A Cookbook of Merit
I dig Tenney Flynn and I’ve made no effort to hide the fact. GW Fins is the best restaurant in New Orleans for inventively prepared seafood and one of the places I go to celebrate special occasions.
Flynn is a pretty swell dude too, and I say that as someone who has been on the receiving end of his scorn. Short version: Around 10-15 years ago I was at a press event at GW Fins and the materials we were given said that all of the seafood in the place (apart from the lobsters) was fresh, never frozen, and that included fish from the waters off Indonesia and Australia. I didn’t see how that was possible and I guess when I asked how it was possible I sounded skeptical.
Chef Flynn did not take that well, but he explained it to me adequately and we all got on with things and everything I tasted that day was excellent. I’ve been back many times since and have spoken to Chef Flynn a good bit at the restaurant and elsewhere and have always found him to be a damn fine fellow. I am a fan, and I make no bones about it.
So I was happy to hear that Flynn was working on a cookbook, and when his publicist reached out to ask whether I’d be interested in a review copy my answer was a very easy “yes, please!”
I must disclose that I got a free copy of the cookbook (because I am awesome) but I hope you trust me enough to know that I would not be writing about “The Deep End of Flavor” if I didn’t like it. I do, and the following paragraphs will explain why.
I have been cooking every day for a long time. I don’t pretend to have the experience that a line cook in any restaurant has, but I have devoted a great deal of physical and mental effort into learning how to prepare a host of different ingredients, including seafood. When I look at a cookbook, it’s generally because I want to learn about how different people combine ingredients. I don’t need to read a recipe to know how to cook a chicken, but I’m fascinated by how different chefs from different backgrounds go about doing it.
I’m also interested in the stories behind the food; at least when the stories are interesting. Flynn’s book gave me some insight into his character that I didn’t have, but I can’t say I’m going to look at him any differently having read it. This is not a Bourdain-style confessional, but do we need any more of those?
This book is at its heart an outstanding introduction to cooking fish and seafood generally; it’s a call to arms for sustainable fisheries and it’s a collection of great recipes, most of which are accessible to the home cook.
I say “most of which,” because Flynn includes more than one recipe for preparing lionfish, which is not commercially available to my knowledge. I’ve only had it once, and that was at GW Fins, but it was as delicious as Flynn describes it. It’s also an invasive species that eats just about everything it encounters and which has no natural predators in the Gulf, so hopefully any attention brought to how toothsome it is on the plate will end up with more of it on the, well, plate.
“The Deep End of Flavor” starts with a short biography of Flynn then goes into a primer on fish and seafood. I particularly liked the “tips to boost your fish and shellfish confidence” section – a page and a half of advice on things like selecting, storing and timing the cooking of seafood. I’ve tried to write tips for novice to moderately experienced cooks a few times over the last decade, and have never come close to being as accurate and succinct as Flynn.
I don’t know whether I am special (I am) or not but I do have all of the equipment Flynn recommends and almost all of the pantry ingredients, too. There are two things I disagree with about the latter.
First, Flynn recommends salted butter. I am sticking with unsalted on the theory that you can always add salt but cannot take it away from a finished dish. The second involves stock. At the restaurant they make their own, but Flynn suggests “store bought chicken stock is always handy to have around,” and that “you have to be a serious home cook” to make veal stock yourself. My advice: buy a pressure cooker and make your own stock, because unless you’re making consommé it’s ridiculously easy and there is absolutely no comparison to the shelf-stable stuff. And why would you be making consommé, exactly?
I am picking nits here, obviously, because everything else in that section of the book is spot-on. The recipes are broken down by technique, starting with “raw,” then “poached and boiled,” “sautéed, seared, blackened and bronzed,” “grilled and smoked,” braised, roasted and en papillote,” “fried,” “simmered and stewed,” blended bits and pieces,” sauces and dressings,” “grains, sides and salads” and “drinks, desserts and lagniappe.”
You may think there’s some overlap between things like “poached and boiled,” “braised, roasted and en papillote” and “simmered and stewed,” but I swear it makes sense in context. Poached and boiled includes things like oil-poached tuna and boiled shrimp in the shell; The braised section includes recipes for pompano and red snapper cooked in paper pouches, and the last part has to do with things like gumbo and multiple variations of ingredients cooked in a classic Creole sauce.
In between there are recipes for items that have become classics on the GW Fins menu and for things that may be too prosaic for such a white tablecloth place but which if you know chef Flynn you know he loves to cook.
Look, I’ve only had this book for a week. I’ve read it cover to cover and while I’ve only cooked a couple of recipes it inspired me to go out and buy a whole fish (red grouper) at Hong Kong Market. I cooked what I thought was an outstanding meal with the two fillets from that fish and I made a stock from the head and bones that is so very delightful.
This is one of the best cookbooks by a local chef in a long time, and I recommend it.