Cooking with Emeril
Emeril Lagasse calls it “My Way Grouper Chowder,” and it does have that definite New Orleans character with the Louisiana mirepoix of onions, celery and chopped bell pepper instead of carrots. Of course, how authentic would the dish be without cayenne pepper and Creole seasoning?
Lagasse, the masterful chef and restaurateur, showed his audience at the Sands Bethlehem how to make his version of the chowder, while also giving away trade secrets about stuff like evaporation and condensation.
“The key to the chowder is the stock,” he began, ”but you can’t buy fish stock in the market because it is too fragile.” So, he makes his own, suggesting using the fish bones from the grouper, or substituting with shrimp shells. “I like to give fish and bones a little color – I just brown them a little bit. Then we start building.” He continued to use the analogy of a house needing a strong foundation, which he said, “is the broth.”
Besides the bones, Lagasse’s version of the broth included lots of water, plus onions, carrots, celery, garlic, white wine, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and lemons.
“I believe in finishing with acid – lemon.” He would mention that again later in his cooking demonstration. “The natural acidity of citrus wakes up the flavor.”
Next, he began work on the gumbo by browning some small pieces of pork. “The flavor of the pancetta is really amazing. When we get a nice brown color on our pancetta, we start with the onion – two parts onion to one part celery and green pepper.” After a short time cooking the mirepoix, he declared, “Now is when we add the seasoning – salt and pepper. In Louisiana, we use cayenne pepper for the heat.”
Explaining that some chowders are thickened with a roux made from flour, Lagasse said, “If you are making a roux, now is when you would add the flour.” He said he was using potatoes instead to thicken his chowder.
After adding the potatoes and stock, he said “bring the pot to a boil and let it cook awhile.” His next advice was to taste. “We don’t do this enough at home.”
It was no surprise that Lagasse declared that the chowder needed more salt and cayenne, blaming the potatoes for having a neutral taste and absorbing other flavors. That explanation prompted a few giggles from the audience, to which he responded, “I know. I dream about this stuff.”
Once the potatoes were fork tender, Lagasse added the grouper, cautioning that if the fish is added too soon or cooked too long it will break apart. His recipe suggests five minutes, and at the very end, adding parsley and the heavy cream.
Before starting the next dish, Lagasse shared some knowledge about the chemistry of cooking. “When you have evaporation, you have concentration [of flavors]. Lids help you trap evaporation.” In other words, if you want reduction or a thicker, more flavorful sauce, use evaporation. If not, keep the lid on.