Just a few short weeks ago I was basking under the moss covered oaks on the McIlhenny’s private land of Avery Island, LA. While taking in the enchantment of the island, a spicy haze wafted from the boiling, galvanized pots of seafood bubbling away, christening our first night with the Tabasco family.As we took our seats at the table that evening, white trays filled to the brim with local Louisiana crabs, shrimp, and Andouille sausage were presented to each guest. Tony Simmons, CEO of Tabasco, educated the table on how to properly shell crab, while Nelson, one of the fabulous cooks on the island, secretly and graciously shelled mine. Dinner ended with chicory coffee and the most decadent pecan praline bread pudding to date.The next day, we returned from an in-depth tour of the Tabasco plant to the Marsh House and Chef Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s in New Orleans prepared a cooking demonstration of gumbo des herbes. With the nutty aroma of roux filling every nook and cranny of the kitchen, I knew the dinner to follow would be immaculate. As an afternoon treat, the group was guided to the bayou where we were escorted around by an adorable airboat, which was the perfect way to relish in the beauty of the Louisiana landscape.Dinner was breathtaking. gumbo des herbes with a deviled quail egg was presented as the first course, paired with Tabasco Chipotle and Original pepper sauces, followed by the sweet and spicy duck with pickled vegetables and crispy puffed rice. Sautéed red snapper with corn, Brussels sprouts, chanterelles and a spicy beurre blanc was the third course trailed by a grilled hangar steak with marinated tomatoes, cucumbers and a chimichurri sauce. Last but not least, dinner was tastefully topped off with a chocolate pot de crème with spicy peanuts and a Chantilly cream. Gracefully and happily I waddled upstairs to bed, only to be awoken by the smoky aroma of bacon, which gently crept up the top of the staircase of the historic Marsh House.Stanley, another remarkable cook on the island, was at the helm of the stove scrambling eggs and serving his handmade fried pies delicately laced with a snowfall of powdered sugar. Cajun classics like fresh fig preserves, Steen’s Cane Syrup for the pain perdu and chicory coffee lined the breakfast table. Our daily gathering at the breakfast table brought the group even closer together as we sipped on our coffees and devoured our sugar laden fried pies.
Later that day, the entire group did a Tabasco Tasting with Charlie Cheng, the senior manager of research and development and shared cocktails made by Kirk Estopinal of Cure and Bellocq in New Orleans. After one last dinner together, we parted ways the next morning after boudin and cracklings at Legnon Boucherie.As I unpacked my bags the next day, the faint smell of Tabasco pepper sauce and boudin wafted from my gauzy tops, and I began realizing how the trip went beyond anything I could have imagined. I was not only brought in to be apart of the process of making Tabasco, but I was a guest in their home. I was honored to be a part of their lives, if only for a few short, glorious days. They inspired me, taught me about their culture and their way of life as a friend. It’s no wonder why the McIlhenny brand is so prosperous; their hearts are warm, their passion is ardent, and their intentions are pure. That’s exactly what goes in every single bottle of Tabasco. It’s a piece of their family they share with the world. I will always have a bottle of Tabasco on my table, as a token and remembrance of my time on dear old Avery Island.Recipe: Adapted from Stanley Dry of Avery Island, LA
Makes 12 Fried Pies
Note: You can use any filling you like for these fried pieces, but Stanley’s favorite is apricot! For the apricot filling, just add 6 ounces of chopped dried apricots to 1 cup of boiling water. Cook the apricots for 5-10 minutes, or until almost all of the water has evaporated and the apricots have plumped up. Take off the heat and sweeten to taste with local honey and a spritz of lemon juice. Set aside and chill.
2 cups of White Lily Self-Rising flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
3 tablespoons of butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons of lard or shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk
Apricot filling (see note)
All-purpose flour for rolling dough
Clarified butter, for frying
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Line 1 sheet pan with paper towels and another sheet pan with parchment paper dusted with flour and set aside.
Combine self-rising flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add cold butter and lard/shortening and cut into the flour using either a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add milk and combine quickly with a spatula.
Sprinkle your surface with a generous amount of all-purpose flour. Turn dough onto the floured surface and knead a few times with floured hands. Roll out to a thickness of ¼ -inch, sprinkling dough with additional flour, as needed, to prevent sticking. Using a floured 4-inch biscuit cutter, glass or can, cut 12 rounds of dough. Place rounds on the sheet pan dusted with flour.
Using a teaspoon, place a small mound of filling in the center of each round. Moisten the bottom edge of the dough with water, fold over to make a half-moon shape and crimp to seal the edges with your fingers.
Place a nonstick skillet on medium to medium-high heat. Pour ¼-inch of clarified butter in the pan. When the fat begins to sizzle, place the filled hand pies in the butter and cook until golden brown. Flip and brown on the other side. Place the fried hand pies on sheet pan fitted with paper towels to drain. Pile the pies on a platter and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Enjoy!