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Seasonal Pantry: Tenney Flynn’s seafood cookbook gives taste of New Orleans

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Last weekend, Tenney Flynn, chef and co-owner of GW Fins, one of New Orleans’ premier seafood restaurants, was in the North Bay.

On Saturday night, he served a multi-course dinner at Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford in celebration of the publication of his beautiful new book, “The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories from New Orleans’ Premier Seafood Chef” (Gibbs-Smith, 2019, $30). The extravagant meal was based primarily on Gulf seafood that he brought with him.

On Sunday evening, he was a guest on my radio show, “Mouthful.” Over the 24 years I’ve been hosting the show, I’ve been reluctant to feature chefs because so many are not particularly chatty, at least not once they are in front of a microphone.

Chef Flynn was the opposite. The time flew by, and we could have talked for several more hours.

He was that engaging, with stories that meandered through such topics as how to treat seafood from the moment it is caught until it is served and New Orleans in general to the late Dr. John’s love of raccoon, nutria, and ‘possum and getting into too much trouble in one’s youth.

The book is a treasure. The recipes are, almost entirely, ideal for the home cook, with just a few chef-y flourishes added here and there.

But the most valuable part, I think, is the introduction and first chapter, “A Fish and Seafood Primer.”

It includes everything you need to understand to buy, store, prepare and enjoy seafood successfully at home.

Flynn goes beyond Cajun and Creole flavors and techniques, adding Southeast Asian, Mexican, and other elements in such dishes as flash-fried lionfish with Vietnamese flavors, pot stickers filled with crab, country ham, and chanterelles in a pea shoot butter sauce, and a towering BLT with soft-shell crab.

All your New Orleans favorites are here, too, so if you have longed to learn how to make Creole sauce, sauce piquant, gumbo, or oyster stew, you’ll find it all here, too.

The best way to buy the book is through the restaurant’s Web site, gwfins.com.

Chef Flynn will inscribe the book for you and mail it himself. He’s that kind of guy, with a casual southern charm that runs through his book from beginning to end.

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If you are reluctant to cook fish at home or if you are always a bit disappointed with the results, this is the first recipe you should master, Chef Flynn suggests.

Once you’ve mastered it, and that won’t take long, you can use the technique with a variety of finfish.

You can also prepare chicken breast — skinned, boned, and pounded very thin – this way.

Speckled Sea Trout Meunière

Makes 2 servings

2 5-6-ounce speckled trout fillets or other fillets from a smallish fish, such as catfish, drum or sole

— Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons salted butter, plus more if needed, divided

½ lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Lightly season the fish fillets with salt and pepper and dust with the flour. Set a large sauté pan on medium heat. When hot, add the oil then 1 tablespoon of butter.

If the butter is browning too quickly, remove the pan from the burner and wait a few seconds before adding the fish. (If it burns, dump it out, wipe out the pan, and start over.)

Place the seasoned fillets skin side up (the flat side, if skinned) in the hot pan and cook undisturbed, for 3 to 4 minutes. With a spatula, lift a fillet to check for color.

When they are golden brown, tilt the pan toward you so the oil drains to the bottom and turn the fillets away from you so you don’t splash oil onto yourself.

Gently flip with spatula and cook, skin side down, for 2 or 3 minutes longer.

Remove the fillets to a heated plate. Reduce heat to medium and add the rest of the butter.

Using a fork or whisk, scrape the crusted bits off the bottom of the pan while the butter is browning. (If the melted butter has blackened bits, dump it out, quickly wipe out the pan, and add fresh butter.)

When the butter is medium brown (just past the color of light brown sugar), add the lemon juice and parsley. Immediately pour over the fish fillets and serve.

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“ … the temperature of your pan is critical,” Chef Flynn writes in the introduction to this recipe. “Too hot and the crust will over-brown before the first side of the fish is done, and if not hot enough, the coating will become soft from the oil and butter.”

He recommends serving this dish with his mashed potatoes, the recipe for which follows this one.

Horseradish-Crusted Catfish Fillets

Makes 4 servings

1 cup panic breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

¼ cup prepared horseradish

¼ cup Dijon mustard

4 5- to 7- ounce catfish or snapper fillets

— Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

2-4 tablespoons salted butter

Mix the panic and parsley in a small dish. Mix the horseradish and Dijon well in another small dish.

Lay out the fish on a dinner plate and season liberally on both sides with salt and pepper, placing them skin side down.

Smear a heaping tablespoon of the mustard-horseradish mixture in a thick, even layer on each fillet. Pour the panic crumbs evenly over the fish and press to firmly adhere.

Set a large, heavy skillet on a burner over medium heat. (Use two skillets if necessary.)

When hot, add 2 tablespoons of the oil then 2 tablespoons of the butter.

When the butter hits the oil, it should melt immediately and start to foam a bit.

If the oil smokes — or if the butter goes crazy, growing and sputtering madly — remove the pan from the heat until it calms down a little.

Place the fish, crush side down, in the skillet and cook on medium heat until the crust is golden brown; turn and continue cooking for several minutes longer, until browned and cooked through.

Total cook time should be about 7 minutes.

Transfer to warmed places and serve.

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This is really three recipes in one; I’ve combined them for ease of reading here.

Because both the cracklings and the butter sauce (“Three-Minute Butter Sauce”) are basic recipes used in a number of dishes, they are in different sections of the book.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes with Chicken Skin Crackling “Gravy”

Makes 4 ervings

½ cup chicken skin cracklings, recipe follows

2 quarts + ¼ cup water

1 tablespoon salt

2 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into somewhat uniform 2-inch pieces

4 tablespoons + 8 tablespoons salted butter

¾ cup half-and-half, heavy cream, or whole milk

— Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

First, make the cracklings and set them aside.

Bring the 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large saucepan. Add the tablespoon of salt and the potato pieces.

Cook until fork-tender, about 8 minutes. Drain all the water out of the pot and let the potatoes steam dry.

Mash them with a potato masher. They should be dry and somewhat mealy.

When the lumps are shred out, add the 4 tablespoons of butter and mix well. Whip in the cream vigorously with a wooden spoon.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

Working quickly, pour the ¼ cup of water into a small saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat. Cut the 8 tablespoons of butter into 8 pieces. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time. Continue to whisk until the emulsion is stable. Remove from the heat and stir in half of the cracklings.

To serve with catfish, spoon mashed potatoes onto warmed dinner plates, set fish fillets nearby, spoon “gravy” over everything and scatter the remaining cracklings on top. Enjoy right away.

Chicken Skin Cracklings

Makes about ½ cup

2 cups vegetable oil

1/2 pound chicken skin, separated into small pieces

— Kosher salt

— Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blend Shrimp Magic, optional

Heat the oil in a tall, heavy-bottom saucepan to 350 degrees. Standing back (there will be a lot of splattering and popping), add the chicken skin and fry until golden brown and crispy, from 5 to about 7 minutes.

To test for doneness, carefully remove a piece and see if it is crispy enough to break. If it isn’t, cook a minute or two longer.

Remove from the heat and drain on paper towels. When cool, season well with salt and shrimp magic, if using.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “San Francisco Seafood.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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