Wednesday, December 3, 2014

THE ESSENTIAL LOUISIANA COOKBOOK

Although New Orleans, Louisiana touts its chefs and cuisine as unparalleled in the United States, in the more provincial parishes of Louisiana known as Acadiana where every meal is a celebration, good cooks and cuisine equally abound. "The Berry" (New Iberia) and St. Martinville have their own culinary notables, and Saturday morning, two of these notables, Stanley Dry of New Iberia and Marcelle Bienvenue were in Books Along the Teche bookstore greeting customers. Bienvenue, author of the famed Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make A Roux? who now teaches Culinary Arts at Nicholls State University, made a brief visit inside the store while Dry sat at a table on the sidewalk in front of the shop, hawking his new book, The Essential Louisiana Cookbook.

Dry writes the column "Kitchen Gourmet" in Louisiana Life magazine and was former senior editor of Food & Wine magazine before he became a Louisiana transplant who tasted bayou water and ended up becoming a citizen of Teche country. His new cookbook is a handsome volume with photographs by New Orleanian Eugenia Uhl whose work has appeared in Commander's Cookbook for Commander Palace and New Orleans Cooking.

The Essential Louisiana Cookbook features traditional favorites like Chicken and Sausage File Gumbo, Shrimp and Okra Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee, Shrimp Sauce Piquante, Red Beans and Rice and other recipes a la Dry, as well as those for non-traditional dishes such as Mushrooms Stuffed with Boudin, Blueberry Clafouti and Satsuma Sorbet—rich culinary dishes that showcase Dry's talents as a food editor and consummate cook.

As Dry writes in the "Author's Note," no single dish in this collection exemplifies the complexities of Louisiana cooking since it is a mixture of influences and ingredients from French, Spanish, African, Native American, Caribbean and German cultures. However, foremost among the favorite recipes for any Louisiana table are those that feature gumbos. Dry comments on the history of this famous dish with the caveat that "trying to sort out the origins and evolution of the dish is highly speculative..." He includes a note about one of the earliest recorded references to gumbo in the memoirs of Pierre Clement de Laussat, French colonial prefect and commissioner for Louisiana, who hosted a Louisiana ball that lasted all night and featured 24 gumbos, eight of which were sea turtle dishes!

Dry knows his food as he has worked in the restaurant and food business for years, including a stint as a cook. While we visited with Dry, he and his friend Alice Burke discussed the merits of the gumbo she had made for her children's Thanksgiving dinner (an essential south Louisiana dish for Thanksgiving tables) which included both duck and oysters, two ingredients Dry mentions in the "Author's Note" that are often combined "from both land and sea." He adds that some cooks include hard-boiled eggs in sausage gumbos and others add quail eggs to versions of this tasty dish.

For the breakfast bunch, a section on Louisiana breakfasts and brunches includes a recipe for sweet potato biscuits that should please the palate of gluten-free enthusiasts, along with a dish that Dry says is associated with the Carolina low country, one that uses genuine stone ground grits as an ingredient —Shrimp and Grits. This delicious recipe is followed by another one for seafood and grits, with the note that grits are "no longer reserved for just the breakfast table."


Dry doesn't neglect the famous jambalaya and crawfish pie recipes that have found their way into story and song, or his version of bread pudding, Coconut Bread Pudding With Meringue & Custard Sauce. And if you've worked up an appetite for south Louisiana cuisine after reading this review, drop in at Books Along the Teche, in New Iberia, Louisiana, where signed copies of The Essential Louisiana Cookbook are available. Bon appetit, and Bravo Stanley Dry for this volume that reflects your most creative culinary abilities!
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