Sunday, June 15, 2008

Grilling & Chilling at the Red Fish Grill

New Orleans is notorious for sweltering summers, so to beat the heat, Ralph Brennan’s casual seafood restaurant Red Fish Grill invites you to relax and enjoy their $25 Grilling & Chilling menu (excluding tax and gratuity).

The limited-edition special, which runs through the end of August, gives diners a three-course meal of tasty appetizers, fresh seafood and refreshing desserts.

“New Orleans is a city celebrated for our gastronomic gatherings,” Ralph Brennan, owner and operator of Red Fish Grill said. “In this spirit, Red Fish Grill is encouraging locals and visitors alike to visit the French Quarter and enjoy the benefits of grilling, while avoiding the heat and hassle of cleaning up the kitchen.”

Red Fish Grill retaining a focus on fresh, regional cuisine, the Grilling & Chilling menu features an assortment of local seafood specialties. The restaurant kitchen’s wood-burning grill results in enhanced flavor.

“Some of our most popular menu items are grilled dishes and this menu features a great blend of grilled items and local favorites,” said Red Fish Grill Executive Chef Gregg Collier. “Redfish, Gulf shrimp, P&J oysters—as you can see it’s our job to keep the menu hot and the customers cool.”

The limited-edition menu is available by request upon seating with advance reservation through June, July and August.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Crab and Shrimp Cobb Salad Tested

We recieve many compliments about Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, but this review was too good not to share. This book works for everyone, even the most novice cooks as Tippins' recipe test reveals...

"As a college student and definitely not a professional chef I try to find recipes that are easy but delicious. I am helping my mom cook dinner this summer and am trying to find a recipe that appeals to my health-conscious parents and my hungry, football-playing younger brother.

Last night for dinner I decided to make the Crab and Shrimp Cobb Salad with Remoulade Sauce from Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook. It looked delicious and healthy but the several pages of instructions seemed like a daunting undertaking. However, I was determined to create this dish and impress my family.

After reading all the steps and beginning my preparation I realized that the three pages of instruction were not because the recipe was difficult but instead were detailed steps to instill confidence in the chef that they were preparing the dish correctly. The oohs and aahhs from my family as I brought out the salad encouraged me to try more recipes from the Cookbook and my mom was so impressed she started taking pictures of the salad.

The Crab and Shrimp Cobb Salad was such a hit that I know I will look in the Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook for another recipe. In fact, I have already scoped out the crabmeat lasagna with crab-&-chanterelle butter sauce for the next time my mom needs help with dinner. "

- Submitted by Tippins June 10, 2008

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ciao Down Before Sundown!

Bacco is offering a special three-course tasting menu of customer favorites for $25 through August 31. The Ciao Down Before Sundown! menu will be featured nightly between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Known for redefining Italian cooking in New Orleans, Bacco has won over many a guest with its use of local and regional ingredients prepared using traditional Italian cooking methods.

“Bacco has always been focused on serving the freshest and finest ingredients,” Owner and Operator Ralph Brennan, said. “The result of combining the best of Creole and Italian cooking has spurred rave reviews of Bacco’s popular culinary creations, many of which are featured in the Ciao Down Before Sundown! menu.”

The menu offers guests a selection of prized customer favorites for each course, including Bacco’s signature Lobster Ravioli which Zagat guide said “will send you to heaven”.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gambit's "Growing Up Brennan"

Ian McNulty of Gambit continued his review of the cookbook in a blog post that not only shares his thoughts on the cookbook, but also shares some of Ralph's childhood memories.

"Though it was published in the elegant format of a coffee table book, this weighty volume is clearly intended to be used in the kitchen where its thorough advice on seafood selection, handling and preparation will be invaluable to those who weren’t necessarily brought up shucking oysters and catching redfish." - Ian McNulty

Growing up in the Midwest, I fished, but never had the opportunity to shuck an oyster so this is all new information to me. However, McNulty's reference to the books format did bring back some childhood memories. My mother had a stack of Southern photography coffee-table books in our living room. I used to spend hours looking through those books and dreaming about what it would be like to grow up in the South. Just the thought of climbing in the ancient Oak trees was enough to make me consider moving.

If you're going to be a child in the South it has to be pretty spectacular grow up in a culinary family. I think Ian is of the same mind, as he asked Ralph to share some childhood memories. What future foodie wouldn't want to grow up taking day trips with Ella and Adelaide Brennan?

These outings still seem to have an impact on Ralph. Many of his favorite desserts have familial ties and are adult takes on classic childhood sweets. While I sometimes still dream about growing up in the South, somehow I believe that tasting these treats is the next best thing.

Read Ian McNulty's full post on

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tie-Dye Traveler Reviews Red Fish Grill

Double Chocolate Bread Pudding Named 'Best in the Quarter'

I wrote before last week's New Orleans Food & Wine Experience that anytime is a good time to visit New Orleans for great food.

Reviewing travel and food blog year-round posts about New Orleans cuisine is proof that the cities culinary genius isn't seasonal.

It's my job to bring media into the restaurants to review the food. Since I am pretty impatient it can be hard waiting for reviews to print, but when you get a good one it's definately worth the wait.

That said, I love to come across bloggers unsolicited comments about the restaurants. It's always a treat to here a new perspective on the food, service and such. A great review validates our excitement about the restaurants and the service provided.

Recently Kat Robinson, writer for Tie-Dye Travels posted about her trip to New Orleans. She focused on nine great places to visit in the city and included Red Fish Grill in her list. Read Kat's post to see which eight other locations made the list. Take a minute to enjoy a typical Red Fish Grill meal with her... but save room for dessert!

"You’re doing yourself an injustice if you don’t save room for the Quarter’s best bread pudding -- the Double Chocolate Bread Pudding." - Kat Robinson

Bread pudding is a New Orleans classic dessert, so Ralph Brennan included two versions of this dessert in the cookbook. You can make Ralph Brennan's Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce (pg. 277) or Chocolate Bread Pudding with Two Chocolate Sauces & Almond Bark (pg. 280) at home. I promise you will be pleased with both.

Photos: Red Fish Grill sign and Double Chocolate Bread Pudding from Tie-Dye Traveler

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Orleans Wine and Food Experience

At any given time of the year New Orleans is a fantastic place to enjoy great food and wine. That said, one of best times for foodies to flock to the Crescent City is just around the corner. The New Orleans Food and Wine Experience (NOWFE) is celebrating 17 years as one of the South's premier food events.

Suprisingly, this year will be my first year attending the event. However, as I've asked around and realize that I am not alone in this position. Many locals are too busy manning their own restaurants to make it to the official events. Sometimes it's tough to be a host.

However, Ralph and team are regulars and will be amoung the 75 Chefs, 175 wineries and 1,000 wines participating in the five-day event. Running from May 20 - 24th NOWFE brings in more than a half-million dollars to regional charitable organizations.

John DeMers of Delicious Mischief is a regular at the event and gives a great overview of the event on his blog and shares his perspective on NOWFE Ralph's cookbook.

