“Please forget about adding so much bread. . . . It’s best to use as little filler as possible,” I remember the San Francisco culinary instructor advising our class during a 1980s discussion about restaurant vs. family recipes.
We had each brought family recipes to class, and the instructor had spent most of the afternoon offering “professional” improvements.
After vetoing the dried herbs in my grandmother’s incomparable gumbo, the instructor also shared “improvements” for my mother’s fantastic meatballs seasoned with bread crumbs and vegetables.
“Those additions have more to do with saving money than adding flavor,” she had said slowly looking around the tables as if she were describing a crime.
Later, searching for clarity (as well as meatball recipes) in what was then my small cookbook collection, I discovered that in Helen Worth’s 1959 Cooking Without Recipes, Worth had indeed labeled additions to meatloaf and meatballs as “extenders.”
A little research offered more of a glimpse into 1980s culinary climate changes taking place during that time when the cachet of home cooking began taking a back burner to celebrity chefs. It was a time when Wolfgang Puck opened Spago in Los Angeles and when questioned, my mother admitted replacing our family’s traditional macaroni and cheese recipe with one from Martha Stewart’s new cookbook.
Recently, as our national cooking culture pendulum seems to be swinging back to cooking at home (even with kits), I thought about the “snobby” cooking teacher when I answered a recipe request for a “delicious deviled crab dish for an inexperienced cook on a serious budget.” I tested several versions before coming up with this delicious version that with just a few steps extends a small amount of expensive claw crab met with canned salmon.
Easy Deviled Seafood
1 (16 ounce) can salmon
6 to 8 ounces crab meat
1/4 cup each: Dijon-style mustard, oat bran
2 tablespoons prepared Creole seasoning blend, or see note
1 egg, beaten
Thyme sprigs, optional
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place salmon and crab in a medium bowl; remove any bones and cartilage. Top seafood with the mustard, bran, seasoning blend and egg. Use your hands to loosely mix ingredients together. Spoon into small buttered ramekins, pie pans, cups or containers of choice. Bake until cooked through and browning on sides, about 20 to 22 minutes. Remove from oven. Set aside to cool 5 minutes. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired. Makes 6 servings.
Note: To make Creole seasoning, stir together 1 tablespoon sweet paprika; 1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, dried thyme, garlic powder, coarse salt; 1/2 teaspoon onion powder and 1/4 teaspoon each: ground mace, allspice. Use as directed. Store remaining spice blend in a cool, dark place, in a sealed food storage bag or other container.
Donna Pierce is currently working on a cookbook about historic Black recipes and cooks. She is the former Assistant Food Editor and Test Kitchen Director for the Chicago Tribune and Contributing Editor for Upscale Magazine. She completed a Visiting Nieman Foundation Fellowship at Harvard in 2015.
Send questions or share your favorite original recipe to dpierce@BlackAmericaCooks.com or Donna Pierce 535 N. Michigan Ave. Suite 3105, Chicago, Ill. 60611. (Include your name and telephone number) If we print your recipe in this column, you will win a new cookbook. Find more recipes and information by joining Donna on BlackAmericaCooks.com and FamilyReunion Cooks.com