very good, but for that the cookie broke.
  DromJohn | Mar 20, 2016 |
The key to this book is in the subtitle—“200 of My Favorite Recipes & Stories from My Hometown.” Note the possessive “my” that shows up twice in that sentence? “My” New Orleans is really that—a very personal account of one man’s love—no, adoration—of food and country. In between all the five-star recipes (which, to his credit, don’t usually require five-star kitchens to recreate) are Besh’s own stories and memories, ruminations and advice. Sometimes, the stories are funny. “. . .he kept a boat,” Besh remembers about his very first shrimping trip “which, at least in my memory, resembled the African Queen.” Sometimes, they are startling and not funny; “The worst thing about combat in the first gulf war was that the smell of toasted almonds meant a chemical attack.”

Really, after reading something like that I felt honor bound to try every recipe in the chapter (it’s the one on fishing) just to show my respect. Starting with the Trout Amandine.

Parts of this book are agonizing for other reasons. Devoted to the culinary culture of New Orleans, there is naturally an entire section on oysters. Besh writes movingly about the fears that Katrina might have destroyed the oyster beds, and the conflict they felt at his restaurant when, beds not yet recovered, they had to send to Florida to get any. “Our oysters are big and meaty and splendid eaten on the half shell with cold beer and spicy cocktail sauce. They allow preparations that you just can’t do with other oysters, like frying, roasting, and grilling. Those little briny ones from the other coastal states? They’re fine, but they just don’t work for us.” I’m sitting here in North Carolina trying not to take offense, and also wondering if, once again, Besh’s restaurant is being forced to send away for oysters. Hurricanes come and are gone in a few days. Their effects last a few seasons, but nature is remarkably resilient and oysters have been recovering from hurricanes since they have had shells.

Oil spills that go on for months and months? Not so easy to brush off.

The passion and the stories make Besh’s book feel . . . important. From a cultural perspective. What impressed me most, though, once I got past the awe and intimidation and the teary-eyed reactions to all the stories, was just how useful a book My New Orleans actually is. As a restaurateur Besh is nothing if not pragmatic. “Accept substitutes,” he advises, although he is usually advocating for locally produced products. Apparently, you can make a great gumbo without using Jacob’s andouille sausage. He explains the secrets of making roux (a paste of flour browned in hot oil) in two sentences, where my Times-Picayune reprint cookbook takes nearly two pages and contains alarming phrases like “whisk for 50-70 minutes.” He offers shortcuts and tricks to make life easier in the kitchen, and he has an entire chapter devoted to figs. Since I can never seem to get my figs to make it uneaten from the tree in my back yard to my kitchen counter, I find this rather amazing.

So far, I haven’t had a miss trying out recipes—although I admit I’ve been a little timid in my explorations. But some of the corn my neighbor brought over was devoted to his Grilled Corn on the Cob with Crab Fat butter and I have to say I may never be without crab fat butter again in my life. It was a little tedious to make because I don’t like boiling crabs, but oh, mama. read full review
  southernbooklady | Jul 22, 2010 |
This is a beautifully photographed book written in loving homage to New Orleans culture, landscape, and cuisine. Taking time to read its chapters, which include his recipes, will reveal John Besh's love for all three of the components that contribute to the food he has devoted his life to perfecting and sharing with the world.

This book has become one of my favorite table-top books; one that has enough content for casual reading, and enough information for serious study. Besh's description of how to make a roux is one of the best I have ever seen in print, and should be the guideline for anyone seeking to master authentic gumbo.

If you've visited a home in New Orleans, you know his recipes have not been 'dummed down' or commercialized for tourist palates or diets, but are as close to the authentic cuisine I tasted when a native New Orleanean took me on a tour of her city. Recipes include duck, pork and seafood, and cover boils, etouffees, and gumbos, using all the techniques identified with this cuisine and tapping into all of its local resources.

Besh has also included sources for the unique ingredients called for in many of his recipes. Things like andouille or green onion sausage, Konriko rice, crawfish, or the red kidney beans that are so essential to duplicating the unique tastes of Louisiana.

You can bet I'm gathering my coins and readying my dialing fingers for the grand occasion where I will need them. What an occasion that will be! My tastebuds are jumping in anticipation....Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez! ( )
  greytone | Feb 25, 2010 |
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To the people of New Orleans and to those who hold the city close to their hearts
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This book is the story of a dreamy, starry-eyed boy brought up in the shadows of New Orleans, surrounded by cypress knees and tupelo trees, good dinners and great friends.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0740784137, Hardcover)

Product Description

My New Orleans will change the way you look at New Orleans cooking and the way you see World-famous chef John Besh. It's 16 chapters of culture, history, essay and insight, and pure goodness. Besh tells us the story of his New Orleans by the season and by the dish. Archival, four-color, location photography along with ingredient information make the Big Easy easy to tackle in home kitchens. Cooks will salivate over the 200 recipes that honor and celebrate everything New Orleans.

