Monday, November 21, 2016

THE ESSENTIAL LOUISIANA SEAFOOD COOKBOOK

Saturday, the wind blew in from the north, bringing winter to south Louisiana. I imagined Cajun cooks taking out their black iron pots and thawing shrimp that had been stored in freezers. Gumbo weather, I thought. I dressed and went downtown where the wind had begun to carry the scent of tapas and paella. The annual Spanish Festival in New Iberia had cranked up, and the door to Books Along the Teche was wide open, beckoning food lovers to a signing of The Essential Louisiana Seafood Cookbook by Stanley Dry, master chef of gumbos, étouffées, jambalayas, and courtbouillion. The wintry day seemed to be an ideal time for him to be presenting his newest book for those Louisiana cooks who were dusting off their gumbo pots. 

Dry, a cherished friend who authors a column entitled "Kitchen Gourmet" for Louisiana Life magazine, was a former senior editor for Food & Wine magazine. He authored The Essential Louisiana Cookbook several years ago, and it’s now in its second printing.  A talented chef and writer, his.articles about food, wine, and restaurants have been published in Food & Wine, Travel and Leisure, The New York Times and Boston Magazine, as well as in our regional periodical, Acadiana Profile

Dry’s "Author’s Notes" to his cookbooks reflect his interest in the history of food (he majored in History at ULL in Lafayette, Louisiana) and are tantalizing introductions to equally-tantalizing recipes that range from "Artichoke Hearts, Green Peas & Lump Crabmeat Salad" to "Crawfish Omelet with Penne & Green Peas" and contain ingredients that include fresh, local, and seasonal foods from the waterways and gardens of Acadiana. He offers Louisiana cooks traditional seafood recipes, along with innovative dishes that he tested for two years prior to the publication of The Essential Louisiana Seafood Cookbook.

Recipes in this book were originally published in Louisiana Life magazine, and Dry comments that "all the variations in recipes are…indicative of the free form, improvisational nature of Louisiana cooking. Certainly there are parallels between our food and music. Our food evolved from the hands and minds of cooks, not from books, just as jazz, as well as Cajun and Zydeco music, evolved from the creativity of musicians, not from sheet music. And all of them are still evolving…"

An interesting fact for lovers of crawfish reported by historian Carl A. Brasseaux in the "Author’s Notes:" Crawfish didn’t highlight the Cajuns’ diets early on. Even in the early 20th century, Cajuns only ate crawfish during Lent when they boiled the "mudbugs." Dry reports that 1959 was a banner year for the crustaceans —the year that Breaux Bridge became the "Crawfish Capital of the World," and the Louisiana Legislature began providing funds for research about crawfish farming. Dry says that today "crawfish are found in a dizzying variety of preparations." One of our master chef's  recipes for the mudbug highlights Quinoa, a notable grain on the shelves of natural food stores of the 21st century. The recipe includes crawfish and avocado and is featured in the "Salads and Appetizers" section of 
The Essential Louisiana Seafood Cookbook.

For those who have dusted off their gumbo pots, Dry touts the "Duck, Andouille & Oyster Gumbo" recipe as "fit for a holiday table," and he utilizes south Louisiana ingredients, as well as dried shiitake mushrooms and thyme leaves, to produce a dish that he warns cooks will take time to prepare and involves a number of steps but is worth the effort.

Perhaps next year the Spanish Festival will feature Dry’s "Crawfish Tacos" a recipe that calls for fresh tomatillos, corn tortillas, avocado, and the ubiquitous crustacean. The dish is included in the "Lagniappe" section of The Essential Louisiana Seafood Cookbook and is a more contemporary, international conclusion to the celebration of food in this cookbook.

Although I quickly purchased the book, I can only enjoy the recipes vicariously, for, alas, I am allergic to all shellfish, beginning with adverse reactions to our delicious fare from the waterways when I was in my fifties. However, I can appreciate this consummate chef’s offerings that are enhanced by the wonderful photographs of Eugenia Uhl, a native New Orleanian whose work has been featured in New Orleans Magazine, Southern Accents, Food & WineTravel and Leisure, and other magazines. She has also done work for Brennan’s, Galatoire’s, and Tulane University, along with photography for Commander’s Kitchen and New Orleans Home Cooking.


Congratulations Stan and Eugenia, and bon appetit south Louisiana!  


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