Brennan's of Houston serves Texas Creole cuisine, but head chef Carl Walker didn't grow up in Texas or Louisiana. He was a Missouri farm boy who took an early interest in cooking. After high school, he joined the marines where he became a cook and baker. When he got out of the service, Walker entered the nation's foremost cooking school, the Culinary Institute of America. He then worked as Emeril Lagasse's sous chef at Commander's Palace for four and a half years before coming to Brennan's of Houston in 1987.
Carl Walker's first cookbook, Brennan's of Houston in Your Kitchen, will be released on November 9. We asked Walker about the cookbook and the cooking style.
Q. What does Texas Creole mean?
A. It's a blending of Texas and Creole. As a Creole restaurant in a Texas city, we use local indigenous ingredients. But you know, Texas cuisine has also spread to New Orleans. They make seafood enchiladas and use tomatillos in sauces even in Louisiana. Here in Texas we play that influence up more. Chicken-fried catfish is Texas Creole. So are chile-fried oysters on chile corn sauce; that's a favorite of former president Bush, by the way.
Q. Does pecan-crusted red snapper fall in that category?
A. That's a little more complicated. Pecan-crusted red snapper is what we call a rediscovered classic. At Brennan's, years ago, they were looking for a way to regionalize Creole cuisine. Trout almandine is an old French classic. They changed it to trout pecan because pecan is native to the South and almonds aren't. They used to just sprinkle the pecans over the sautéed fish like the slivered almonds in an almandine. I decided to bring that up to date by roasting the pecans with seasoning, grinding them up and coating the fish with it, then serving it in a meunière sauce.
Q. You can get deep-water red snapper all year round, can't you?
A. Yes, but that fish has been out on a boat for days and days. I only want to serve the very best fish.
Q. What do you use when you can't get fresh red snapper?
A. We use farm-raised redfish, and of course, we advertise it as redfish. We are going to have to get used to farm-raised fish in this country. But you know, even that industry is in trouble. I have tried to remain true to the Louisiana crawfish farming industry, for instance, but a lot of restaurants here are using Asian crawfish.
Q. Is there a difference in taste?
A. Absolutely. Asian crawfish has a washed-out flavor, none of the fatty, rich flavor of Louisiana crawfish, but it's half the price. The crawfish farmers in Louisiana have had a drought the last couple of years, and the price has gotten even higher. The number of permits this year is way down. People are getting out of it. We could lose that whole industry.
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Q. Which recipes in your book are in the "don't miss this" category?
A. Texas corn-bread pudding is going to be a favorite because it's an easy holiday recipe and it's really sensational. We use it for our Thanksgiving dressing. The recipe for Gulf fish Pontchartrain is worth the price of the book.
Q. What is the price of the book?
A. $24.95 -- and it's got 170 recipes and a hundred color photos, so that's a great deal.