Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Robert St. John: Legacy Recipes

 Check out this week's recipe.

The late great American chef and icon, Paul Prudhomme created and developed thousands of recipes in his lifetime. His books are filled with his culinary genius and creativity. Though, above all the recipes listed in all the indexes in his books, the one recipe that will still be attributed to him decades from now will be blackened redfish or blackened anything for that matter. 


 If you are in a mid-scale chain restaurant in Bozeman, Montana, and order a blackened chicken breast salad, or a seafood restaurant in the Florida Panhandle and order blackened grouper, you can thank Prudhomme. That is how one leaves his/her impact on an industry.

Prudhomme probably didn’t invent blackening. It’s likely something he picked up in the home kitchens and campsites of the remote bayous of his South Louisiana childhood home in Opelousas. But he is the one who brought it to town. And he is the one that started using that rustic cooking process in a fine-dining restaurant. And he is the one who made that process so widespread and popular that an entire species of fish— redfish— bordered on the edge of extinction and had to start being regulated by the government for fear that it may vanish from the Gulf. True story.

Chefs typically have signature dishes that follow them around for their entire career. John Currence brought Shrimp and Grits to Mississippi. He learned the dish while working for Bill Neal at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Currence brought it to The Square in Oxford when he opened City Grocery. I would venture to say that Shrimp and Grits—though Neal brought it from the Low Country into a restaurant— is more attributed to Currence these days than Neal.

There is no chance of shrimp being over-fished, but that hasn’t stopped that particular dish from spreading all over the country. We serve a version in one of our restaurants. We also blacken proteins.

A dish that has been associated with me for the past 30 years is white chocolate bread pudding. I didn’t invent it. To my knowledge the chefs at Dickie Brennan’s Palace Café created that dish when that restaurant opened on Canal Street in the early 1990s. I ate it there around that time and loved it. I went back several times determined to breakdown the recipe, take it back to our restaurant, and recreate it. I brought friends with me and had them try it. I ate a lot of it early on.

It’s now been so long that I can’t remember if I asked the restaurant for their version of the recipe or if I just winged it back in our kitchen until I got it right. But I do remember making several changes to the way the Palace Café seemed to be preparing theirs, in that I put the bread and loose custard into a mixing bowl with the paddle attachment and slowly blended those two which gave the end result a smooth, ribbony custard-like texture.

We have been serving white chocolate bread pudding since then. It’s been in my books. It’s been served at catering events and weddings. I once served it at a fundraising event for one of Emeril Lagasse’s charities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and we served over 1,200 portions even though there were 800 people there. They kept coming back for seconds. It’s one of those things— as far as recipes go— that has stuck to me, even though I didn’t create it from its inception.

At the end of the day, I would like my tombstone to read: “He was a good husband, a good father, and a good friend.” At this rate it will likely state “Here lies the white chocolate bread pudding guy.”

I have created a few hundred recipes at our restaurants. Most of those recipes were created in the early days when I was working as a full-time chef in the kitchen. I don’t get behind the line anymore (I would greatly slow down the process), though I still occasionally work side-by-side with our chef team these days to develop new menu items or cookbook recipes. Out of all our menu offerings and cookbook recipes, there is one recipe that has become popular, that can 100% be attributed to me that is probably the most requested recipe in my arsenal. It’s a dish I created in the late 1990s, baked shrimp and squash.

The dish came from the need to get rid of a surplus amount of squash we had in the restaurant. I combined a basic squash casserole base with sauteed shrimp that I seasoned with Old Bay seasoning, and it became a hit.

A perfect recipe crosses boundaries. The white chocolate bread pudding is that way. Due to the silky consistency, people who don’t like bread pudding like it because it has the texture of a custard. People who don’t like custard like it because it’s more like a bread pudding. People that don’t like either custard or bread pudding enjoy it because it doesn’t remind them of either and it just tastes good.

The baked shrimp and squash is similar. People who don’t like squash love this dish, because it’s more like a seafood casserole. People who don’t like shrimp. Well, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like shrimp.

A perfect recipe is versatile. The good thing about that shrimp and squash recipe is that it can be served in a casserole dish as a buffet item at a nice dinner, or in a Pyrex dish on a trivet in the middle of a table for a casual lunch. It can also be portioned into individual rarebit dishes as we do in the restaurant and served as a single entrée. At the all-vegetable summer lunches at our house, baked shrimp and squash will sit among the butter beans, black eyed peas, new potatoes, fried corn, and okra as the stand-alone protein.

