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.

Monday, September 5, 2011

For The Love Of The Thing... The Amateur Informs the Professional

One Fish, Two Approaches. 
Amateur vs. Professional and the difference in love and money.

When I was a teenager I had an encounter with a Catholic priest. It changed my life, forever. 

Fr. Anthony Zoghby. See entry 
Snapper St. John for more  about
this remarkable and wonderful man.

Got your attention, didn't I? The priest was Fr. Anthony Zoghby. He introduced me -- and thousands of others -- to amateur theater.

Sure, he kept a smart-ass, mouthy teenage kid from running wild in the streets (well, dirt roads in rural Baldwin County).

I appreciated the attention and outlet for all that energy.

What I didn't know when I was slaving away on those productions was the real lesson I was learning -- that doing a thing for the love of doing it is far more precious and important that doing something because you are paid to do it.

Noun: A person who engages in a pursuit, esp. a sport, on an unpaid basis.
Adjective: Engaging or engaged in without payment; nonprofessional.  More »

Fr. Zoghby taught me to do something because I loved it. He taught me to be an amateur.

A Bonne Femme cooking. A little
bonne femme looks and learns
If you like to cook, your friends may jokingly call you a "chef." Unless you supervise a bunch of folks in a professional kitchen, you are not a chef. You are a cook. Note well that I did not say you are just a cook.

In cooking, as in a lot of pursuits, the amateur informs the professional. Almost all of the fancy stuff you eat in a restaurant was first a dish invented in some person's home. Cuisine Bonne Femme --cooking of a good woman -- properly recognizes that the good cooking starts at home.

If you stick with things that you can cook without fancy tools, exotic ingredients and technically difficult presentations, you can cook food that is a lot better than you can buy in many -- if not most -- restaurants. Sure, there are great places that do things that you can't do, but there are a lot more places that do poorly in a professional kitchen what you can do very well at home.

Of course it's fresh! Chef just opened the can!

Remember, much of the food you eat in a restaurant is pre-packaged, pre-made and pre-prepared. Companies like Sysco and other food service outfits have made the logical leap in understanding that "chef" is a guy with limited skills in the kitchen at most chain joints. The idea is to put out a consistent product which the customers will accept, all without poisoning anyone. That's not a bad thing, but that approach does not put out food that is as good as what you can make at home. Tons of places that advertise "Country Cooking" have never seen a collard green that did not arrive at the back door in a can. If the lady in the above photo cooked any canned collards, she probably canned them herself.

The distinction between a home-style dish and its fancier counterpart is no surprise: technique.

Buy This Book!
The two dishes -- one from Gulf Coast Gourmet and the other its refined cousin -- illustrate how things go from simple to fancy. Both are easy to do, and fun. In the first, Magnolia Cafe Stuffed Flounder, a flounder is stuffed with a crab meat dressing. It is simple, good and easy to do. The second -- from Jacques Pepin's books La Methode and La Technique -- completely bones the founder, fills it with a cream and crab meat/shrimp sauce. This book is something you should have. It is such a useful book!

Both start with two identical fish.  I will admit, these are not the best looking flounder I've ever cooked, but they are big and identical!

The Magnolia Cafe Stuffed Flounder (named, of course, for Blanch Weeks' wonderful and, sadly, long-gone establishment)
is a simple dish that home cooks around here have cooked for generations. It is an amateur dish -- the love fish.

Jacques Pepin's dish is more refined. Something those French guys dreamed up to make sure they wowed all the other French guys and kept their jobs as chefs. It is a professional dish (though not very professionally executed by yours truly). It is a professional's dish -- the money fish.

 In the first dish, cut a pocket for the stuffing, stuff and bake. It's easy. In the second, the fish is partially boned, stuffed, cooked and then completely boned. It is then sauced and served.

The flounder is one of the many flatfish found around the world. The French (no surprise) say it is inferior to Sole; our flounder is tiny compared to a turbot. What's cooking here is a Southern Flounder. Most of them have the elongated tail that you see to the left. In any event, remember that the fish is  thin and easy to overcook.

Cut right along the backbone
Before you start cooking, you will prepare the fish. In the first, and simpler, dish a pocket for the stuffing is made in the top of the fish. Make a cut right along the backbone of the fish, starting back from the head and stopping an inch or so before the tail. Then, take your knife and cut the pocket right next to the ribs. To do this, put the blade of the knife right along the ribs and separate the flesh from the bone. Make a pocket on each side of the fish.
Cut a pocket in the top of the fish

On the fancy dish, a pocket is cut on the top and bottom of the fish. In either remember there are two tricks here. One, keep the knife against the bone. Two, make sure your knife is sharp. Also, to make this easy, get the right kind of knife! Because I am at the age when the children of my friends are getting married, I easily solve gift-giving problems with a carbon steel 10 inch chef's knife. If they don't cook, maybe their children will. I always tell the recipient, "If you put the knife in a dishwasher, I'll take it away from you."
8 inch fillet de sole
The place to go for these knives is They will ship from France to you and it'll be there in a few days. This is the only place I know where I can buy a high quality carbon steel knife. They also sell a fillet knife (known to them as a fillet de sole) which is literally made for filleting flatfish.

