Guest Writer - Ariel Larson

This month, a look into Epicurean Club President Ariel Larson’s culinary adventure in southern cuisine:

“Being a born and raised Las Vegan, I was in for an adventure this summer as I drove halfway across the country in order to complete my internship requirement at UNLV. I left in June, driving through four states to end up in Biloxi, Mississippi—a place I’d never heard of before my internship—covered in green foliage and bustling with life along the beachfront properties.

Down in the South, there is a culture accompanied by food that I had never experienced before. This town doesn’t focus on the newest trendiest ideas that I am so used to seeing highlighted in every property on the Strip. In the South, it’s all about how mama or gran-mama used to make it. As the recipes are passed down to the new generation, the recipe is a memory—felt, loved, cherished—and it’s not just about the ingredients; it’s all about family.

On my first adventure with my roommates—both of whom have never been in the South—we all decided to try something new: Crawfish! We figured we couldn’t go wrong with a small outdoor place called The Crawfish House. Sitting down to eat, we explained to the waitress that we were newbies to the process. She chuckled, grabbed a pound of crawfish on a platter and some napkins, then sat down with us at our table. In true Southern hospitality fashion, she explained how to pull the head off and suck all of the juices from the head where all the best flavor was, she said. I dared to try it and was delighted with the taste of the mildly spicy flavors that touched my tongue. She then led us step by step in pulling off the legs and shell to get to the meat within the small tails. Since that first try at opening crawfish, I had progressively become better at opening crawfish, but still love the experience of getting your hands messy with a bunch of friends around a table. Crawfish isn’t the only seafood that is important in the South; shrimp, catfish, mahi, and especially oysters in Biloxi are a huge part of the culture. The Biloxi minor league baseball team is even called the Shuckers. Oysters appear on almost every single menu in the south and everyone puts different toppings on them and prepares them differently whether its grilled, deep-fried, baked, or sautéed. At a bar within the property that I work, there are four oysters: one topped with garlic butter, another with chorizo, a bacon and pickled onion deep fried oyster, and the specialty Boudin oyster. Boudin, I learned, is traditionally a pork and rice sausage that is very popular and common in the South Mississippi and can typically be found at every restaurant in some form. Another specialty to the South is Barbeque! Everyone has their way of doing it and it’s never fast. Slow and low is the way to go! Ribs, brisket, entire pigs, chickens, alligator—they are all smoked for hours after being marinated in beer or a special mixture of spices that is dry-rubbed onto the flesh. It is not uncommon for all parts including the ears and hooves of a pig to be eaten in the South, not allowing any waste. In the South, there is no such thing as one type of Barbeque sauce, there are hundreds of variations including vinegar based, ketchup based, bourbon based, and countless more, each with its own niche.

As a special treat, all of the interns were treated to a dinner at an authentic Italian restaurant run by a woman from Florence, Italy who has brought all of her family’s recipes with her to the coast of Mississippi to share with the guests. During the dinner we were served heirloom tomato bruschetta with a balsamic reduction, a wild mushroom flatbread, mussels in homemade Italian gravy and an antipasti platter with marinated olives, fresh parmesan, and prosciutto made onsite. And this was just the appetizer round! Dinner included seared scallops, the most tender veal cheeks, beef tenderloin cooked to perfection and a chicken picatta. Dessert featured a sorbet trio blood orange, strawberry, and mango, tiramisu, and a ricotta cheesecake.

My adventure in Biloxi, Mississippi has not ended here and I will continue to experience all the food and Southern hospitality that this town has to offer before I return home at the end of the summer, bringing this experience back to share with the UNLV Epicurean Club.”

Next month is our last summer article before a return to campus and a return to regular Epicurean meetings. So look forward to Meghan Schoener and her voyage working on a cruise ship. Until then, take a day on one of your days off and visit a cultural market. Find something you don’t recognize but looks good. Pick it up and make a dish with it. You never know, you just might love it. Either way you’ll learn something.