"Louisiana Tastes," by Paul Prudhomme

Pros: Flavor, flavor, and flavor
Cons: None
Rating: 5 out of 5

First posted 7/16/2000

I already reviewed Chef Paul’s high-fat high-flavor Louisiana Kitchen. “Louisiana Tastes” is a very different cookbook, but it delivers the same high-quality high-flavor food.

In this book, Chef Paul has cut down on the fat content. I’m guessing that this has something to do with why one of his last books, “Fork in the Road,” uses even less fat and includes (blech!) aspartame as an artificial sweetener, and why in the picture on the cover he looks much smaller and older than on the cover of “Louisiana Kitchen.”

In my mind, Tastes is his best cookbook yet. It balances the needs of the other two cookbooks, and for the first time really takes moderation into account. It doesn’t go overboard in the way Kitchen did, using two whole sticks of butter (or even more!) in a dish with only four to eight servings. It doesn’t go overboard in the way Fork did, resorting to chemicals to enhance the flavor of food in an attempt to make it “healthier.”

In Tastes, Chef Paul goes beyond the boundaries of Louisiana. He combines fabulous traditional Cajun cuisine with ingredients from around the world: mango, papaya, balsamic vinegar, chipotle peppers, and so on. As always, reading a Chef Paul cookbook is like inviting a friend into your home. He explains a lot of the whys and wherefores of his recipes, and the introduction (mainly about the place of food in our lives) is personal and friendly.

One look and you won’t have any question as to whether this newer, healthier cuisine delivers the same great flavors as “Louisiana Kitchen:” Crab Claws Vinaigrette with Fire-Roasted Mayonnaise. Crawfish-Stuffed Mushrooms. Bronzed Tilapia and Portobello Soup. Caraway Mango Mayonnaise, which includes three types of vinegar and dark brown sugar. Lamb Cakes with Roasted Fennel and Olive Sauce.

Of course, the recipes come with Chef Paul’s spice mixes. In this book they’re separated out visually from the main recipe, so they’re easier to pick out and put together.

Our favorite recipes so far: Vegetables in a Sweet Potato Cream is surprisingly wonderful. It’s a concoction made up of various veggies (we substituted bell pepper for the onion) cooked in mashed sweet potato with lots of spices and, eventually, stock and cream mixed into the sweet potato to thin it out. It has incredible flavor for such an odd-sounding dish. The banana corn fritters are amazing; if you drain them on a rack they shouldn’t pick up all that much oil, and they taste really fabulous served with maple syrup (Chef Paul suggests confectioner’s sugar, which would also be good.)

This book combines all that’s best about Chef Paul’s cooking, without the drawbacks of his earlier cookbooks. How can you go wrong?

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