Bite by bite John Besh brings us New Orleans cooking like we've never tasted before. It's the perfect blend of contemporary French techniques with indigenous Southern Louisiana products and know-how. His amazing new offering is exclusively brought to fans and foodies everywhere by Andrews McMeel.

From Mardi Gras, to the shrimp season, to the urban garden, to gumbo weather, boucherie (the season of the pig), and everything tasty in between, Besh gives a sampling of New Orleans that will have us all craving for more.

The boy from the Bayou isn't just an acclaimed chef with an exceptional pallet. Besh is a chef with a heart. The ex-marine's passion for the Crescent City, its people, and its livelihood are main courses making him a leader of the city's culinary recovery and resilience after the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.

An Introduction to My New Orleans from John Besh

Dear Friends,

This book is the story of a dreamy, starry-eyed boy brought up in the shadows of New Orleans, surrounded by cypress knees and tupelo trees, good dinners and great friends. My life has been dramatically shaped by our multicultural heritage. Everything that I cook and eat, see and smell, reminds me of where I come from and more or less dictates where I’m going.

I grew up in Slidell, Louisiana, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. My childhood revolved around the lake, and I spent many hours shrimping in its waters and fishing along its shores. I learned to cook from my mom and my grandmother, and from the men I hunted with, who held that if you hunt it and kill it, a boy like me had better know how to clean it and cook it. Ours was a house of great food--we celebrated everything from births to deaths around great food. My ideas of New Orleans's cooking come directly from the New Orleans table. My cooking draws on decades of learning and mastering cooking techniques that I felt certain would help me years down the road. I restlessly search my mind's catalog of everything I've ever tasted or cooked, so that when I see a tomato at its ripest state, my mind runs through literally thousands of preparations that could work for this here tomato. Some people may look up in the sky and notice a mallard duck, but I see a slow-roasted duckling with lots of hearty herbs, cooked down in a gravy and served over rice.

My goal in launching Restaurant August in 2001 was to have a world-class place that could compete with the great restaurants of New Orleans. But Katrina, of course, changed everything. When the aftermath of that devastating storm threatened our fishermen and farmers, our shrimpers and oystermen, it seemed urgent to help preserve and protect our unique culinary heritage, its local ingredients, and its authentic culture.

After Katrina, being from New Orleans became the focus of my identity. The truth is I am from here and I cook from here--our ingredients and our traditions. I believe our city is a true national treasure: We have one of the few native urban cultures--and cuisines—that still thrives in this country. I cook New Orleans food my way, revering each ingredient as it reaches the ripeness of its season, which is how My New Orleans: The Cookbook unfolds, from Crawfish to Reveillon. No other place on earth is like New Orleans. Welcome to the flavors of my home.

John Besh

From My New Orleans: Drew's Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo

Throughout this book, I've had a great deal to say about making the roux that's the base of our gumbo--and the other steps as well--but I'll recap it here so that it can be useful every time you start to make our signature dish. Yes, there are other thickeners besides flour that folks use for making their roux, but to my palate, only a flour-based roux yields that traditional flavor. As for the fats in a roux, just about anything works. I love rendered duck fat, chicken fat, or lard, but canola oil works nearly as well.

I always heat the oil first and whisk the flour into the hot oil. Not only does this speed up the process; it yields that deep, dark chocolate-colored gumbo I love. I always add the onions first to the dark roux, holding back the rest of the vegetables until the onion caramelizes. Otherwise, the water in the vegetables will keep the onion from browning and releasing its sweet juices. I like to add file powder to the gumbo, then pass it at the table, too. Serve the gumbo hot with Louisiana rice; serve potato salad on the side, if you like. --John Besh

(Serves 10-12)

1 cup rendered chicken fat or canola oil 1 cup flour 2 large onions, diced 1 large chicken, cut into 12 pieces 2 tablespoons Creole Spices 2 pounds spicy smoked sausage, sliced 1/2 inch thick 2 stalks celery, diced 2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced 1 tomato, seeded and chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme 3 quarts chicken stock 2 bay leaves 6 ounces andouille sausage, chopped 2 cups sliced fresh okra 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Salt Freshly ground black pepper Filé powder Tabasco 4–6 cups cooked white rice


1. Make a roux by heating the chicken fat or oil in a large cast-iron or heavy bottomed pot over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil. It will immediately begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate and continue whisking until the roux takes on a deep brown color, about 15 minutes. Add the onions, stirring them into the roux with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue stirring until the roux is a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Season the chicken with Creole Spices. Add the chicken to the pot, raise heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until browned, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the smoked sausage and stir for a minute before adding the celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Add the thyme, Chicken Stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and skim off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.

4. Add the andouille, okra, and Worcestershire and season with salt and pepper, several dashes of filé powder, and Tabasco. Simmer for another 45 minutes, continuing to skim the fat off the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves and serve in bowls over rice. Pass more filé at the table.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:41 -0400)

"My New Orleans: The Cookbook is a rich stew of Besh's charming, personal stories of his childhood, his family, and friends, and the unique food history of the city and its cooking..."--Publisher's blurb.

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