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

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