Making The Old -- and The Good -- New Again

By James Parrish Coleman -- a/k/a Jimbo Coleman

A later edition. Early Editions had a white

spine, and ads for long extinct local business.

Gulf Coast Gourmet was compiled by my late mother, Jane S. Coleman, in the early 1960s. The book was a fund raiser for the Foley Woman's Club.

The illustrations are the original work of a very talented artist named Marion Dyer. The book has been in print for many, many years; but has the simple fault of assuming you know about Gulf seafood and really know how to cook. I'll cook through the book (and my childhood), explain how Jane Coleman cooked, and tell a lot of family stories in the process. I like to cook. I will share what I have, and hope you like it. That's the spirit of this blog. Bon Appetit.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What's In A Name? --- Steamy, Creamy Goodness

My Old Pal Joe Green
A Pompano by any other name -- smells just as sweet.

I recently had the pleasure of taking a short automobile trip with a highly cultured woman. She told me about art, music, the world of ideas -- and opera. Italian opera.  I was about to hold forth on Giuseppe Verdi and the work of his last years. I took a breath to comment on Falstaff (being a rather Falstaffian character myself) when I remembered that every person's favorite opera is one they think you've never heard of.

With that in mind, I swiftly shifted gears (figuratively speaking -- my car is an automatic) and prepared to jabber on about my favorite sacred work of Giuseppe Nicolini -- a name I might well have made up in the heat of the moment -- when I realized how utterly foolish and inauthentic it is to drop names.

Some names make louder "booms" than others when dropped: Wagner -- big "boom." (Not as bad as it sounds, Mark Twain said.) How about GuiseppeVerdi? Drop his name and you'd better be ready to start up the opera babble! Should we not "Ohhhh and Ahhhhh" about him?!?  

Really! All this pretension about a guy whose name, translated to English, is ... "Joe Green."

Stop the car, tell me; what's in a name? Why is a home cook in Tuscany a keeper of the true flame of "Cuisine Bonne Femme" and the same cook in Bayou La Batre, Ala., just a redneck gal who likes fish and grits?

Order pollenta and you are one cool Friulian food dude. Ask for grits and you are an Alabama redneck.

 If you say Pompano en Papillote, you can talk opera with my cultured friend. If you say Fish in a Sack, you are relegated to watching Rachel Ray reruns.

As my son James the literary dude says, language is power.

And as I said to the countess as I was driving down the road, "Baby, it just ain't right tuh jower about opra. It ain't nothin' but a  little old song and a little ol' story..... you want somthin' t'eat?"

Pompano en Papillote. Sounds grand, doesn't it?

At Blanche's Restaurant in Magnolia Springs, Alabama (See the blog April 15, 2011, Snapper St. John), you'd order "Fish In A Sack." Anyone who called it Pompano en Pappillote would have found himself ejected from Blanche's as quickly as if he'd been wearing shorts. (That's another story!)

Don't Talk -- Eat

If you thought the best thing that ever came in a bag was a big pile of $100 bills, you're about to get an education. What ever you call this dish, it is wonderful. Get off the name, get on with the food!

Cooking things in a "bag" is done in lots of different cultures -- because they didn't have anything else to cook them with. Think of those old down-home favorites like "Chicken Cooked in a Pig's Bladder with Mushrooms and Cream" (French), "Ground Up Meat & Sticky Stuff Cooked in A Sheep's Stomach" (Scottish), "Little Gooey Things Cooked While Wrapped in Leaves" (Asian), "Beautiful Meat Cooked to Death In A Brown-'n-Bag" (American, Knob Knoster, Mo particularly).

Makes a little Pompano en Papillote sound pretty good!

The Basic Technique

Wow! Oven Tempered, for Flexible
Strength! (Oven tempered? Where else
would you temper it? The bathtub, maybe?)
This is not so much a recipe as a technique. If you want to do a very easy version of this dish, take a 1-foot square of tin foil, pour a little olive oil in the center, put some shallots, onions or whatever hard vegetables you have on the foil. Put a good fillet of fish on top of that, and some nice seasoning, suitable herbs and soft vegetables on top. Splash on a little cheap white wine, fold and crimp the tin foil and, put the packet or packets on a sheet pan. Then into the oven at about 350 degrees, 10 minutes an inch of thickness of the fillet, and you have an easy -- and very good -- dish.

If you want to get fancy, Pompano en Papillote is for you.

Parchment Paper

Look for it in the store by the tin foil (we say tin foil and icebox in our house -- get used to it.) There are several different brands, but it is all pretty similar. It is hard to fold, which is why you're going to learn a little technique here. Don't cut the paper into little heart shapes like some tell you to. Don't try to pin the paper together like Gulf Coast Gourmet tells you. Don't simply fold the sides to make a package.

There is a better way.
Length X Width is the triangle!

Take a square of paper as long as the paper is wide.