The stuffing tastes better than it looks!

After you've cut the pocket in the flounder, fill the pocket with the stuffing. I put the fish on a sheet pan with some chopped hard vegetables under the fish. This will ensure that it won't stick to the sheet pan. See the recipe, below, for detailed instructions.

The only trick with the stuffing is to make sure that it is not so dry that it won't stick together, or so wet that is will make a mushy mess. The bowl of glop on the left is about right.  There are lots of ways to make stuffing, and many other stuffings that would be good with this dish. Something creamy, with seafood and a little more assertive flavor goes will with the the very mild flounder. The Gulf Coast Gourmet flounder is more highly seasoned than Jacques' dish, but that is to be expected.

At this point, the Love Fish is ready for the oven. 20 minutes at 400 degrees is a little too much. I usually do 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Flounder is thin, and easy to overcook. Make sure you don't make the stuffing too wet, or it will not cook. Don't over cook the fish as you attempt to completely cook the stuffing. Just don't put too much stuffing in the fish and you'll be fine.

For the recipe set out in Jacques Pepin's book, cut the pockets like in the simpler recipe, but cut all the way to the end of the ribs. Be careful not to cut through the skin of the fish.

Clip the backbone at the head and tail
Do this on the top and bottom of the flounder. Then, cut the backbone out of the fish and remove it. I use kitchen shears to do this. You will have a fish with the head and tail attached, with no backbone and only the bones in the fin that are on the edge of the fish. Then, put the fish on a sheet pan and put a shrimp and crab meat stuffing in the pockets. 

Take out the back bone
Jacques (we are on a first-name basis, you know) tells us to put parchment paper over the fish and cook it in the oven. Consult his book for details. (And yes, I am avoiding pinching his recipe without permission. I am also encouraging you to buy the book.)
Cover the boned fish with buttered parchment

After the fish is done, pull the bones and fins on the edge off of the fillets.Strain the liquid left in the pan into a small sauce pan. You'll use it to make the sauce. Then, using the back of a fork or your fingers, remove the black skin of the fish. It does not taste very good and has a rather nasty texture. Also remove the head and tail from the fish. Because the fish is cooked, you'll be able to do this with a spoon, the back or a fork or your fingers. 
Remove tail, head and fin bones on edges
A messy loaf you can clean up!

Clean up the sheet pan, getting all the cooked bones, head and tail off of the sheet pan. You'll have a little "loaf" of fish left. It looks a little ragged, but it will be fine. Put a platter over the top of the fish, hold the platter down on the sheet pan and flip the whole business over. It is nothing like as daring as it sounds, and will impress those who don't cook much.
Platter ready to flip.

 Then make a sauce. Jacques will tell you how, or you can just make the same sauce used with Pompano (see that blog entry).  The sauce I'll use here is the strained liquid from the fish, three egg yolks and about a 1/2 cup of cream. Heat and stir until it becomes thick enough to coat a spoon. (That means, dunk a spoon in the sauce. If it sticks to the spoon and covers it -- thick enough.) You can make it thicker, but it should not be as thick as a Hollandaise Sauce.
This is French -- Make A Sauce!
Clean up the Platter...

The plain dish looks and tastes like a stuffed flounder. Plain and simple. The more refined dish from my culinary hero Jacques is a little more refined, and does have that nice sauce!

Then Sauce & Serve.
 On the right, is the stuffed flounder with the sauce. I've added chopped green onions to the sauce to give a little color. Chives would have been even better but --- hey --- I didn't have any chives (Learn to cook with what you have!)
Plain Stuffed Flounder... but Good!

Below is Jacques' country cousin. Simple stuffed flounder. I've removed the head (because the fish was too big for the platter) and garnished with a little leftover watercress and a lemon. 

OK. Garnish your fish with a lemon if you like. You can make fancy little cuts in the lemon like this. Take your paring knife and hold it over the top of the lemon -- right at the tip where it came off the tree. Put your thumb on the knife at a place that lines up with the outside of the lemon. The distance from your thumb to the tip of the knife will be half the diameter of the lemon (get it!) Then hold the lemon in your hand and poke the knife in the lemon in a little zig-zag pattern. You can't poke yourself with the knife because your thumb will stop the knife from going in the lemon too deeply. (If you moved your thumb, start over -- dummy!)