"Each year, it seems, produces at least one dazzling new cookbook devoted to New Orleans cuisine. At this year’s edition of NOWFE, Ralph Brennan’s brand-new seafood magnum opus is expected to be all the buzz."

Thanks for the kind words John, and hope to see catch you at this year's NOWFE.

For those interested in attending event tickets are still available.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Super Chef Selects Cookbook

Super Chef is an online magazine that follows the careers, empires, trends, media, and brands of super chefs in America and abroad. So we were happy to see a review of the cookbook posted on the site.

Acclaimed writer Juliette Rossant, who has interviewed and profiled some of the most renound chefs of our time, reviewed the cookbook and answers the question, "How much influence does a restaurateur have on a restaurant's cuisine if he/she is not the executive chef?"

While Ralph isn't officially a chef, his staff have given him the title "Taster in Chief". And taste is what counts, right?


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cooking, New Orleans Style!

Recently added a new online cooking show to beef up their culinary content. "Cooking, New Orleans Style!" takes viewers inside some of the most exclusive kitchens in the Crescent City and provides a real view of restaurants behind the scenes. Several of the Ralph Brennan restaurant chefs and even Ralph himself have been featured on the show.

The show offers a great opportunity for home cooks to see how Ralph Brennan's chefs really prepare the recipes from the cookbook in their own kitchens. Three of the cookbook recipes have already been featured, although Bacco's barbeque shrimp is the Italian twist on the cookbook's traditional recipe.

Check out these videos to see the chefs behind the cookbook.

Baked Oysters Ralph- with Ralph Brennan and Chef Haley Bittermann

Grilled Redfish and Crabmeat with Lemon Butter Sauce- with Chef Gregg Collier of Red Fish Grill

Barbeque Shrimp- with Chef Chris Montero of Bacco

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Food Writer's Fish Tale

In setting out to create 'the definitive guide to New Orleans seafood' the most anticipated reviews were those from the local community. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook isn't a restaurant cookbook, it's a book to define the cooking of New Orleans most valuable culinary asset- our local seafood.

New Orleanians may have a laid-back attitude a la Laissez ke bon temps rouler, but we take our food very seriously. New Orleans has a competitve and challenging culinary community, which may be why the book took nearly a decade to finish from concept to printing.

Interested to see what local food critic Ian McNulty thought about the cookbook? Did Ralph Brennan achieve his goal to create 'the definitive guide to New Orleans seafood'?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Refreshing Pimm's Cup for a Hot Summer Day

An English import, the Pimm's Cup has been adopted by New Orleanians as ". . . the perfect quaff on a hot summer's day," according to the introduction to the drink in Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook on page 402. While controversy exists over the date of the drink's creation (ranging from 1821 to the 1840s -- Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook states 1823), it's agreed that the drink's creator was one James Pimm.

According to Wikipedia, James Pimm of Kent, England, came to the city of London in 1823 and bought an oyster bar near the Bank of England. Within ten years, Pimm had five oyster bars to his name catering to the financial elite.

Pimm's beverage was initially offered as a tonic specially designed to accompany the oysters. It was a gin-based beverage with quinine and herbs and served in a small tankard called a No. 1 Cup and intended to be an aid to digestion. The liquor concoction eventually became known as Pimm's Cup No. 1.

The recipe of Pimm's Cup No. 1 is a closely guarded secret. Only six people know the recipe according to The drink is embraced by the upper class of Southern England, being only one of two drinks offered at Henley Royal Regatta and the Glyndebourne opera festival (the other being champagne) as well as being the drink of choice for Wimbledon.

The drink entered the commercial market in 1859 with Pimm selling the business and the use of his name to Frederick Sawyer in 1865. In 1880, future London mayor, Horatio Davies, bought the business with a franchise of Pimm's Oyster House following in 1887. Pimm's No. 1 sold briskly to be joined by other Pimm's concoctions. Pimm's No. 2 (whiskey-based) and Pimm's No. 3 (brandy-based) were introduced in 1851 with Pimm's 4-6 created in the wake of WWII. Only Pimm's No. 1 is still regularly produced with Pimm's No. 6 (vodka-based) only occasionally produced and a version of Pimm's No. 3 called Pimm's Winter Cup produced during the holiday season since 2005. The others were phased out in the 1970s and 1980s.

Pableaux Johnson of describes a well-made Pimm's Cup:
"In the tongue, it's simultaneously fresh and light; spicy and tart. A slight, citrusy acidity complements sweetness from lemon-lime soda or lemonade (barkeep's choice) as the cucumber provides clean, vegetal flavors and a satisfying crunch for the salad-deprived."
Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook uses sour mix and ginger ale to create the Pimm's Cup's signature bubbly citrus taste.

Wikipedia: "James Pimm" 10/08/07
Wikipedia: "Pimm's" 03/29/08
" "Pimm's Cup" "In the Cups: Pimm's Cup"
photo courtesy of mooganic, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Prepare a Tureen of Turtle Soup Tonite

Turtle Soup is not a dish one sees everyday. Difficult to find outside the New Orleans and Louisiana Coast, most know the dish, potage a la tortue, from the 1988 movie Babette's Feast. In Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, a recipe for Turtle Soup can be found on page 136.

While supplies of fresh water turtles, the only kind lawfully sold as food, are abundant in the New Orleans area to make Turtle Soup, in other parts of the country, the dish is illegal. According to Wikipedia, many turtle species are listed as "threatened" or "endangered" and their hunting and capture is illegal. The loss of an adult turtle can seriously harm populations of the amphibian as breeding adults are difficult to replace. Fortunately for those who don't live in New Orleans, turtle meat can be bought from specialty markets or by mail order. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook has a four-page section that focuses on hard-to-find ingredients ranging from durum flour to seafood starting on page 424. Ordering the meat also solves the problem of dressing a live, snapping turtle.

Soups have a long history. In a piece by Andrew F. Smith at, he states that boiling foods gained steam when reliable water- and heat-proof containers were developed around 3,000 BCE. Boiling was a huge innovation in cooking technique. Boiling cooked a submersed food completely and evenly unlike open air fires where our ancestors had to regularly turn their food in order to cook it. Also, previously discarded animal parts like the bones suddenly became edible, with boiling techniques able to extract the nutritional value of the discards, making broths.

In 1794, Jean Baptiste Gilbert Payplat dis Julien opened a restaurant in Boston that specialized in soups. Nicknamed "The Prince of Soups," gourmands of the era flocked to Julien's establishment including French foodie Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a politician and gastronome who visited American during the height of the French Revolution. While Julien created Julien Soup, his specialty was the making of Turtle Soup.

Turtle soup entered the American mainstream at the very top. The dish had become popular with the upper classes. With turtle so expensive to import, only the wealthiest could afford real Turtle Soup. Over time, a mock turtle soup was developed that used veal that could be enjoyed by the middle class. Janet Clarkson of states that the soup was a regular item on the menu of the Lord Mayors banquet in London while The Old Foodie recounts that turtle soup was part of the menu for the Corporation of the City of London's banquet for the Allied Sovereigns: the English Prince Regent and future King George IV, Tsar Alexander I of Russia and the King of Prussia,Friedrich Wilhelm III. President Taft so loved the dish that he brought a special chef with him to the White House in order to make it.

