I first remember having grillades and grits at brunch at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. It was family trip, maybe an early vacation or taking my brother to look at college. My parents made us dress up and it would have been our fancy meal of the trip.
Commander’s Palace was fancy, particularly to a young teen with little fine-dining experience. There were white-coated waiters with trolleys doing all sorts of amazing things such as flaming bananas foster and café brulot. What made me order something with the unfamiliar name "grillades," I can’t imagine, but I do love veal and those grillades were made with veal.
In truth, grillades and grits are a rustic dish. Slow-simmered meat and vegetables served over simple grits, so it seems funny that it constitutes one of my earliest fancy meal memories. The Commander’s Palace I see in my mind's eye is nothing like the Commander’s that I know today. Not unlike how everything at your high school seems smaller and less significant when you return as an alumnae.
So grillades and grits sat in my mind as a vaunted, sacred New Orleans restaurant dish – one only served by waiters.
But I finally decided to see if this dish was something I could conquer in my own kitchen, and lo and behold, it is a pretty simple to prepare. And when you do it yourself, you end up with the dish that evokes the perfect memories and flavors. Tender veal, the trinity of creole vegetables, piquant sauce, and creamy grits.
Now I can celebrate my early experiences in New Orleans with this dish of memories any time, and particularly during Mardi Gras season.
Grillades and Grits
1-1/2 pounds veal scallopine (about 6 cutlets)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
1/4 cup bacon grease (plus more if needed)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
For the Grits:
6 cups chicken broth (plus more if needed)
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups stone-ground grits
6 ounces cream cheese, cubed
6 tablespoons butter
For the grillades:
1. Cut the veal pieces in half or thirds, to yield 4-inch squares. Place the flour and creole seasoning in a large ziptop bag. Add the veal pieces and shake well to coat.
2. Heat the bacon grease in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Shake any excess flour off the veal pieces and add to the pan. Brown lightly, just a few minutes on each side, then remove to a plate. Do not crowd the pans, do this in batches.
3. Add the chopped onion to the hot grease and cook until golden brown, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as you go. Add a touch more bacon grease if the pan starts to dry out. When the onions are soft and brown, add the bell pepper and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more.
4. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the seasoned flour from coating the veal over the vegetables and stir until no flour is visible. Add the tomatoes and their juice and the beef broth. Stir, scraping the browned bits up from the bottom of the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
5. Nestle the veal pieces into the sauce, cover the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. If you would like a slightly thicker sauce, uncover the pan, raise the heat and bubble for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened.
For the grits:
1. Season the chicken stock with salt and pepper and bring to a boil in a deep pan with high sides. Pour the grits into the water and stir thoroughly. Cook, stirring frequently to keep the grits from sticking, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the grits are tender, but with a little bite. Be careful while you are stirring, grits spit, so stand back a ways.
2. Stir in the cubes of cream cheese until smooth and melted. Stir in the butter until melted. The grits can be kept covered for an hour or so, then slowly reheated over low, stirring in a little broth if needed.
Serve the grillades spooned over a mound of grits.