Now, I’ve been to Lafayette, Opelousas, and St. Martinville, too. But I haven’t been with George Graham. He’s the author of Acadiana Table: Cajun and Creole Home Cooking from the Heart of Louisiana (Harvard Common Press, 2016) as well as the blog out of which it arose; and it’s the single perspective of this zealous home cook that transforms well-trodden territory into a Louisiana I don’t yet know.
Acadiana, in this case, is presented by a man who likes to get his hands dirty. Recipes for roux and a personal seasoning blend are to be expected; but Graham, whose father owned the Acme Café in Bogalusa and who has cooked on the Food Network, will also insist you roast chicken bones for your own Dark Chicken Stock, which must then be simmered for eight hours and twice strained. You’ll be tempted to skip the hassle—I almost did—but Graham mischievously makes the stock a crucial ingredient for some of the book’s most tantalizing dishes (Chicken Leg Fricassee, Smothered Quail and Chanterelles with Pickled Red Onions). You will eventually cave and hand two days over to the demanding recipe … and see, now you’re the sort of person who will never cut corners again.
Essentially, Graham is the modern Cajun cook: he knows the rules before he breaks them. For every Snapping Turtle Sauce Piquante in Acadiana Table, there’s a Griddled Cantaloupe and Goat Cheese Salad. Graham’s experiments in Cajun Pho and Softshell Crab Bánh Mi just might make your grandmother shriek. No fresh interpretation or divergence ever feels forced, though, like the under-seasoned “Cajun Pasta” you might wrinkle your nose at in Albuquerque or the now-infamous “Disney Gumbo” that swam with quinoa and kale. With Graham’s fingerprints on each dish—and his years of experience gathered into “Table Tips” sidebars—every page turned is an opportunity to trust the man and his wacky ideas a little more. By the time Graham leads into the Tabasco Chocolate and Red Currant Brownies, he’s earned his own congregation.
320 pages. $30. acadianatable.com.