The dish was so popular that writer Lewis Carroll praised it in his book, Alice in Wonderland. Gui Alinat of uses the verse to open his article about Turtle Soup:

"Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?"
In "A Seafood Cook's Companion" on page 44, Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook discusses the possible scarcity of finding turtle and suggests that some home cooks rely on oxtail or veal as substitutes.

Wikipedia: "Turtle Soup" 04/01/08 "History of Soup"
Kitchen Project: "Turtle Soup and Mock Turtle Soup" 03/01
The Old Foodie: "Turtle Season" 06/18/07 "Home Cooks, Please Don't Mock Turtle Soup" 04/27/05

photo courtesy of qmnonic, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cobb Salad: A California Import Given a Creole Twist

Cobb Salad was created at the Brown Derby by the manager Bob Cole. On page 153 of Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook is Crab and Shrimp Cobb Salad with Remoulade Sauce. Unlike the traditional Cobb salad that is dressed with chicken and cheese and a special Cobb salad dressing, Ralph Brennan's offering is presented with shrimp, crab and a corn relish with remoulade sauce.

Salad has had a roller-coaster ride throughout culinary history, at some points a desirable and practical dish and at others a suspicious and even potentially dangerous one. Lynn Olver's Food Timeline records that the ancient Greeks and Romans would dine on raw vegetables with a dressing of oil, vinegar and herbs. Greek physicians Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460 BCE-c. 370 BCE) and Galen of Pergamon (c. 129 CE-c. 210 CE) both recommended a diet of fresh vegetables as it was easy to digest. Further they recommended that salad should be the first course of a meal because salad wouldn't create obstructions for the latter courses. Foodies of the era argued that salad should be the last course as the vinegar dressing conflicted with the taste of wine.

Salad is a corruption of a vulgar Roman phrase herba salata meaning "salted herb." The dish fell into decline after the fall of Rome, though western Europeans continued dining on raw vegetables on fast days or for medical purposes. The Byzantine Empire continued the practice of salad and later reintroduced it to Medieval Europe via Italy and Spain, though vegetables would be picked or cooked.

During the Renaissance, the consumption of fresh vegetables simply was not done. It was feared that uncooked vegetables led to illness so vegetables were well-cooked, deriving the plant material of its nutrients. According to, Delmonico's Restaurant in New York began to offer salads to their high-end clients, making the dish a "wealthy" one in popular perception.

Arthur Schwartz of retells the story of the creation of the Cobb Salad as originally told by the Brown Derby itself:
"One night in 1937, Bob Cobb, then owner of The Brown Derby, prowled hungrily in his restaurant's kitchen for a snack. Opening the huge refrigerator, he pulled out this and that: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress, tomatoes, some cold breast of chicken, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese and some old-fashioned French dressing. He started chopping. Added some crisp bacon -- swiped from a busy chef. The Cobb salad was born."
And it has proved popular indeed. According to the Brown Derby Restaurant Group, more than four million of the salads have been sold since 1937.

While not labor intensive to prepare, Cobb salad can be time consuming in order to get the correct taste. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook advises preparing the lettuce three days in advance, the remoulade dressing two days in advance in order to permit the flavors to fully develop, and the remainder of the ingredients the day before serving.

The Food Timeline: "Salads" 03/22/08 "The Story of Salad's Success"
The Food Maven: "Original Cobb Salad"
photo courtesy of CP, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, May 2, 2008

Flaming Finish to a Fine Meal

After a fine meal of Pecan-Crusted Speckled Trout with Rum-Butter Sauce (pg. 204) followed with Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (pg. 287), what could be better than a well-prepared cup of coffee to accompany that dessert? Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook offers a Cafe Brulot Diabolique on page 408. This coffee offers the diner a dramatic finish when the clove-studded lemon and orange peels are set aflame. When preparing this recipe, it's stated that "Because the flames from the burning alcohol typically rise at least 2 to 3 feet, this recipe should not be prepared on a stove with a low hood, nor in a kitchen with a ceiling lower than 8 feet from the floor."

Ian McNulty at writes:
"It ends up tasting like very thick, sweet coffee with the deep citrus and clove flavors mellowing the sweetness. . . It is especially popular as a finale to a big holiday meal, such as the New Orleans reveillon feast. . . It is also one of the most memorable ways to cap off a glorious New Orleans meal."
Coffee has a long history beginning around 850 CE when a goatherd named Kaldi noticed how lively his goats became after eating berries coming from a certain shrub in Ethiopia, according to Cultivation of coffee trees dates to around 1100 CE on the Arabian Peninsula. Arabs making the beverage referred to it as "qahwa" meaning a beverage made from plants. The first cafe opened in Constantinople in 1475. English coffeehouses became the birth place of tipping the staff. In order to speed one's order or improve one's seating, a cup was prominently placed with an accompanying sign that said, "To Insure Prompt Service."

Surprisingly, Lloyd's of London was born of a coffeehouse. Edward Lloyd opened a coffeehouse in London on Tower Street in 1688. According to Wikipedia's history of Lloyd's, the coffeehouse was frequented by merchants, shipowners and sailors who would discuss insurance deals among themselves. Later members of the insurance arrangement formed a committee called The Society of Lloyd's and moved to the Royal Exchange in 1774.

The first coffee plants were brought over from Europe in 1723 by a French naval officer by the name of Gabriel de Clieu who smuggled a seedling that he planted on the island of Martinique. By 1777 it had become a major crop for Martinique, where it would have been easily transported to New Orleans.

The Louisiana State Museum states that New Orleans is the number one coffee port in the U. S with it's 241,000 tons coming from 31 countries. In 1995, coffee shipped from New Orleans accounted more than a quarter of all coffee imported to the United States. As a commodity, it's second only to oil and more than 400 billion cups are drunk annually.

Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook states that flaming coffees came via French cooks and waiters in the early 1800s. This is a recipe that produces 10 - 12 1/4-cup servings. According to the cookbook, "If you have a large kitchen, your guests can gather 'round to enjoy seeing you recreate the loveliest of all Creole dining rituals." "Light My Fire: The Spectacle and Tradition of Café Brûlot" 2006
KoffeeKorner: "Coffee History" 03/30/00
Wikipedia: "Lloyd's of London" 03/30/08
Louisiana State Museum: "New Orleans and Coffee" 2002
photo courtesy of Kaleid, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Sweet Potato Vs. The Yam

Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook isn't afraid of a little controversy. On page 305, the issue of the sweet potato as opposed to the yam is tackled in the introduction to the recipe "Fluffy Sweet-Potato Pie." While yams are common to Africa and South America, the sweet potato ". . . has been a staple of Southern pantries for generations."

At, the two plants are stacked in a side by side comparison of characteristics. The sweet potato had taken root during Neolithic times while the yam entered the scene at around 50,000 BC. Another major difference is in the health benefits each plant provides. While yams are very low in Vitamin A, the orange varieties of sweet potatoes are quite high. In fact, a 3 1/2 ounce serving of baked sweet potato has 8,800 IU of vitamin A with 141 calories, making the root an excellent choice for those watching their weight.

