Friday, July 13, 2012

A Birthday Tribute: Chef Paul Prudhomme

If you don't mind, I would like to take a mini detour from the promised post today (Official U.S. Olympic Training Table Cookbook) to share yet another recipe book with you instead. The title of the booklet published in 1989 is Authentic Cajun Cooking by our "birthday boy" Chef Paul Prudhomme.

If you've never heard of Chef Paul before, don't fret. He isn't one of the food people you might encounter on any of the main stream television stations today. Although, he has/had a show on PBS in New Orleans entitled Chef Paul Prudhomme's Always Cooking, I haven't had the pleasure of viewing it. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure it still airs since I don't live in the New Orleans viewing area. Oh goodness, another reason to visit New Orleans!

In each episode, Chef Paul Prudhomme fuses exciting flavors and ingredients with traditional cooking processes to create authentic yet modern side dishes, entrees and desserts. Chef Paul shares secrets for 80 tasty and accessible recipes — from his incomparable mashed potatoes to Turducken, the holiday crowd-pleaser he introduced in the 1980s, to St. Louis peanut butter banana cream pie. Between recipes, he weaves stories from his humble roots as one of 13 children raised on a Louisiana farm.

As the youngest of 13 children, Paul Prudhomme began his love of cooking in his mother's farmhouse kitchen in Southern Louisiana. He was born on July 13, 1940 in Opelousas, a small Cajun country town about 90 miles west of New Orleans, Louisiana. While learning to cook at his mother's side with no electricity and no refrigeration, he learned to appreciate fresh local ingredients. I suppose the best way to introduce you to our honorary guest is in his own words from the foreword of Authentic Cajun Cooking.

"I'm a Cajun, and most of what I know about Louisiana and Cajun folklore and history comes from my boyhood days sitting around the dinner table with my family and friends listening to my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins trade stories and talk about the past...There were always a lot of people present for meals at our house. I was the youngest of thirteen children, so that made for a lot of people!...My family are direct descendants of the Acadians who emigrated from southern France to Nova Scotia in the early 1600s, then migrated to Southern Louisiana in the mid 1700s. Traditionally, there were two types kinds of occupations for the Cajun people-one was farming, the other fishing and trapping. My family settled in a farming area and lived off the land. We were sharecroppers and grew cotton and sweet potatoes for a percentage of the crop and also raised our own vegetables and animals for food. We didn't have electricity and so, of course, we didn't have refrigeration, (We didn't have cars either. We used horses for transportation, while my relatives who lived near the water used pirogues, which are dugout canoes often carved from cypress logs.)...My mother was the best cook in the world! I learned to cook at her side starting when I was seven years old. Because we had no refrigeration, we used only what we grew, what was in season, as well as what we bartered for. Some of our staples were pork lard, rice, cornmeal, and flour. We also cooked with the native spices and herbs such as Filé powder (ground sassafras leaves) bay leaves and cayenne peppers, which the Acadians had learned how to use from the Indians in Louisiana...Looking back, the most important lesson I learned from my mother (and I've realized this more and more in my years as a chef) was to use only the freshest products possible because they always taste the best! And my style of cooking is to take these wonderfully fresh ingredients and combine them with spices and other flavors of top quality..."

Chef Paul is credited with bringing Cajun cooking to the masses. He built a name for himself in the kitchen of the revered Commander’s Palace nestled in the middle of the Garden District of New Orleans and in July of 1979, he and his wife Kay opened their own restaurant K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen® on Chartres Street in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans. Through a series of cookbooks, beginning with Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen published in 1986, and four TV series aired on public television stations nationwide, Chef Paul introduced signature dishes like Blackened Redfish, Turtle Soup and Turducken to audiences and readers who may never even visit Louisiana.

