Gulf Coast Cooking is a beautiful book, lavished with photographs of people, places and foods that are guaranteed to evoke wanderlust. At first you will be tempted to put it on your coffee table, but the book is as bountiful as the Gulf of Mexico that inspired it, and when you start to leaf through the more than 300 recipes, you will want to bring it straight into the kitchen. Let it rest on the coffee table for a while. Leaf through the photos and read the remarkable introductory essay by John Graves. Once you dive into the recipes, there's no turning back.
Author Virginia Elverson has set herself a daunting task. The Gulf of Mexico is larger than many of the seas around the globe and teems with marine life. The waters of the Gulf lap at a vast area of land, about 3,000 miles, and reflect what Graves calls the "minglings and migrations, and different adaptations to seaboard surroundings." Rising to the challenge of geographic variety and centuries of 'minglings,' Elverson has organized around five distinct areas and traces the influences in each area: "the Florida Keys and West Florida coast with its Cuban, Caribbean, and Greek influences, the Deep South coast, including the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, and Mississippi; Louisiana with its Acadian and Creole cuisines, Texas, a melting pot of many ethnic traditions; and the Mexican east coast and Yucatan peninsula." With this seemingly endless variety of seafood and equally varied methods of preparation, the book guarantees that the cook will find something to suit both mood and taste.
From Florida, there are recipes such as Crabmeat and Hearts of Palm en Coquilles, Scallops with Key Lime Sauce, Cuban-Style Yellowtail Snapper. From the deep south and Louisiana there are lobster and oyster recipes, an Amberjack Chowder, Crawfish Etouffée, Crab and Shrimp Gumbo, a variety of Bouillabaisse recipes. From Texas there are such recipes as Baked Red Fillet of Trout with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Swordfish Scallopini. From Mexico there are recipes for Scallops Seviche, Stuffed Crabs Tampico Style, Shrimp Soused with Tequila, Fried Shrimp with Avocado Salsa.
All is not seafood in this book, however. There are dishes to accompany the seafood, as well as sweet desserts that reflect local tastes and ingredients, such as Key Lime Tart, Citrus Crisps, Fresh Mango Freeze, Louisiana Pralines, and a Bread Pudding Soufflé with Whiskey Sauce.
Both Elverson and essayist Graves are aware of the environmental damage that has already been done to this vast coastal. In moving text, both make pleas for a renewed concern for the challenges that wait us as we move into this century. We thank them speaking out on concerns we all share.
The photography that will have you booking a ticket to somewhere on the coast is by Bob Parvin, with equally beautiful food photography by David Crossley and Bill Pogue.
About the Author: Virginia Elverson studied at the distinguished Cordon Bleu in London and is a professional food consultant and writer, co-authoring (with Mary Ann McLanahan) A Cooking Legacy. The Houston Fine Arts Cookbook was published in 1983. She is the founder of the Houston Culinary Guild, a prestigious group of food professionals.