Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interview with Special Guest Ralph Brennan

Tuesday, 12/02

Interview with Special Guest Ralph Brennan

Ralph Brennan is a third-generation restaurateur. Known affectionately by his culinary staff as “The Taster-in-Chief”, Ralph entered the family business in the early 1980’s after a successful stint as a CPA with Price Waterhouse & Company. A long-time food service industry advocate, Ralph served as the 1995-1996 Chairman and President of the National Restaurant Association (NRA). An NRA Director since 1984, Brennan also served as the 2000-2001 Chairman of the NRA Educational Foundation. In 1997, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) honored Ralph Brennan with its highest honor—the prestigious Gold Plate Operator of the Year Award. Ralph is a Past President of the Louisiana Restaurant Association and the New Orleans Restaurant Association. He was the chairman of the board of New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center from 1998-2005. Ralph remains active on the board of New Orleans’ Children’s Hospital and served as chairman in 2003-2004. He and his wife Susan are the proud parents of Kathryn, Patrick, and Kristen, and live in New Orleans.

The New Orleans-based Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group is owned and operated by Ralph Brennan and includes French Quarter restaurantsBACCO and Red Fish Grill, Ralph’s on the Park in mid-City New Orleans, and Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen at the Disneyland® Resort in Southern California. Each of these award-winning restaurants celebrates the cuisine and hospitality of classic and contemporary New Orleans and is staffed by a team of hardworking professionals dedicated ‘to making people happy’.

For more information, visit http://www.neworleans-food.com/.

Click here to purchase the cookbook.

Recipes from Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook

Jazz Kitchen French Quarter Salad with Candied Pecans & Cane-Sugar Vinaigrette

This one is for salad lovers who enjoy a bit of sweetness with their greens. The pecans aren’t over-sugared, allowing the natural flavor of pecans to come through, and the bacon adds a nice salty crunchiness.
Serves 6

For the cane-syrup vinaigrette
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon apple juice
1 tablespoon Steen’s cane syrup*
1 tablespoon, packed, light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon very finely chopped shallots
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Special Equipment
A medium-size, nonreactive mixing bowl
A metal whisk

*If this ingredient is difficult to find you can order it from http://www.cajungrocer.com/ and http://www.steensyrup.com/.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the apple juice, cane syrup, brown sugar, mustard, and shallots, whisking with a metal whisk until blended.

Very gradually add the oil in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly until all is incorporated. Season with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper or to taste. Cover and refrigerate if not using within an hour.

For the Candied Pecans
1 cup chopped pecans or pecan pieces
1 tablespoon, packed, light brown sugar
1 teaspoon lightly beaten egg white (from any size egg)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Special Equipment
A rimmed baking sheet
Parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the pecans with the brown sugar, egg white and vanilla, mixing thoroughly with your hands until all the pecans are moistened with egg white and vanilla and feel grainy with sugar.

Scatter the pecans on the lined baking sheet, separating the pieces so they aren’t clumped together. Bake uncovered on the middle shelf of the oven for five minutes.

Remove from the oven, stir the pecans well and continue baking until the sugar on the pecans feels dry to the touch, about six minutes more.

Remove from the oven, stir the pecans again and, if desired, lightly sprinkle with table salt. Let the pecans cool completely on the baking sheet. If made ahead, transfer the cooled pecans to an airtight container and store at room temperature.

For Finishing the Salad
6 top-quality, thick-cut bacon strips, applewood-smoked preferred
12 ounces mixed salad greens
18 cherry tomatoes or 30 grape tomatoes, halved

Special Equipment
A very large mixing bowl

Just before serving time, fry the bacon strips until crisp. Drain on paper towels and while still warm cut the strips crosswise into thin slices. Set aside at room temperature.

Place the greens in a very large mixing bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over the greens, tossing until all greens are coated evenly with vinaigrette.

Serving Suggestion
Divide the greens equally among six chilled salad plates. Arrange a portion of the tomato halves on each salad and sprinkle each with a portion of the bacon strips and candied pecans. Serve immediately.

Both the vinaigrette and candied pecans may be prepared up to two days ahead.

Creole Jambalaya

This rice dish is one of the oldest in the traditional New Orleans Creole cook’s repertoire. It shares characteristics with Spanish paëllas, but it has even stronger connections with traditional African rice cookery. Some have speculated that “jambalaya” is a contraction of jambon à la ya-ya— marrying the French word jambon, for ham, with the old African Bantu word ya-ya, for rice. Over the decades, jambalaya has taken on a multitude of identities in South Louisiana. The classic New Orleans dish with shrimp and ham is among the “red” jambalayas, thanks to the presence of tomatoes in it. In many of the Cajun com munities to the west of the city, “brown” jambalayas, with oysters, giblets and lusty country sausages, are more familiar.

In present-day New Orleans homes, jambalaya’s easy preparation makes it pop ular party fare, especially during such local celebrations as Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Serves 6

Special Equipment
A heavy, nonreactive 6-quart saucepan or Dutch oven
A nonreactive lidded container for refrigerated storage

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or 2 tablespoons if the pork and sausage are very lean)
4 ounces andouille sausage,* sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
4 ounces pickled pork** or ham, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch of green onions, chopped, with white and green parts separated
1 medium-size green sweet pepper, chopped
2 cans (10 ounces each) crushed plum tomatoes
1/4 cup canned tomato purée
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 whole bay leaf
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
4 quarts chicken stock
1 tablespoon Louisiana pepper sauce
2 cups long-grain white rice, uncooked
1 pound raw medium shrimp, peeled

*Smoked or Polish sausage (kielbasa) may be substituted for the andouille.
**Pickled pork (or “pickled meat,” as it is sometimes called) is a familiar seasoning meat in the traditional “pot cooking” of the American Deep South. It is often used to add flavor to greens, beans and other “pot food.” In this jambalaya recipe, any good-quality ham may be used instead.

Over medium-high heat, melt the butter in a heavy, nonreactive 6-quart saucepan or Dutch oven.

Add the sausage and pickled pork or ham and cook until all of the fat is rendered out of the meats, about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the yellow onions, the white part of the green onions and the sweet peppers. Cook the vegetables until they are clear, about five minutes, occasionally stirring and scraping the pan bottom clean.

Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato purée, garlic, bay leaf, table salt, black pepper, cayenne, and thyme. Cook and stir this base sauce about two minutes. (If the dish is being prepared ahead, allow the base sauce to cool, then place in a lidded nonreactive container and store it in the refrigerator for up to two days. For the final preparation, heat the base to a boil and proceed with the remainder of the recipe.)

Add the chicken stock and pepper sauce to the base and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to maintain a strong simmer, and simmer the liquid uncovered until it is reduced by one third, about one hour 15 minutes. Skim any foam or coagulates as they develop on the surface.

Return the liquid to a boil and stir in the rice.

Reduce the heat to medium, and cook uncovered until the rice is just short of being done (it should still be a little firm in the center), about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the shrimp and cook until the rice is tender and the shrimp turn bright pink, about three minutes. Do not overcook. Stir in the green part of the green onions.

Serving Suggestion
Spoon the warm jambalaya onto a heated serving platter or into a wide, shallow serving bowl.

This recipe can be prepared up to two days ahead by completing Steps 1 through 4, allowing the base sauce to cool a bit, then covering and storing in the refrigerator. When it’s time to finish the preparation, bring the base sauce to a boil and proceed from Step 5.

Recipes from RALPH BRENNAN’S NEW ORLEANS SEAFOOD COOKBOOK by Ralph Brennan with Gene Bourg, photography by Kerri McCaffety (Vissi d’Arte Books; March 2008; $45.00/hardcover)

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