Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Brennan's guide to New Orleans seafood

Walk around the French Quarter in New Orleans, and it’s impossible not to note the name Brennan and its meaning to the city’s restaurant culture. There’s the Red Fish Grill, moderately priced and approachable. Dickie Brennan has a steakhouse, and BACCO and Ralph’s on the Park have become standards. Anchoring them all is the classically pink Brennan’s – the original concept on Royal.

With this history comes Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook (Vissi d’Arte Books; April 2008; hardcover/$45.00).

There are classics of Louisiana brought about by this third-generation Brennan: Seafood gumbo, a shrimp remoulade, trout Amandine, Crawfish Ravioli and crabmeat lasagna.

“In New Orleans, cuisine is a great leveler— home cooks can be just as passionate about our food culture as the high-profile chefs in a fine-dining establishment,” says Brennan. “We created this book to demystify seafood and provide everyone the opportunity to create unique New Orleans seafood recipes at home.”

The recipes are enhanced by “A Seafood Cook’s Manual,” a guide to Gulf seafood covering everything from finfish, crabs, crawfish, shrimp, oysters, frog legs and ’gator. There are tips and advice, and illustrated step-by-step instructions, on handling, storing, and preparing raw seafood. A complete list of premier local and national vendors of seafood, spices, condiments, and cocktails is included to provide home chefs with the key ingredients needed to create the authentic flavors and tastes of New Orleans.

Top it off with classic NOLA desserts: Creole Cream Cheese Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce & Roasted Pecans; Chocolate Bread Pudding with Two Chocolate Sauces & Almond Bark; Lemon Icebox Pie; Fluffy Sweet-Potato Pie; Creole Red Velvet Roulade with Café-Brûlot Crème Anglaise

“New Orleans has a unique culture of food, music, and history, plus a joie de vivre not found anywhere else in the U.S.,” Brennan explains. “Our cuisine generates a passion and a bond shared by just about everyone whether it’s in the eating or the cooking. I put this cookbook together in order to bring this passion to kitchens everywhere.”

Grilled Redfish “on the Half-Shell” with Maître d’Hôtel Butter

The title of this recipe comes from the cooking method, which calls for grilling only on one side, with the scales and skin side down. The benefits are increased succulence and flavor. Baking or broiling does not achieve the same results, since the heat source must come from the bottom. Hickory chips will impart sweetness, although mesquite and other woods suitable for grilling can be substituted. Soaking the hickory will increase the smoky flavor.

For 6 servings

Advance Step: Prepare the recipe for mâitre d’hôtel butter (below)

Special Equipment
• An outdoor grill
• Hickory (or your favorite) wood chips
• A broad, large, and sturdy spatula
• A heat-proof platter, if grilling the fillets in batches

For the fish
Salad oil (not olive oil) for brushing onto the grill rack and fish fillets
6 redfish fillets with skin and scales still attached on one side, each 6 to 8 ounces, neatly trimmed, including removing the “belly” if still attached
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
A few tablespoons of dry white wine, if grilling in batches
1 recipe mâitre d’hôtel butter (below)

Clean the grill rack with a wire brush and preheat it until it is hot. Then add wet or dry hickory or other wood chips. Brush the rack with a thick wad of paper towels saturated in salad oil, holding the paper towels with long-handled tongs so you don’t burn yourself.

Place the fillets skin down on a work surface. Make sure the skinless sides are free of any loose scales. Brush the skinless sides with salad oil, and season each fillet evenly on the skinless side with 1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning.

Once the grill is ready, place the fillets directly on it, skin side down, and cook until they are done, about five to eight minutes. The cooking time will vary according to the heat of the grill and the thickness of the fillets. (Watch closely so the fish does not overcook.) Do not turn over the fillets. Use a broad, large and sturdy spatula to lift each fillet from the grill at least once while cooking so it doesn’t stick excessively. To test for doneness, insert the tip of a knife into the thickest part of a fillet to separate the flesh a little to assess if it’s cooked all the way through.

If cooking the fillets in batches, transfer the cooked fillets, skin side down, to a heat-proof platter placed in a warm spot, and drizzle the fillets with white wine to keep them moist while grilling the remaining fish.

Serving Suggestion
Once all the fillets are cooked, serve immediately, skin side down on heated dinner plates. Top the fillets with rounds of mâitre d’hôtel butter, using a total of 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter for each serving.

Maître d’hôtel butter
In its classic French version, beurre maître d’hôtel contains simply butter, chopped parsley and lemon juice. But many New Orleans cooks like to add a few personal touches, such as garlic, thyme, shallots and even Herbsaint, the anisette liqueur that originated in the city.

Compound butters can provide a delightful finishing touch to an almost limitless number of dishes, especially grilled fish and poultry, and meats cooked in various ways. They also come in handy for finishing simple sauces and whenever you want to add a little extra flair to vegetables and starches.

Maître d’hôtel butter, like all compound butters, can be shaped into a log and rolled in parchment paper and plastic for storage in the refrigerator or freezer. When needed, it is sliced as you would slice a log of cookie dough.
For about 9 tablespoons

1/4 pound unsalted butter, left at room temperature until very soft
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons minced Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients together in a medium-size mixing bowl, whisking until well blended.