Fish or shellfish that aren't iced immediately do not make our table, and this is a health measure during the hot, humid months. Fresh herbs work better too. We grow as many of our own herbs as possible. When we buy herbs we either buy them from bulk containers at co-ops or country stores where we can sniff, finger and taste before we buy, or we make sure that bottled spices that are supposed to look green haven't turned brown.
You might also, as we often do with fresh spices, sprinkle the freshly chopped spices on the finished sauce - don't try this with bay leaves! Quality extends to other ingredients as well.
FLORIDA POMPANO EN PAPILLOTE
Tender pompano fresh caught from the gentle Gulf shore break and iced down immediately retain all their delicate flavor in this wonderful dish. It's traditionally made with parchment paper that's served in the bag and opened in a delicious burst of scent at the table. This is pretty fancy, but the ingredients can be prepared ahead and combined just before baking.
Add lime slices bay leaf and thyme to boiling water, reduce heat and poach pompano for 10 to 15 minutes or until they flake. Note: an electric frying pan works well for this step.
Drain the cooked fillets and place them on a piece of parchment paper or foil at least three times bigger than the fish. Top with dill.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and brown slightly. Add the flour and brown slightly. Whisk in the fish stock until smooth. Add the shrimp, crab and mushrooms, remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolks.
Spread the sauce on the fillets and fold the paper around the ingredients like a double folded envelope to tightly seal. Bake at 400 degrees and serve with rice.
We had this on a Greek shrimp boat more than thirty years ago and I still treasure the recipe. The skipper's version used condensed milk, but we find heavy cream better suits our taste. This one cooks in the amount of time you need to prepare the rice upon which the dish is usually served. The only modestly exotic ingredient is the Feta cheese, a rather salty Greek cheese that also goes well crumpled in salads.
If you don't have shrimp the dish works with strips or fillets of firm fleshed fish if you are careful not to overcook.
Heat oven to 400 degrees and start rice. Over medium heat in a saucepan cook the shrimp until they turn pink.
Put shrimp and cooking butter in a single layer in a baking dish. Whisk the egg and cream together until smooth. Add Feta and Tabasco to taste and pour the mix over the shrimp. Top with tomato slices and bake until the mix bubbles or about 12 minutes. Top with the parsley and serve immediately. We let guests add pepper to taste as Louis is a "pepper wimp."
This is the kind of "dump and bake" dish we like when we've complicated deserts or we're simply too tired to fuss. We serve it with hot French bread, mashed potatoes or baked sweet potatoes.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the fins and head off a small kingfish. Butter a baking dish and pour the Mississippi Sauce into the bottom. Add the fish, cover with buttered foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove the foil. Top with dots of butter and bread crumbs and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer.
Make the sauce ahead - note that if you substitute meat stock for the fish stock it's a dandy sweet, yet spicy choice for meat as well. We save bones and freeze from our fish, and meat and make fish and meat stock in gallon batches. So it's easy to thaw cubes of stock in the microwave and whip up just enough Mississippi sauce the night before. The sauce freezes, too.
Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and add onions and peppers. Cook five minutes with a stir now and then. Add mushrooms and olives and cook five minutes more. Add stock, canned tomatoes and remaining seasonings. Cook for about 20 minutes, strain if you feel like it - at least, remove the bay leaf!* Save or serve.
*If you do not have a bay tree make sure your bay leaf is green. Old leaves get sort of brown and lose their flavor so you'll need to use two or even three.
LOUISIANA OYSTER GUMBO FILE
Good fresh oysters and some of that specially good Cajun cured ham makes the difference here so long as you remember NEVER to cook the gumbo after you add the filé! We reconstructed this recipe after a visit years back and make a special effort to get real filé.
Brown the flour in the butter over moderately high heat. Add onions and brown. Add ham and cook 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and oyster liquor, pepper and the bay leaf.
Boil 10 minute, remove from fire, stir in the filé and serve with rice.
We make our skewers long ahead of time and cook 6 inches from a modest amount of coals for three to five minutes after guests arrive. We don't usually use ingredients like pre-made salad dressing, but this tastes just as good as homemade.
Peel and devein shrimp, string them on skewers, and place them in a shallow glass or ceramic dish. Dump everything else into a container with a lid and shake. Pour half the mix over the shrimp and refrigerate for at least a half a day. Turn the shrimp once or twice if you think about it. We usually do this early in the morning. Some marinate shrimp first and then skewer them. We find it's easier to turn skewered shrimp.
Get the grill hot and cook six inches from moderate coals for three to five minutes a side. Baste with reserved marinade.