Peggy Trowbridge Filippone at notes that the sweet potato is grown in the Southern United States while yams are primarily cultivated in Africa, parts of Asia and the Caribbean. The first recorded instance of the word "yam" dates to 1676 and is a corruption of African words njam, nyami and djambi meaning "to eat." states that the sweet potato is native to the tropical parts of the Americas and became domesticated about 5,000 years ago. In 2007, Louisiana contributed 15.9% of the American crop of sweet potatoes, making it third in production behind North Carolina and California. Wiki also recounts this story:
The Frenchmen who established the first settlement at Opelousas in 1760 discovered the native Attakapas, Alabama, Choctaw, and Opelousas Indian Tribes eating sweet potatoes. The sweet potato became a favorite food item of the French and Spanish settlers and thus continued a long history of cultivation in Louisiana.
The Wikipedia entry for yams comments that the tuber can grow to lengths of 2.5 meters or over 8 feet in length. It began to see cultivation around 8,000 BCE in Africa and Asia. They are particularly valued for their storage in West Africa and New Guinea, up to six months without refrigeration, which is important during the annual food scarcity at the start of the rainy season. Surprisingly, yams of African origin cannot be eaten raw due to the natural substances in the tuber that can cause illness. As well, skin irritation from handling raw yams can occur, although a simple bath of cold water can relieve it.

The Library of Congress explains the confusion over terminology neatly:

In the United States, firm varieties of sweet potatoes were produced before soft varieties. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa. Thus, ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to distinguish them from the ‘firm’ varieties.

Whether a person calls it a yam or a sweet-potato, it makes for delicious food. Fluffy Sweet-Potato Pie is correctly identified as a "delicious comfort food" in Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook.

Plant Answers: "What is the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam?" "Sweet Potato and Yam Differences" 2008
Wikipedia: "Sweet Potato" 04/29/08
Wikipedia: "Yam (Vegetable)" 04/25/08
Library of Congress: "Question: What is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?" 03/01/07
photo courtesy of Carl E. Lewis, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pour the Original New Orleans Cocktail--The Sazerac

Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook includes everything New Orleans, including the city's most famous cocktails. Perhaps the oldest recipe among them is the Sazerac, a rye whiskey-based drink that is flavored with Peychaud's bitters and Herbsaint anisette liqueur on page 401.

Chuck Taggart of Gumbo Pages had this to say about the Sazerac experience:
This is an absolutely exquisite cocktail. As you sip it, you come across layer after layer of flavor -- the warmth and glowing burn of the rye, effused with the flavors of spice and honey, the bite of the bitters balanced with the sweetness of the sugar, with the subtle yet complex flavor of the anise underneath and the perfume of the lemon oil from the twist feel like a symphony inside your mouth. This is also a drink that warms up well, revealing even more flavors. Sip it very slowly. Savor it. Take your time with it.
In the 1830s, a Creole apothecary by the name of Antoine Amadie Peychaud came from the Caribbeans and set up his shop in the French Quarter. Using a family recipe, he created Peychaud bitters which he would dispense to his fellow citizens in a brandy-based beverage with a splash of water and some sugar. Many assume that the way the drink was served, in an egg cup called coquetier, led to the name cocktail, but Robert Hess of Spirit World in a post dated May 29, 2006, shoots down this theory, pointing out that the word "cocktail" had been in existence since at least 1803.

The drink quickly became a staple in the city's coffee houses (read: Bars). At Wikipedia, it's stated that in 1859, John Schiller opened the Sazerac Coffee House in the French Quarter. Schiller also had a sideline in the sales of a French cognac called Sazerac-de-forge et fils and he used this brandy with Peychaud's bitters. The drink eventually came to be known by the name of the coffee house where it was served.

The drink underwent a change in 1870. A gentleman by the name of Thomas Handy took over the Sazerac Coffee House. With changing tastes and a new difficulty in getting cognac, rye whiskey became the base of the drink. Handy formed the Sazerac Company as well, buying the Peychaud Family's bitters recipe along with the bar. An absinthe coating of the glass was introduced at this time as well, the final evolution of the drink we know today.

While Hurricanes are the drink most commonly associated with the city of New Orleans, Chuck Taggart observes that "Hurricanes are for tourists. Sazeracs are for natives." The Sazerac is viewed as the quintessential New Orleans cocktail and was under consideration for the title of official cocktail of the State of Louisiana. On April 10, 2008, The Daily Illini in a post from the AP newswire reported that an effort had been made by Senator Ed Murray to declare the drink the official state cocktail. Due to concerns of the state's image, the Louisiana State Senate voted the legislation down in a vote of 27-8.

While not officially recognized, the people of New Orleans hold the drink close to their hearts. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook advises using Old Overholt rye whiskey in preparing the Sazerac.

Gumbo Pages: "The Original Sazerac Cocktail"
The Spirit World: "Sazerac" 05/29/06
Wikipedia: "Sazerac (cocktail)" 04/09/08
The Daily Illini: "Odds and Ends: Senate Rejects Bill Making Sazerac Official La. Cocktail" 04/10/08
photo courtesy of Lee Coursey, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oysters Rockefeller

With the abundance of oysters available to the New Orleans chef, it's no surprise that Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook features more than 10 recipes starring this fruit of the sea. Among the most famous of oyster dishes is Oysters Rockefeller, which is featured on page 80.

Oysters Rockefeller was created in 1899 by a New Orleans chef named Jules Alciatore. His great grandson, Roy F. Guste, Jr., writes at that his ancestor created the dish after having difficulty procuring the necessary European snails for cooking. Being unable to get the desired snails, Alciatore decided to look closer to home for a more reliable supply of product, choosing gulf oysters as his substitute. He created a rich sauce that was green in color and in naming the dish, chose the name Rockefeller as an exemplar of "rich." At the time the dish was created, John D. Rockefeller was the famous robber baron of Standard Oil Company and at the height of his fame as a capitalist and philanthropist.

Rockefeller came from humble beginnings, first getting his start in business acting as an assistant bookkeeper for Hewitt and Tuttle, produce shippers and commission merchants in 1855. The Rockefeller Archive's biography tells us that Rockefeller became involved in oil refinery in 1863 with partners Maurice Clark and Samuel Andrews. In 1870, Rockefeller and assorted partners created Standard Oil Company with the company being organized into a trust in 1882. By the 1890s, it's estimated that Standard Oil owned 75% of the petroleum business in America. According to's study of the richest people in history, when Rockefeller retired from active leadership of Standard Oil in 1896, its estimated his fortune was worth around $200 million.

His tendency to philanthropy was there from his earliest days in business when he would tithe 10% of his paycheck to the church. lists his many philanthropic enterprises. He favored educational and public health causes as well as basic sciences and the arts. While he gave money to recognized institutions such as Harvard, Columbia, Vassar and Yale, he also helped small colleges become major institutions such as the University of Chicago which started life as a small baptist college and became a world-class university by 1900 with Rockefeller's help.

