The first time I tasted Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun-Creole cooking at K-Paul’s in New Orleans, I was entranced by the explosion of flavors. And that came after a week of sensory overload from dining at the best restaurants in the city during a food writers’ convention more than 25 years ago.
His death last week made me remember how it felt to get in (K-Paul’s had just 62 seats, and hours-long waits were the norm, and I didn’t make the cut the first time I tried in 1984), and to finally taste the food that it seemed the whole country was imitating.
One bite and I knew the blackened fish I’d tasted before was just a blend of heat sprinkled on top. The Prudhomme original called for a cast-iron skillet heated white-hot, lots of butter that browned and smoked, and a seasoning blend that went beyond peppery and tasted of thyme and sweet paprika and somehow invoked the jazz of New Orleans.
The food was flash-fried to just before burning, so the redfish was crusty outside and yet moist and just-cooked inside.
It is hard to imagine today, with our fascination with the fierce and fiery in our food, that for the most part there was very little heat in American dining back then. The award-winning restaurants tended to be those that served European food.
Prudhomme, who grew up poor, the son of sharecroppers, and learned from his mama to cook with what was available and fresh, played a huge role in getting us to pay attention to what was stirring not just in New Orleans but in regional cuisines throughout the nation.
This gumbo is a one-dish meal I’ve prepared often, from his classic 1984 cookbook Louisiana Kitchen (Morrow). It is wonderfully seasoned, can be easily doubled or tripled, and can be made in advance just up to the point of adding the seafood.
When ready to serve, bring the gumbo to a rapid boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and add the seafood. Immediately turn off the heat, cover and let the pot stand, six to 10 minutes, until whatever fish or shellfish you’ve added turns opaque.
It is classic Prudhomme — the three-pepper seasoning; the “trinity” of bell pepper, onion and celery; the use of fresh, local ingredients — and making it is a great way to remember him and his impact on American cooking.
Prudhomme told me in an interview when he came to Miami in 1984 to teach a cooking class at Burdine’s that he wanted people to consider his recipes as simply maps.
“You have to just meander off to anywhere your mouth and how much money you have in your pocket takes you.”
In this gumbo recipe, that means you can substitute pieces of fish for any or all of the seafood, or add vegetables such as okra or patty pan squash, and adjust the heat to your own tolerance. Just don’t go upscale by using butter rather than margarine “because margarine is oilier and seems to conduct more heat. The extra heat, plus the additional oil, develops the gumbo file to a more desirable taste, texture and color.”
Pumpkin spice surges
Pumpkin spice continues its dizzying trendiness. Both Cameron’s and McDonald’s McCafé have pumpkin-spice coffee blends in bags and K-Cups in supermarkets now. I’ve spotted pumpkin Oreos and pumpkin soy milk, pumpkin Jell-O pudding mix and pumpkin cheesecake kits.
For kicks, I’ve included a recipe for a pumpkin spice mule. But don’t blame me if all this pumpkin pondering leads to a Great Pumpkin shortage.
Q: I met up recently with old friends from Sunset Elementary in Coral Gables, which the three of us attended long ago. We were doing brunch, and it made us remember the warm cinnamon rolls that they had in the school cafeteria there about once every month. They made you forget everything you always hated about school cafeterias, even the mean girls! Is there any chance you can get the recipe?
Ina, Kathy and Jenny
A: Believe it or not, yours is not the first request we’ve gotten for those school cafeteria cinnamon rolls. In the late 1980s we had a similar request, and learned that the recipe was included in a food service handbook of favorite recipes from Florida public schools, and originated at Hudson Elementary School in Pasco County.
Some notes on the recipe: Since this recipe dates back at least 27 years, and obviously was designed to use government commodities, you may want to make some adjustments. If you don’t want to use lard, substitute vegetable shortening or margarine, or use all butter. Use a cup of milk instead of the dry milk powder and water.
For adult tastes, you may want to bolster the cinnamon — personally I like at least 2 teaspoons. You can also add raisins to the dough and sprinkle walnuts or pecans onto the icing. The recipe makes a lot of rolls, but happily they freeze well without the icing.
Q: I have been dreaming of the Manhattan clam chowder that was served at Mike Gordon’s Seafood Restaurant off the 79th Street Causeway. Gosh, I miss the place!