Is the fancy dish any better than the simple one? Is love better than money? No.

Both are good, one is a lot more work than the other, and has only the advantage of being easier to serve and eat.

Maybe the best flounder fish would be to cook the fish very simply in butter, and then add a little lemon. That's a dish that combines love and money!! Simple is good!

Here are the recipes in red with comments in black.

Wash fish thoroughly. Split open lengthwise
on top of fish.  Insert sharp knife in each side
of opening and slit to make a pocket for stuffing, No argument there! Do as it says
Put pinch of salt and one tablespoon of melted oleomargarine in pocket. I am sure I should make some crack about how you should use butter instead of "Oleo margarine". When the cook book was written, margarine was a new and big deal. Many states (those with a good dairy lobby) refused to allow producers of this corn-based butter look alike to color it yellow. It was packed with a little container of yellow dye, so you could make the whiteish oleo yellow like butter. It is nothing like as good as butter and I don't cook with it. However because it has a higher burning temperature than butter, it can be useful in cooking fish. See Frank Davis' Seafood Notebook. Hardcover - 288 pages. (June, 1983). Pelican Pub. Co.; ISBN:0882893092 
for a good discussion of the use of margarine in cooking seafood.

 Use one-half of the Deviled Crab recipe for.
stuffing. Substitute garlic bread crumbs for
cracker crumbs in this recipe. For a sight
variation one fourth teaspoon of herb seasoning  may be added to Deviled Crab recipe
also. It's all good. If you don't like this stuffing recipe, try something else. 

 Fill the pocket with stuffing
Place stuffed fish in shallow, buttered baking
pan. Add enough water to prevent fish from
sticking to pan. Baste fish with melted oleo I baste with butter.
Sprinkle with the following.

2 dishes of lemon juice
1 dash Worcestershire Sauce
1 dash Louisiana Hot Sauce Tabasco
4 Tbs. melted oleo
You'll need to moisten the stuffing with something. This is as good as anything!
Bake at least 30 minutes in 400° F. oven. I think this is a little too long and a little too hot. Check the fish at 20 minutes. I have found that is plenty, unless you have a huge mound of cold stuffing in the fish
Remove from oven and press boiled. shrimp split lengthwise, into stuffing. Run under
broiler until dressing browns,  Sure, great idea. This is probably what was intended in the Eggplant Creole recipe. The shrimp have to be added after the fish is cooked. If you left a poor little shrimp in that oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees he would be Shrimp au carbone for sure.
Remove: fish
from pan with spatula. Add a few_drops of
lemon juice to pan juices and drizzle over fish.
If no juice remains in pan, add two tablespoons water, bring to a boil on top o£ the stove, add
lemon juice and drizzle over fish. Garnish with
parsley and serve. Great. Do it like this, if you think it needs it. I find squeezing a lemon over the whole thing is sufficient.


1 lb. crab meat I use claw meat, not as expensive as lump. It also has a little stronger flavor, which is a good thing
3/4cup butter
3/4 cup minced celery
3/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 Tbs. minced green pepper
1/2 cup cracker crumbs
2 Tbs. lemon juice ,
l Tbs. Worcestershire Sauce
l tsp. dry mustard
1-1/2 tsp. salt
I dash cayenne
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup heavy cream
Pick Over crab meat and remove any cartilage. Always a good thing. You'll get little bits of shell and stuff in claw meat.
Start your oven an 350° F, Not here, pal. We're going to do this on top of the stove in a saute pan.
Place butter into 1-1/2  quart casserole and
plant in oven. When butter is melted, put
minced vegetables  into casserole and return.
to oven until they are wilted but not brown,
Spoon vegetables and into mixture
carabmeat, crumbs. lemon juice and all season-
ing. Pour egg: and cream  into this mixture
and stir together thoroughly Spoon into
casserole or shells and dot the top with  little additional butter. Bake casserole 30 minutes.
Bake individual shells 20 minutes. Serve hot
Nope. Here is a lot quicker method for doing this for this dish. Put the butter in a hot saute pan. Let the hard stuff cook, but not brown. When it is nice and cooked, dump it into a bowl with the crab meat and seasonings. Stir it up, add the eggs and bread crumbs. Stir this up and add cream until you get the consistency you want. Taste for seasoning (only the egg is raw, and it should not kill you). Make sure you don't get it too liquid. Add the wet stuff last. It is easy to add liquid -- but it is hard to take it back out!!

Next Time -- Back to the Oyster...



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