While a northerner, his programs had great impact in the South. In 1884, he was the major financial backer for an Atlanta college for African-American women that became Spelman College. In 1902, he created the General Education Board. Designed to help education at all levels across the country, its biggest impact was in the pioneering schools for African-Americans in the South. His 1909 Rockefeller Sanitary Commission was a key component in wiping out hookworm disease in the South.

While he gave huge donations throughout his life, totalling about $550 million dollars, he was noted for his more playful habit of giving out dimes to children though he switched to nickels during the Great Depression. Cheekily, he even passed dimes to President Herbert Hoover and fellow mogul Harvey Firestone.

While some recipes call for a puree of green vegetables to create the green-colored sauce, Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook uses spinach to give the dish its signature color. "The Real Oysters Rockefeller"
The Rockefeller Archive: "John D. Rockefeller" 09/97 "Richest People in History: John D. Rockefeller"
Wikipedia: "John D. Rockefeller" 04/28/08
photo courtesy of zzzack, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, April 28, 2008

Meet the Man Behind the Book: Ralph Brennan

According to his profile at the Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook website, Ralph Brennan is a third-generation restaurateur who entered the restaurant business after a stint as a CPA for Price Waterhouse and Company. It's stated that his grandfather, Owen Edward Brennan, opened the first of the family's many restaurants in 1947, which quickly became a popular eatery of the French Quarter scene. Since that time, the Brennan Family legacy of fine food has only increased, composing 12 restaurants owned by different branches of the family. Among Ralph's restaurants are Bacco, Ralph's on the Park, Red Fish Grill and Disneyland's Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen. He also co-owns Mr. B's Bistro, Commander's Palace and Brennan's of Houston.

His love of fine food has garnered Ralph the laurels of success. Among his many awards are the The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association's Gold Plate Operator of the Year for 2004 as well as his 2005 induction into the Louisiana Restaurant Association's Hall of Fame. But along with his love of food is his love of the city he calls home: New Orleans. He chooses to open restaurants in historic structures which are lovingly renovated. Among them are Ralph's on the Park which is located in a structure identified as the first concession stand opened at City Park in 1860 and Commander's Palace which has been a restaurant since 1880.

His current project, Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, has been garnering rave reviews. Ironically, this book may never have happened had Ralph not had his first oyster as a teenager. With his father very allergic to seafood, Ralph was raised on a diet of steaks and potatoes. In a piece at by Judy Walker, he states:
"I was in high school when some older guys invited me to play golf with them," Brennan said. After their round they went to Bozo's, where a couple of beers helped the first oyster, perched on a cracker, go down." I said 'That isn't bad,' and had a couple more," he said.
The spark of inspiration for a cookbook was lit when Charlee Williamson, VP of Ralph Brennan's Restaurant Group, overheard food writer John Mariani comment that the definitive seafood cookbook has yet to be done. At in an article by Emilie Bahr, Ralph states the idea floated around in his head for about five years before he began to bring together his team of talent for the project. Originally projected to take about two years, the project took four, largely due to Hurricane Katrina. He had this to say about his cookbook:
“What makes this different is it’s not just a restaurant cookbook,” Brennan said. “I think it will have a broader appeal. We also wanted to make a statement. Seafood is very, very important to our cuisines here, to the people that live here.”
Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook: "Ralph Brennan and The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group" 2008 "Seafood city: New Orleans Recipes Abound in Ralph Brennan's Cookbook" 04/17/08
New Orleans City Business: "Ralph Brennan Serves Up Seafood Cookbook" 04/08/08

Photo by Kerri McCaffety. Copyright by The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's Friday! Who Wants Pizza?

If there is one dish nearly everyone can agree on enjoying, it's pizza. And Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook is ready to please with a Crawfish Pizza with Pancetta and Roasted Garlic on page 249. In the introduction, it's stated that "cooks in South Louisiana never seem to run out of ways to cook crawfish, so the appearance of a crawfish pizza was probably inevitable." Inevitable indeed, as pizza and it's variations have been prepared since Neolithic times.

According to Linda Stradley's, the dish has been prepared since the Stone Age and was baked beneath the stones of the fire. Having the toppings on top of the bread permitted people to enjoy the dish without the need of plates or utensils. In Virgil's The Aeneid, one stanza refers to the devouring of cakes of flour:

Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band

Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:
“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”

Pizza as we know it today, with its rich tomato sauce, developed after tomatoes were brought back from South America. At, it's stated that tomatoes, initially viewed as poisonous by Europeans, began to be eaten in the late 1600s. Peasants in Naples, Italy, began to use tomatoes on their herbed bread about this time. Queen Maria Carolina (1752-1814), wife of Ferdinando IV, King of Naples, enjoyed pizza so much that she arranged to have a pizza oven installed at their summer palace at Capodimonte.

According to a history written by Cliff Lowe at, pizza became the break-out food of 1889 when Queen Margherita, wife of Umberto I, became curious about the flat-bread dish the peasants dined on. She horrified members of her decorous court when she became a fan of the peasant dish, though the common people embraced her for it. She ordered a local pizza chef, Rafaelle Esposito, to the palace to bake a selection of pizzas for her dining pleasure. In her honor, he created the Pizza Margherita that commemorated the Italian flag with its colors of red (tomato sauce), white (mozzarella cheese) and green (basil), which is still a popular dish to this day.

The dish came to America in the late 1800s with the arrival of Italian immigrants. It remained a dish associated with the Italian community until the end of WWII, though pizzerias opened in New York City and Chicago prior to the war. American servicemen became fans of the dish while stationed in Italy and sought it out after the war ended.

Today, the pizza is entrenched in our culinary culture with 23 pounds consumed annually by the average American and its own holiday, International Pizza Day on February 9. The Guinness Book of World Records credits a 100-feet and one inch diameter pizza made in Havana, Florida, as the largest pizza made and consumed.

With New Orleans chefs' tendency to put its own spin on recipes, it's only natural that an enterprising chef jumped at a chance to put local seafood on pizza. "History & Legends of Pizza" 2004 "Pizza Facts and History" 2003 "Pizza History"
photo courtesy of bucklava, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Use That Stale Bread

Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook features a recipe that uses stale ingredients -- bread, in this case -- to make a Praline Bread Pudding with Praline Creme Anglaise and Caramel Sauce. The recipe, on page 282 in the "Desserts and Dessert Sauces" chapter, uses a water bath for the baking of it and calls for a nine- or ten-inch piece of day-old French bread. The praline creme anglaise sauce can be prepared with praline liqueur -- or not, as the home chef desires.

The Food Timeline site by Lynn Olver has an extensive history of pudding. Most likely developed as a way to use stale bread and extend food resources, it has gradually evolved from the Middle Ages into the desserts of today. An excerpt from the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani suggests a Roman origin to the dish:
"The word seems to derive from the Old French boudin, (sausage), and, ultimately, from the Latin botelinus, for many puddings were a form of encased meat or innards. The earliest examples of this word in English refer to such dishes. Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (1755) defines the word as a "kind of food very variously compounded, but generally made of meal, milk, and eggs."
Mark R. Vogel of dates the creation of bread puddings to the 13th Century. Bread was soaked in water or milk and was seasoned with sugar and suet with fruits or spices adding flavor then baked. Sometimes these ingredients would be placed in the center of a hollowed out piece of bread called a "sop." French variations called for the bread to be prepared with milk, eggs, raisins, rum and oranges. Today's bread puddings are made by pouring custard over cubed bread and baking.