A perfect recipe also has a sense of place. My baked shrimp and squash is a perfect example of what I call Piney Woods Cuisine. It is a dish that is “of” its region. We are one-hour due north of the Gulf of Mexico, home to the world’s best shrimp. We are 90 minutes northeast of Louisiana where Creole flavors have a large influence in our dishes. And the South Mississippi garden provides ample amounts of fresh squash. It’s inside that triangle that encompasses the Mississippi Coast, New Orleans, and Hattiesburg Mississippi where my favorite food is prepared and served.

My friend and chef, Martha Foose, recently posted a letter on my Facebook page: “Dear Robert St. John, Could you publish the shrimp and squash casserole every year in July? Thanks. Your pal, Martha.”

Here ya go, Foose.


Robert St. John’s Baked Shrimp and Squash

6 cups              Squash, cubed

1/4 cup            Clarified butter or canola oil

1 Tbl               Garlic, minced

1 tsp                Salt     

1 tsp                Pepper, freshly ground

1 Tbl               Creole Seasoning

1/2 cup            green onion, chopped

3 cups              Wild-caught, domestic Shrimp (36–42 count), peeled and de-veined

1/4 cup            Clarified butter or canola oil

1 Tbl               Old Bay Seasoning

1 Tbl.              Garlic

1/2 cup            Onion, medium dice

1/4 cup            Red Bell pepper, medium dice

1/4 cup            Green Bell Pepper, medium dice

4 Tbl               Butter, cubed

1/2 cup            Parmesan cheese        

1 cup               Cheddar cheese, grated

1 cup               Sour Cream    

1/4 cup            Green Onion

1 Tbl               Hot Sauce

1 cup               Ritz Cracker crumbs, crumbled

1/4 cup            Parmesan Cheese

2 Tbl               Parsley, chopped

Sautee the first seven ingredients until the squash is cooked. Place squash in a colander and press out excess moisture with the back of a spoon. Pour all into a stainless steel mixing bowl.

Sautee the next seven ingredients until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Transfer shrimp to the mixing bowl with the squash.

Immediately add butter, parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onion and hot sauce to the bowl with the hot shrimp/squash mixture. Stir well until butter and cheeses are melted.

Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Mix together the Ritz crumbs, parmesan and parsley. Top casserole with the cracker crumb mixture and bake at 350 degrees until bubbly.

Yield: 6-8 Servings

© Robert St.John 2001

Recipe published in A Southern Palate Cookbook, Different Drummer Press


Kingfish note: I know some of you clowns will gripe about this column not having a white chocolate bread pudding recipe. Well, try this one out.  Nearly ten years ago, JJ had the pleasure of producing a video about the late former State Senator Jim Bean.  His daughter fixed a wonderful bread pudding that was heavily sampled by me and the crew.  Enjoy. 

CINNAMON AND SUGAR MIX (to your own taste)







Anonymous said...

I was getting ready to be that clown! Thx for adding it in.

That'sMisterDeplorableToYou said...

Ol' Paul single handedly transformed the lowly redfish. Formerly considered a trash fish, with no size limits, no catch limits, that people usually threw back. Now they're as tightly regulated as any other game fish and mighty good eating.

We should have commissioned him to come up with an appetizing way to cook feral hogs.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for BOTH of these recipes!

I will be trying them this weekend and making many trips to the gym to offset the damage.

Anonymous said...

Cool. If you really share this with seven other people, you get 262 g of fat, of which 21.5 g are saturated fat… Bon appetite!

(Is there a health insurance with lower premiums for the folks who don’t eat such stuff?)

Anonymous said...

Why did you post this just before lunch?

Anonymous said...

Make bread pudding using Shipley glazed donuts.

Your welcome.

Anonymous said...

Robert's ability to find new ways to blow his own horn is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Why not enjoy two or three sticks of butter on a stick? Roll it in Cajun seasoning first. Less work.

Bill Dees said...

I had shrimp and grits several times at Neal's Crook's Corner restaurant (sadly now closed) in Chapel Hill when my son was a student at UNC. It was indeed a special dish, which Currance didn't equal, though he might not have even been trying to copy the dish.

Anonymous said...

Redfish was a trash fish until Prudhomme blackened it and brought it to the table. Most places where they say redfish, you’re usually getting drum. Red or black is left to interpretation.

Anonymous said...

"I don’t get behind the line anymore (I would greatly slow down the process), though I still occasionally work side-by-side with our chef team these days to develop new menu items or cookbook recipes."

Wait, WHAT? RSJ has been in the business over 30 years and he'll "slow down the process" by actually cooking for his customers in his own restaurant? I have numerous comments but I doubt most would get approved so I'll just leave each to decide what the above quote tells them.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

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This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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