Friday, November 13, 2009. Shrimp Demo. The Peppermill Rises Again. I get a lot of requests to make appearances, judge cooking contests, give speeches, and demonstrate recipes. I used to do more of all that than I do now, and someday I'd like to do it again. Right now, I have no time to do anything outside my regular worklist.
But I couldn't refuse the wife of my doctor. He makes my annual visits as pleasant as such things are possible to be, and really does care about my health. His wife Beth has a book club of women who meet once a month for lunch. I like the theme: they alternate between literature and cookbooks. This was a cookbook month, and the cookbook was mine. (How could I refuse that?)
I thought I lived in an isolated spot. Their house is a mile down a gravel road, through woods as primitive as ours but deeper. Once you're there, it's beautiful. Dr. T takes advantage of the bucolic setting to raise bees--an enterprise I've been interested in since I was a kid.
The ladies were waiting for me, and were in the middle of the first course of their lunch: red bean soup, right out of my book. I know I can make this well at home, but it was gratifying to see that someone else, with nothing to go on but the recipe in the book, could reproduce it.
After talking about restaurants and cooking for awhile, I showed off my technique with barbecue shrimp. Beth had everything ready, from the Louisiana heads-on shrimp through the immoderate quantities of butter and black pepper the recipe calls for. (I wonder how Dr. T would feel about all this butter?)
We had too much shrimp to cook by my normal stovetop method, but it gave me the opportunity to test a suspicion I have about how Pascal's Manale does theirs. I believe that their method involves having a big pot of melted margarine with all the seasonings and (most important) the juices from many previous orders of shrimp. I think the shrimp are lowered into the hot (but not frying hot) butter in a basket. They sit there for a few minutes, then come out with all the butter-pepper sauce that sticks to them. They top off the butter once in awhile, but keep going with it. The more orders of shrimp that go in and out, the better the sauce gets. This can't be duplicated at home unless you're cooking for a lot of people.
But I was cooking for a lot of people. I did my first batch of about three pounds in the skillet while the ladies looked on. I served all that, then reloaded the pan while leaving all the extra sauce from the first batch in there. Those came out good, too--but the sauce had lost that creamy look they get from doing one batch at a time.
Then I joined the ladies for the remainder of lunch, the most delicious part of which was listening to the compliments about the book and the radio show. Which gave me my reason for leaving a little early: I go on the air in ninety minutes, across the lake.. On the way out, Beth gave me a large jar of Dr. T's bees' honey. Great! I'll figure out something to do with it for Thanksgiving.
To dinner after the show at the Peppermill. It was busier than I expected to find it at 8:30 p.m. The Peppermill is both blessed and cursed with a large following of older diners, who typically dine early. I remember when anything before nine was considered early, but that's no longer true. Particularly in Metairie, restaurants start filling up at five now.
The new generation of the Riccobono family is doing some nice new things at the Peppemill, modernizing without destroying the restaurant's menu and style. I built a dinner entirely from dishes they've done for decades, starting with oysters amandine. The good part of this is the thick (a little too thick lately, I'd say) tan, lemony meuniere sauce; the almonds are a footnote, and the fried oysters are the foundation to carry the sauce. Always did like this.
Then came what I believe are the best stuffed crabs in town. They're unusual in being made not with bread crumbs but bread cubes, soaked in crab stock and mixed with lump crabmeat before being baked in the aluminum (oh, well) shells. They serve a matched pair with a pile of spaghetti bordelaise--a good companion for the herbal crabbiness of the main items. Finished up with their good bread pudding, whose sauce is white and translucent, with a spicy flavor--like egg nog, a little. All this comes at a neighborhood-café price.
I depart every meal at the Peppermill lately with the feeling that this is one of the under-appreciated restaurants in our city. And for a bad reason, too. It's because so many people find the mere presence of older diners offensive. I stewed about this all the way home. Imagine if someone said, "I don't like it because there are too many black people there." He'd shock his listeners.
I wonder if there's a way that old people can be made to seem cool.