Stephanie Jaworski's includes in its history of bread pudding a discussion of the use of water baths in its preparation. It's necessary in order to protect more delicate recipes from burning, drying out or curdling (where a milk or egg mixture breaks down into its liquid and solid parts.)

Ian McNulty of has this to say about bread pudding:
"When most bread goes stale it gets tossed in the trash or fed to the birds. But for some lucky loaves, going stale is just the beginning of a transformation into bread pudding - the ambrosial dessert that is a mainstay finale at Creole restaurants across New Orleans."
He credits bread pudding's popularity to the bread itself. The bread soaks up any sauce it is presented with, infusing the dish with further flavor, and its softer texture makes a nice contrast to the pecans, raisins or walnuts that often top the dish. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook's version of the recipe is topped with a pecan and brown sugar crumble.

The Food Timeline: "Puddings" 06/10/07
Reluctant Gourmet: "How to Make a Delicious Bread Pudding"
Joy of Baking: "Bread Pudding" "Proof in the Bread Pudding--
Chefs Add Variety to New Orleans' Classic Dessert" 2006

photo courtesy of FotoDawg, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Seafood is Best... Fresh

After sampling the Shrimp and Bacon en Brochettes during the launch party for Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook I had to try this recipe at home. (That's an image of the passed party appetizers above.) Since it was such a crowd pleaser at the party my boyfriend and I opted to test out the recipe as a main course instead of the appetizer option.

Unfortunately our first attempt at preparing this recipe was delayed. Due to deadlines and a busy weekend schedule we bought the shrimp a day ahead of time. Rule number one... read the instructions about checking freshness and quality in the Seafood Cook's Manual at the beginning of this book.

"The best measure of freshness for store-bought shrimp, raw or cooked, is their smell. The fresh ones carry a clean, rather astringent smell with no unpleasant 'fishy' odors..." (Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, pg. 38)

Had I remembered this tip on checking freshness I would have insisted that the clerk let me smell the shrimp before sealing them in the take-away bag. However, I relied on the reputation of the store to provide quality seafood.

We began to prep the next day and pulled out the shrimp, which were very fishy smelling. Now, it may have been the day-long delay from purchase to cooking time which ruined these shrimp, however typically store-bought seafood should last for a day if refridgerated.

So my advice to readers... become familiar with the ways to safely select, store and prepare seafood. The section in Ralph Brennan's cookbook called "A Seafood Cook's Manual" offers an excellent array of tips and methods for safely securing and preparing seafood for consumption. Keep these instructions in mind when you head to the store and use this section even when you're making seafood recipes from other cookbooks.

As for my attempt at Ralph's Shrimp and Bacon en Brochettes, you'll have to check in on the blog later for an update. This seafood scandal didn't dissuade me from testing the recipe, it's just delayed the process a bit. I'll keep you posted.

Photo: Courtesy of

Potatoes Pontalba

With New Orleans chefs' tendency to commemorate great events and important personages, it's not surprising that the Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba numbers among those so remembered. On page 341 of Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook in the "Accompaniments, Etc." chapter, the Baroness receives her due. Potatoes Pontalba is a homey, comfort-food dish made with cubed potatoes, onion, garlic and tasso (a spicy, dry-cured ham traditional in Cajun cooking) and makes a wonderful side dish to the main courses featured in the cookbook.

At, it's stated that Micaela Almonester, born in 1795, was the daughter of a genteelly poor Creole mother and Spanish-born father by the name of Andres Almonestera y Roxas. Roxas established a large fortune in New Orleans during the late 1700s and contributed large sums of money to establish today's St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo and the Presbytere. He also left his daughter the land bordering Jackson Square where Micaela built the Pontalba buildings during the later 1840s. The buildings were a sensation, both for their beauty and utility as well as being built by a woman at the center of a notorious scandal.

At the age of 15, Micaela married a French cousin by the name of Clestin de Pontalba and moved to France. A New York Times article written August 31, 1997, by Angeline Goreau tells the tale of a troubled marriage complete with meddling in-laws, greed and violence. Her in-laws' constant maneuvering to take control of her finances finally exploded into violence and scandal October 19, 1834:
". . . on the morning of Oct. 19, the 80-year-old Baron de Pontalba, dueling pistols in hand, burst into the sleeping quarters of his 40-year-old daughter-in-law (the future Baroness de Pontalba) and fired three shots into her chest. Perceiving that she was wounded but not yet dead, he pursued her through several rooms of their country estate, repeatedly shooting - but missing. Finally, he gave up, rewrote his will in favor of a military school and killed himself."
The murder attempt eventually led to the Baroness' separation and she returned to New Orleans. Bill Thayer's website has an article from the Louisiana Historical Quarterly by Henry Renshaw that details the Baroness' quest to build the Pontalba buildings on the land inherited from her father. Emphasizing her family's ties to Jackson Square is the fact that the Battle of New Orleans was fought on her uncle Ignace Delino de Chalmette's plantation.

After completing the buildings, she returned to France and (eventually) her husband, dying at the age of 78 in 1874. "Micaela Almonester Pontalba: The Baroness of Extremes " 2006
New York Times: "A Spectacular Mess of a Marriage" 08/31/97
Bill Thayer's Website: "Jackson Square by Henry Renshaw"
photo courtesy of David Paul Ohmer, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fishy Returns Anticipated in Lake Pontchartrain

Part of the appeal of Louisiana is the variety of hunting and fishing opportunities available to both locals and tourists, providing the base that New Orleans' culinary habits are built on. While Hurricane Katrina played havoc with the coastal environment, it has also permitted an opportunity for residents and policy makers alike to change their approach and look at new ideas for the rebuilding of environmental assets.

A Times-Picayune article dated April 20, 2008, by Christine Harvey reports that a new proposal has been presented by Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana (CCA) to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development requesting that rubble from the old I-10 bridge span be used in Lake Pontchartrain to build two new artificial barrier reefs:
"The reefs would measure an acre each and be midway between I-10 and the U.S. 11 bridge, which links Irish Bayou in eastern New Orleans and Eden Isles south of Slidell. . . The project would mimic shell reefs found in nature and give marine life, such as oysters and clams, a hard surface to attach themselves to, John Walther Walther, a volunteer coordinator with CCA Louisiana's reef restoration and building program said. Their presence is invaluable for the food chain, as they attract more fish to the area, he said."
The Coastal Conservation Association has sponsored 3 other artificial reef projects, the most recent being a reef constructed in Calcasieu Lake. According to the CCA, the 1.5-acre reef is located 20 yards from Turner's Bay Island and was designed to protect the small island from erosion and enhance fishing in the area. The reef attracts oyster beds, which helps in both cleaning the water and attracting other fish to the area. Chas Drost claims that he has noticed an increase in the number of fish being caught at the site this spring.