The popularity of one of his recipes alone – blackened redfish – placed an entire species on the "endangered" list, such was the insatiable demand for it. Even today more than a quarter of a century later, there are still "catch limits" on redfish in the Gulf of Mexico and inland estuaries. (New Orleans Online)
Blackened Redfish: This is the dish that put Cajun food on the cultural map in the 1980s and is the thoroughly modern invention of Prudhomme. He aimed to recreate the taste of food cooked over an open fire by using a searing hot cast iron skillet and a mix of herbs and spices that creates a sweet crust on the outside of the filets. Part of his original Louisiana Kitchen cookbook, and later refined in The Prudhomme Family Cookbook, the recipe was often imitated in restaurants at the height of the Cajun craze—although not necessarily well, with some interpreting Cajun cuisine as anything that is ridiculously over-spiced. When done properly, the fish is supposed to taste sweet and smoky. (Five Quintessential Cajun Foods)

If you're like me, the first thing that comes to mind when yearning for Cajun food is heat! Blackened may be your next vision. However, we would be giving Cajun food a grave injustice. Cajun food traditions are more complex. Today Cajun dishes are often prepared by renowned chefs under optimum conditions. Such wasn't the case in days of Cajun yore. Cajun meals were developed out of necessity by people who were poor in material goods and who had large families to feed. They gathered what was available in their corner of the world and magically transformed those simple ingredients into food worthy of a celebration.

...New Orleans is home to a vast array of food traditions, but it is best known for Creole cooking. At one time, it may have been possible to say that Creole cooking was the fancier cooking of New Orleans with more European influences and Cajun cooking the simpler food of the country folk, but this is no longer true. Today, it is difficult to distinguish between Cajun and Creole cooking as they are practiced in the home. Nowadays when applied to food, the terms Cajun and Creole are frequently used interchangeably or together. But Creole most often refers to the haute cuisine of New Orleans restaurants that developed from the intensive blending of the city's various food traditions, many of which originated with European-trained chefs...To appreciate South Louisiana foods fully, one must remember that Cajun and Creole cooking are the products of 300 years of continuous sharing and borrowing among the region's many cultural groups. For example, the French contributed sauces (sauce piquante, étouffée, stews, bisque), sweets (pralines, a modified French confection with pecans instead of the original walnuts), and breads (French bread, beignets or square doughnuts with powdered sugar, and corasse, fried bread dough eaten with cane syrup). The Spanish added jambalaya (a spicy rice dish probably from the Spanish paella). Africans contributed okra, barbecue, and deep-fat frying and reinforced the Spanish preference for hot spices and soups. Germans, who arrived in Louisiana before the Acadians, contributed sausages (andouille and boudin) and "Creole" or brown mustard. Caribbean influence is seen in the bean and rice dishes of red beans and rice and congri (crowder peas and rice). Native Americans contributed filé and a fondness for corn bread. (Louisiana Life)

The book I'm about to share was compiled by Chef Prudhomme for the purveyors of Tabasco.

Most of the recipes are rather detailed so it was difficult choosing one which would fit on this page. I hope you don't mind celebrating Chef Paul's birthday with Pork Chops with Browned Garlic Butter Sauce. If you do, more for me:)

In 1983, Chef Paul developed his own line of seasoning blends after years of making small batches and passing them out to customers in his restaurant. His Blackened Redfish Magic is available for purchase online and one of the essential ingredients in the following recipe for Blackened Red Fish as found in Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Cajun Magic Cookbook published in 1989.

It was from K-Paul's restaurant that the seasoning company evolved. Customers would commend the food’s flavor, asking "What are you putting on it? Can I get some?" So the restaurant started giving a bit of seasoning wrapped in foil. But soon, those customers began coming back asking to purchase the seasoning, so K-Paul’s put together hand-labeled, plastic, zip-close jewelry bags filled with the seasoning. As demand grew, Chef Paul realized the business potential, and opened the Magic Seasonings plant in 1983. (Quality Assurance Magazine May/June 2008)
"...Among his many accolades and awards, Chef Prudhomme was named "Restaurateur of the Year" by the Louisiana State Restaurant Association in 1983 and "Culinarian of the Year" by the American Culinary Federation in 1986. Nation's Restaurant News recognized him with the College of Diplomats Award in 1993 and the Fine Dining Legend Award in 2000, and inducted him into its MenuMasters Hall of Fame in 2003. Bon Appétit honored Chef Prudhomme with their "Humanitarian of the Year" award in 2006..."(Culinary Institute of America)

"See" you Sunday with those tasty Olympic recipes! Louise:)

1. What is Cajun?
2. Folk Boats of Louisiana
3. Chef Paul's Poultry Magic (Top Secret Recipe by Todd Wilbur)
4. Chef Paul Quality Assurance Magazine (May/June 2008 PDF file)
5. Paul Prudhomme’s Kitchen: Cajun Cuisine Goes Mainstream
6. Chef Paul Prudhomme's Turducken