Lee Bailey's latest cookbook locale is New Orleans

June 09, 1993|By Peter D. Franklin

NEW ORLEANS -- It was only fitting that the "coming out" party for "Lee Bailey's New Orleans: Good Food and Glorious Houses" (Clarkson Potter, $30) be at the incomparable Commander's Palace restaurant here.

Mr. Bailey long has been a chum of Ella Brennan, whose name has been associated with the restaurant and with outstanding food in the Crescent City for more than 40 years. That's why, on the cover, the author shares the credit "with Ella Brennan."

The Brennans -- there are so many that they "reckon up by dozens" -- have three restaurants here now: Mr. B's, the Palace Cafe and Commander's Palace. All three played a role in creating "Lee Bailey's New Orleans" in that the talented chefs at each contributed the recipes, which were then adapted for the book by Mr. Bailey.

This, Mr. Bailey's 12th book, is his best since his first, "Lee Bailey's Country Weekends" (Clarkson Potter, 1983). In his words, "New Orleans" is about "really wonderful food as it is evolving in this truly magical city and the equally marvelous houses you see at every turn."

Houses? Yes, in wondrous profusion. "Unlike the food, the fact that so many of them are basically unchanged . . . is what makes these glorious buildings such a pleasure to look at and contemplate," he writes.

We get invited to 19 of these 19th-century Southern charmers where we find the table already set with the top recipes from chefs of Brennan establishments.

For instance, at the Dolliole-Lynott House, an example of a French Quarter Creole cottage, the menu includes oyster shooters, shrimp maque choux salad, corn muffins and New Orleans French bread, Rocky Road squares with caramel sauce and a wine already selected: a Alsace Pinot Gris "Reserve" Trimbach 1984.

The de Saulles-White House is on a considerably grander scale. There Mr. Bailey chose to serve smoked fish cakes with caper sauce, grilled pompano with thyme and garlic butter, vegetable lasagna, green salad, sour cream pecan cake with fresh peaches, peach coulis and whipped cream, and a bottle or two of Ferrari Carano "Reserve" Chardonnay, Alexander Valley 1988.

Although Mr. Bailey and the chefs make some concessions to prepare lighter fare, "no one is crazy enough to believe New Orleans cooking is calorie- and fat-free," writes Mr. Bailey. "To tell you the truth, neither of those worthy considerations is of primary concern when I first put together menus.

"As a result, you are going to find butter and cream and eggs and mayonnaise in these recipes. If that's a problem for you, try a substitute, cut back on the ingredient or eliminate it."

Mr. Bailey refuses to do any of the above when it comes to desserts. "I say dessert is something you have in its blissfully seductive form or you skip it," he says. "But I don't compromise."

Where you'll have to compromise, perhaps, is in some of the other ingredients. Crawfish is a good example of what is not widely available. Crab, rabbit, pheasant and the sweetest of oysters also may be difficult to find in some areas.

No matter. Grab a copy of "Lee Bailey's New Orleans" and, as they say in these here parts, "Let the good times roll!"

I found this to be a curious, but absolutely wonderful, recipe to find in a New Orleans cookbook, given that it includes the Japanese horseradish condiment "wasabi." It can be found in powder or paste form.

The dish as pictured in the book depicts the crust as well-browned, certainly much more so than I achieved by simply baking in the oven. If you want the real brown, crusty look, briefly slip the fillets under the broiler flame before serving.

The sauce is rich, but you can cut the amount of butter or, as Mr. Bailey suggests, serve the salmon with a salsa flavored with oranges.

Wasabi crust baked salmon fillet

Makes 6 servings

1 ounce wasabi (Japanese horseradish)

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cups toasted bread crumbs

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

6 (4- to 6-ounce) salmon fillets, with any remaining bones removed

1 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter, cut into bits

Orange Anaheim pepper sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix wasabi with water to form a paste. Let it rest for 20 minutes. Place all ingredients except salmon, butter and pepper sauce in a small bowl and combine with your hands to make a moist mixture.

Put several tablespoons of water in a baking sheet to prevent sticking (you want a film of water in the pan) and lay the fillets on it. Pat mixture on top of each fillet to about 1/4 -inch thickness. Dot with the butter and bake for 6 to 7 minutes. Center of fish should be slightly undercooked.

Serve with orange Anaheim pepper sauce.

Depending on your taste, you may want to cut back on the Anaheim pepper or eliminate it entirely. The wasabi made this dish hot enough for me without the minced pepper.

Orange Anaheim pepper sauce

Makes about 1 1/3 cups

1/3 cup fresh orange juice

zest of two medium oranges

1/4 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons minced Anaheim pepper, including a few seeds

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of white pepper

Place juice in a small, non-reactive pot with the zest, wine and vinegar. Reduce over high heat until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Off the heat, add pepper and cream and whisk to combine. Return to a medium flame and whisk in butter a piece at a time until all is incorporated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, adding more if desired.

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