The St. Tammany Parish Government website has a news release dated April 4, 2008, regarding the proposed projects. While reef restoration is part of the proposal, it also includes a plan to use 2000 feet of the west twin span as a fishing pier. Anticipated returns on the project are expected to be seen within two year's time. “Reefs and bridges make great fishing locations,” says Parish Environmentalist Brian Fortson. “The combination of these two projects in Lake Pontchartrain will create an excellent fishing environment.”

All in all, it's safe to say that Louisiana's rich bounty of seafood is well-protected for chefs and gastronomes to continue to enjoy in the future.

SOURCE: "Proposal would turn rubble into reef" 04/20/08
SOURCE: "CCA builds new reef to protect Turner’s Bay Island in Calcasieu Lake" 09/17/07
SOURCE: "New Angles Proposed for Recreational Fishing" 04/04/08
photo courtesy of diongillard, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, April 21, 2008

On Today's Menu: Sauteed Frog Legs

If the home chef is feeling adventurous, Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook is able to take one on an unforgettable culinary cruise. Sauteed frog legs with wilted baby spinach and creamer potatoes, on page 263, is one of the more unique recipes in the cookbook. In the notes, it's suggested that the best quality legs are domestic frogs, most of which are from Florida. If using frozen legs, it's best that the meat is used as soon as it is thawed as this meat has a short shelf-life of a day or two.

The modern history of this dish begins in the 1880s. At, a short history of Rayne, LA, is presented by Amy Snyder about the city known as the "Frog Capitol of the World." A gourmet chef called Donat Pucheu began to ship bullfrogs to restaurants in New Orleans. As time went on French businessmen, the Brothers Weill, arranged to export the delicacy to restaurants around the world including Sardi's in New York City.

In the cookbook, it's stated that Chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier (The Chef of Kings and the King of Chefs) introduced the dish to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales in the early 1900s while running the Carlton Hotel's kitchens. In order to slip the dish onto the menu, Escoffier renamed it as the more appealing "cuisses de nymphes aurore" or "thighs of the dawn nymphs," rather than frog thighs.

By the mid 1900s, Rayne has stopped the exportation of bullfrogs. According to, Bangladesh became a major exporter of frogs for a time but later banned exporting frogs because the heavy cultivation of frogs led to an increase of the fly population. Insecticides proved to be too costly to be practical so the frog population was kept at home, catching flies.

While the modern diner views frog legs as a delicacy, an archaeological dig in the Czech Republic revealed the remains of 893 frog bones, most of them the bones of thighs, the meatiest part of the frog. Salvador Bailon, a leading expert of frogs in history, revealed in an article by Rossella Lorenzi that, "Everything seems to confirm that frog consumption was merely an opportunistic choice at that time." Neolithic Czechs tended to hunt frogs in the months of March or April:
Those months see the height of mating activity, when frogs tend to gather in great numbers and can be easily captured. "The frogs could have been simply gathered directly from the pond, or ... other more specialised methods could have been used, such as ground traps during their migration or by fishing on a line and hook," writes Rene Kysely, an archaeologist of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The mild and pleasant flavor of the frog, comparable to other white meats, makes this unconventional dish an elegant surprise. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook suggests serving this with a soup or salad to make a complete meal.

Exploratorium: "Frog City: Rayne, LA"
Food Reference Website: "Frogs & Frog Legs"
ABC: "Stone Age Europeans Ate Frogs' Legs" 06/27/07
photo courtesy of mbloore, used under this Creative Commons license

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Walker Weighs In...

While restaurant, food and cookbook critics nationwide will be commenting on Ralph Brennan's cookbook the most anticipated reviews are those from New Orleans. In creating this cookbook the Ralph Brennan team sought to capture the essence of seafood cooking beyond their restaurants and across the city... no small feat in a celebrated culinary community known for spectacular seafood dishes.

Judy Walker, Restaurant and Food Editor for The Times-Picayune New Orleans' daily newspaper, evaluates the book in "Seafood City: New Orleans Recipes Abound in Ralph Brennan's Cookbook"

Walker's story headlined the newspapers' living section this week and shares the story behind the cookbook... from Ralph's first New Orleans experiences with seafood to compiling a book through the challenges of Hurricane Katrina. The review supports the cookbook and it's comprehensive coverage of local seafood.

Following Walker's post-Katrina commitment to share recipes from New Orleans the article lists several recipes from the cookbook:
- Crabmeat and avocado with spicy vinaigrette
- Louisiana seafood boil
- Grilled redfish and crabmeat with lemon-butter sauce

We thank Judy Walker for sharing the story behind Ralph Brennan's first cookbook and look forward to hearing what other locals have to say about the book.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Take Off With Pompano en Papillotes

New Orleans has long been known as a capitol of fine dining, where all the senses are shamelessly indulged with the aromatic food attractively presented among background music of fine silver ringing against even finer china. Showy presentation in the finer dining establishments of the city still reign supreme and Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook can help the home chef make a showy presentation as well. On page 176 is a recipe for Pompano en Papillotes with crab butter sauce.

Preparation en papillotes means preparing and serving a dish in a paper case. During the cooking process, the paper case puffs up from the steam, making a delightful surprise for the diner to discover upon opening. The traditional sauce, made with a white wine base, has been updated to a savory crab butter sauce. This particular recipe was created in the early 1900s to honor Brazilian-born aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont.

Wikipedia has an excellent history of the aero-pioneer. Santos-Dumont was born the sixth of eight children to a coffee plantation owner, a French-born engineer who created various labor-saving devices on his plantation. After his father fell ill in 1891, the family relocated to France where 18-year old Santos-Dumont went to Paris in order to continue his studies in physics, chemistry, mechanics and electricity.

In the late 1890s, Santos-Dumont became interested in flight, taking balloon rides and moving on to learning how to pilot the balloons themselves. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics recounts his flight career in great detail. While his first balloon, the Brazil was successful, achieving flight with a payload of about 114 pounds in 1898. His second balloon, the America, won first prize from the Aero Club of Paris study of atmospheric currents and stayed afloat for 22 hours. He went on to design and fly dirigibles and planes. He retired from flying in 1910 after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and later committed suicide in 1932 in his native Brazil.

His flying exploits made Santos-Dumont a celebrity. To this day, debate rages over whether Santos-Dumont or the Wright brothers were the first to fly an airplane. He delighted Parisians by dropping into Paris by way of his flying machines to have a coffee or greet state officials. He is also credited as being the inspiration for the male wristwatch. During a celebratory dinner after a successful flight in 1904, Santos-Dumont complained to his friend, Louis Cartier about the difficulty of timing his flights using the traditional pocket watch during flight. Cartier responded with the creation of a watch mounted on a leather band and fastened by a metal buckle, which Santos-Dumont wore on all his future flights.

Santos-Dumont was passionate about the future of flight. He felt that advances in air travel heralded a new era of prosperity for mankind. Acting on his convictions, he released his plans for the Demoiselle monoplane to the general public for free. It was published in America by the magazine Popular Mechanics in June 1910.

In a New York Times article (pdf) published April 11, 1902, celebrating his arrival in America, it's stated that, "He wants no patents, cares not who imitates his machine, invites competition, and is willing to spend his money, but will not consent to display his achievements without influential backing."