Put in the good stuff

Place the fish (or chicken, or bits of Little Gooey Things) in the center of the square. Fold one corner to the other. (This is triple tail fillet*, shallots, peppers, tomato, olive oil, lime juice and capanata... because I have LOTS)

Make The First Folds, then twist!
Then, roll and fold the paper from the place on the closed side near where the fish is. Roll and fold.

*Triple tail is a pre-historic looking beast that comes from the bays and rocks. It has heavy scales and is a pain to clean... put is just delicious! I got this one from my kind friend Sonny the charter fisherman.. who, along with his beautiful wife and handsome son, provides fish to me. (I should admit that his mother is my keeper at work).

Twist and fold around the triangle!

Crimp the paper you're rolling tightly, but leave some room for air under the fish. When you finish, you'll have a nice crescent shaped package.

It is important that the first few folds be nice and flat.

Twist the little tail tightly...
Into the little fat man's oven... 10 minutes 
and you're done!

What am I but a schlemiel! You want to see how a real chef does this, watch this video. I love the way he is so patient and kind with his students. You can hear the voice of a girl who thinks he has forgotten the wine attempt to correct him.  Rebbe Chef takes it in stride and keeps on teaching. What a great little clip!

This nice Jewish chef will show you how it is done! Just don't use his technique with catfish (pompano is kosher). I also love the guy with the beard. Chef gets it done here! What a mensch!!

Let's Cook...

The basic idea here is to steam the fish. You have to have a little liquid, and with this recipe, oh what a liquid it is. The recipe is in black, the foolish commentary in red.

Though this looks like a horror movie
shot, it is merely the way to know your
fish is pompano, and fresh!
8 Pompano fillets. Promise me you'll fillet these yourself so you'll get to see that the pompano is a pompano and so you'll see how fresh the fish really, really is. 
1/4 Cup Butter
3Tbs finely chopped green onion
3 tsp finely chopped parsley
1/4 Cup finely chopped mushrooms
freshly ground pepper
salt to taste
juice of one large lemon or lime

Place the fillets on a baking dish with the butter. Sprinkle with the vegetables; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lemon or lime juice. Brown lightly in oven at 450 degrees for about 5 minutes.
1/4 cup dry white wine
Add cover and cook another 10 minutes in oven.

A budding 1960s cook paralyzed
with fear at the thought of raw fish.
Ok, a lot of this "browning" and cooking, and then cooking a little more springs from a primal fear women and many men have of under-cooking fish. Sure, if you want raw fish, have it with wasibi and vinegared rice. Otherwise cook it -- but don't overcook it! Lots more seafood has been ruined because of over-cooking than under-cooking. Besides, if you'll buy that Thermapen you've been wishing for, you won't have to worry.

Cut squares of parchment paper or aluminum foil large enough to cover fish. Place a fillet on each square, pin up or seal on three sides. Like our video rabbi told us. Use the twist-and-fold method. It is pretty and works better, too. This guy is a real pro; do it his way! It is very important to remember that the nearly air- tight bag, which allows no steam to escape, will give you a very quick cooking time.

Eggs and Cream, the duet Ah come mai quell’anima 
 Place in another baking pan.
1 cup crab and/or shrimp finely chopped.
2 Tbs butter
Toss in butter for 5 minutes and add to sauce and vegetables in baking pan. Use a saucepan large enough to hold the crab meat, butter and following sauce ingredients. It will allow you to keep the round pan bottom on the heat. Using a square pan means the middle will be too hot, and the ends not hot enough. 

1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
3 Egg yolks
Mix. Add to sauce. Simmer slowly until thickened. Oh baby, oh baby, oh baby! What's not to like about egg yolks and cream? This simple sauce is the key to this dish. 

Divide the sauce equally among the envelopes and seal the fourth side. Nothing doing! I'm a twist-and-fold guy from way back!
Bake in preheated 450-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until paper is browned. Serve in paper bags -- en papillote -- for each person to unwrap. I like to cook the fish all in one step. I don't "brown" the fish first. It does not hurt anything to do so, but is an extra step. 

This may not be the best fish dish in the world, but I don't know of anything better. Don't over-cook the pompano. This fish tends to be a little dry if over-cooked, even slightly.

Also, try this with any non-oily fish you like.

You don't need opera, you don't need pretense; you only need the honest goodness of a beautiful fresh fish, salt, pepper, green onions, parsley, butter and the magnifico duet of cream and egg yolks.

It will change your life like no bag of $100 bills ever could.


  1. Great story about opera. My favorite opera and car story is David, Sarah, and James blasting opera through rolled down windows while cruising a beach town. This, of course, is to counter all of the loud "other" music being blasted around them.

    The fish looks good enough to eat! But, you'll have to feed it to your favorite carnivores.

  2. Or would they be pescavores? Ichthyophagi maybe? Dunno