I would greatly appreciate help finding this delicious recipe. The chowder was always filled with lots of clams, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and much more, for a supreme dish. No matter where I try Manhattan clam chowder throughout the world, it never lives up to Mike Gordon’s. I miss it and would dearly love to make it for my family, who all miss both Mike Gordon and his wonderful restaurant and food.
A: Mike Gordon’s was a favorite spot for me, too. The only recipe we’ve published over the years was one for Chef Jean’s brown butter snapper, and that came from a patron who’d gotten the recipe long before the restaurant closed. We’ll hope someone can provide that chowder recipe as well.
Linda Cicero: LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com, @TasteMemories. Write to Cook’s Corner at Food, Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.
Paul Prudhomme’s Seafood File Gumbo
Recipe from chef Paul Prudhomme, who died this month at age 75. Note: If shrimp with heads and shells are available, use 1 pound. Peel the shrimp, rinse and drain well, and use the shells (and heads) in making the seafood stock; refrigerate shrimp until ready to use.
1/2 pound medium shrimp
5 cups seafood stock
1 1/2 teaspoons ground red pepper (preferably cayenne)
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 bay leaf, crumbled
3/4 cup margarine
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
3 tablespoons gumbo file powder
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/4 cups canned tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups packed, picked over crab meat (about 1/2 pound)
1 dozen shucked oysters (about 1/2 pound), optional
1 1/3 cups hot cooked rice
Combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
In a 4-quart heavy soup pot, melt the margarine over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and bell peppers. Turn heat to high and stir in the gumbo file, Tabasco, garlic and seasoning mix. Cook six minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the tomato sauce; continue cooking five minutes, stirring constantly.
(During this time the mixture will begin sticking to the pan bottom. As it does so, continually scrape pan bottom well with a spoon. The scrapings not only add to the gumbo’s flavor, but also decrease the gumbo file’s ability to thicken.)
Add the shrimp, crab meat and oysters; cover and turn off the heat. Leave the pot covered just until the seafood is poached, about six to 10 minutes. Serve immediately over rice.
Per serving: 547 calories (61 percent from fat), 38 g fat (7.4 g saturated, 17.4 g monounsaturated), 75 mg cholesterol, 19 g protein, 34.6 g carbohydrates, 5.7 g fiber, 2304 mg sodium
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe from Absolut Vodka.
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 ounce black tea
1/2 ounce pumpkin spice syrup
1/2 ounce lemon juice
Star anise pod
Shake the vodka, tea, syrup and lemon juice with ice. Strain into a mug, with more ice if desired. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a star anise pod.
Per serving: 146 calories (0 percent from fat), 0 g fat (0 g saturated, 0 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g protein, 10.3 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 8 mg sodium
Yield: 1 cocktail
Florida School Cafeteria Cinnamon Rolls
Recipe from Cook’s Corner archives.
1/2 cup very warm water
2 envelopes active dry yeast
2 tablespoons lard, melted
3 tablespoons butter, melted
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons dry milk powder
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter, melted
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons hot water
Place the warm water and yeast in a large mixer bowl. Let stand 10 minutes. Add the shortenings. Mix together the flour, salt, sugar, dry milk powder and cinnamon. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl alternately with the vanilla and water, beating just until dough leaves sides of bowl. Form dough into a ball, and place in a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat dough. Let rise until double in bulk.
Punch dough down and flatten into a rectangle about 15 by 10 inches. Brush with the melted butter. Combine the cinnamon and brown sugar with a fork, breaking up any lumps. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly over the dough. (You may also sprinkle raisins on dough at this point.) Beginning with a long side, roll up the dough tightly as you would for a jelly roll. Slice into spirals about 3/4-inch thick. Arrange spirals on two lightly greased baking sheets. Let rise again.
Bake about 15 minutes in preheated 375-degree oven, or until rolls are just lightly browned. Prepare icing by combining powdered sugar, vanilla, salt and hot water. Brush on rolls while they are still warm.
Per serving: 266 calories (20 percent from fat), 6.0 g fat (3.2 g saturated, 1.8 g monounsaturated), 12 mg cholesterol, 5.2 g protein, 47 g carbohydrates, 1.3 g fiber, 410 mg sodium
Yield: 15 to 18 rolls