The airy Pampano en Papillotes are a perfect tribute to this innovator of flight who delighted the hearts of New Orleanians.

Wikipedia: "Alberto Santos-Dumont" 04/14/08
AIAA: "Alberto Santos-Dumont" 2008
New York Times: "Santos-Dumont Arrives" 04/11/1902
photo courtesy of Brianfit, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Devilishly Divine Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake is a southern recipe dating to 1902 and is usually frosted with butter roux icing or cream cheese buttercream icing. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook has a Creole version of red velvet cake on page 308. Rather than a traditional flat-cake presentation, this sponge cake is rolled up into a spiral with a layer of white chocolate mousse inside and drizzled with a cafe-brulot inspired creme anglaise that is simply delicious to contemplate.

While most research shows that the dessert is most likely of southern origin, its been strongly associated with the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City due to urban legend. According to, the legend has it that a lady asked for the cake recipe from the hotel and was charged $100 for it. In revenge, she in turn handed out free copies of the recipe to her friends and acquaintances. But a search of restaurant archives produced no records whatsoever proving that the restaurant developed this cake.

This myth was probably reinforced by the media printing articles referring to it. At The Big Apple website by foodie Barry Popik, a full history of the cake along with reprints of articles featuring the cake is available. Many versions of the recipe dated from the 1950s are identified as Waldorf red cake. An article published in the Hillsboro, OH Press-Gazette in May 1959 had this to say about the cake:

This is a $300.00 recipe! Yes, that price was actually paid for it, and you are getting it free! It seems that two young ladies were served this cake when eating at a Chicago hotel one day, and since it was a bit unusual they asked if they might have the recipe. The hotel obliged, and asked them to write down their names and addresses. A short time later they received a bill for $300 and after going to court about it, the verdict was made that they were obligated to pay the bill.

At Wikipedia, it's said that earlier versions of this cake needed no additional color because the reaction of vinegar and buttermilk tends to naturally turn cocoa a reddish-brown color. Before the introduction of a more alkaline dutch-processed cocoa, this color would have been more intense and pronounced. During WWII, rationing of food stores was common and clever bakers would use boiled beats in order to enhance the red color when making this dessert.

While this cake reached the heights of popularity across the country in the 1950s, Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook presents this old Southern favorite with a contemporary twist making an elegant and tasty conclusion to any dinner party.

SOURCE: "History of Devil's Food Cake"
SOURCE: "Red Velvet Cake" 02/14/07
SOURCE: "Red Velvet Cake" 04/12/08
photo courtesy of Darwin Bell, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mix Up A Ramos Gin Fizz with Ralph Brennan

In the Spirits chapter of Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, it's stated on page 400:
"It should be a given that New Orleans has a very old acquaintance with liquor, in light of its having been the country's favorite party town as long as anybody can remember. . . What is certain is that New Orleans has produced more than its share of famous cocktails over the last century and a half, the gin fizz, the Sazerac and the hurricane among them."
The Gin Fizz, a concoction featuring cream, egg white, and orange flower water, is a genuine New Orleans phenomenon. It was even referred to as a New Orleans Fizz up north at the height of its popularity during the 1910s. Chuck Taggart of Gumbo Pages tells of former Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long and his affection for the beverage, which drove him to bring along the New Orleans Roosevelt Hotel bartender to the New York Roosevelt in order to enjoy the creamy, floral-flavored beverage. The trade name of "Ramos" was acquired by the Hotel Roosevelt after Prohibition was repealed. has an excellent short history on the Ramos Gin Fizz taken from New Orleans Drinks and How To Mix 'Em by Stanley C. Arthur. An enterprising bartender named Henry C. Ramos came to the city of New Orleans by way of Baton Rouge and introduced his signature drink in 1888 after purchasing the Imperial Cabinet Saloon located at Gravier and Carondelet. Upstairs was a restaurant called The Old Hickory, where Ramos mixed up his soon-to-be famous beverage.

Ramos and his drink really broke into the mainstream after his purchase of the infamous Tom Anderson saloon, The Stag, in 1907. At the height of its popularity, 35 shaker boys were employed at the saloon in 1915 for Mardi Gras and were unable to keep up with the demand. At, Paul Clarke posted a history of the Ramos Gin Fizz dated September 11, 2005. Ramos kept his very popular drink mix a secret, but when Prohibition and the Volstead Act was enacted on January 16, 1920, it is surmised that he revealed the recipe to the world as an act of civil disobedience, hoping to inspire the home mixologist.

Ramos is to be thanked for two reasons. First, for creating such an excellent beverage and secondly, for sharing it with the world, ensuring its survival for the past 110 years. And thanks to Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, the home chef can prepare a piece of New Orleans history.

SOURCE: "The Original Ramos Gin Fizz"
SOURCE: "Ramos Gin Fizz"
SOURCE: "In Praise of Difficult Drinks, Part I: The Ramos Gin Fizz" 09/11/05
Photo by Kerri McCaffety. Copyright by The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fix Up a Dish of Spicy Fried Calamari Today

If you are looking for a spicy dish to serve as "finger food" at your next party, Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook has just the dish for you. On page 98, the cookbook presents a Spicy Fried Calamari with Lemon Aioli Sauce. The spicy flavor comes from the tablespoon of cayenne pepper used in the recipe.

Calamari is actually a corruption of an Italian word, calamaro, which means squid. In America, the word was adopted to indicate dishes made from squid. Peggy T. Filippone at states that the squid is a cousin of the mollusk family and has evolutionary links to the octopus and the cuttlefish. Like the octopus, the squid releases a dark inky substance when feeling threatened. Surprisingly, this ink is edible and can be used in cooking calamari dishes. identifies calamari as being of Mediterranean origins and is usually served as a fried appetizer. Common sauces include peppercorn mayonnaise, tzatziki or marinara sauce. Ralph Brennan's offering is served with a side of lemon aioli sauce. Unlike traditional aioli sauces which are made from olive oil, this sauce is made from canola oil and has an added dash of Dijon mustard.

In August 2006, had a short debate about the name calamari vs. squid. Among the responses, Peter Cherches on August 8, 2006, quoted from a 1996 New York Times article touching on how squid entered the culinary scene, tentatively dating its popular entree to around the early to mid 1980s:
"Once only caught for bait, squid, a mollusk that has long been popular on Mediterranean, Asian and southern European menus, was little more than an overabundant throwaway for Long Island fishermen. . . Even up to 15 years ago squid fetched fishermen barely 10 cents a pound. Today the price is more that $1 a pound, and squid, or calamari, as it is increasingly being called, has become fancy fare at gourmet restaurants and seafood markets." states that squid imports have increased by 30,000 tons a year since 1990 with California waters producing up to 50,000 tons annually though El Niño has affected that total.

SOURCE: "What is Calamari?"
SOURCE: "Squid (food)" 04/14/08
SOURCE: "Peter Cherches" 08/08/06
SOURCE: "Squid (AKA Calamari)"2005

Photo by Kerri McCaffety. Copyright by The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.