Book Review – Commander’s Wild Side

Commander’s Palace has been a fine dining institution in New Orleans since 1880. Executive Chef Tory McPhail and managing partner Ti Adelaide Martin have mined this restaurant’s extensive collection of recipes to coauthor the Commander’s Wild Side: Bold Flavors for Fresh Ingredients from the Great Outdoors.

As the title suggests, the book focuses on wild game dishes – crayfish, rabbit, elk, boar, etc., prepared in ways that enhance the natural flavors, not cover them up.

The book is organized into nine sections: Sea, Stream, Air, Land, Not-So-Wild Game, Campfire Cooking, Showstopping Dishes to Impress Your Friends, Sensational Sides, and The Sweet Finish.

While the focus is on the entrees, care has been taken to ensure that all of the side dishes and desserts are designed to “fit with what you’re fixing.”

Now, there are lots of great game recipes out there, but this book is more than that. There’s a strong theme that runs through every recipe of doing the best with what is fresh. I’ve always thought that the best way to test a cookbook is to make a full meal from it, so I (and my dear wife) put together five recipes to create a feast for some of our foodie friends.

Grilled Oysters on the Half Shell

1 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Tabasco sauce to taste
12 oysters on the half shell
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
French bread

Set your grill up for a hot, direct cook.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and then add the garlic, thyme, salt, and Tabasco. Cook on low heat for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.

Arrange the oysters on a grill rack. Spoon half the butter sauce over the oysters and top with half the cheese. Grill briefly – 2 to 4 minutes and serve hot off the grill with the remaining garlic sauce, cheese, and bread.

Juniper Berry-Grilled Elk

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon juniper berries
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces fresh blackberries
2 teaspoons sugar (we used a finer baker’s sugar)
2 tablespoons oil
1 1/4 pounds of elk sirloin, cut into 4 steaks (we grilled the loin whole and sliced it thin)

Set your grill up for a hot, direct cook.

Combine the blackberries and the sugar in a small bowl. Mix well and let sit for at least ten minutes for the berries to macerate and release their juice.

Combine the juniper berries, peppercorns, and herbs de Provence in a spice grinder or small blender. Give them a whirl until you have a coarse powder. Add the salt and give the mix another spin.

Oil the elk steaks and season both sides with the spice rub.  Grill 3 to 4 minutes a side until just barely medium-rare. You want the steaks no more than 135°F internal, so they are mostly pink inside with a hint of red center.

Roasted Beet Salad

1 1/2 pounds beets
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons cane vinegar (we used red wine vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon truffle oil (we decreased this to 1 teaspoon)

Coat the beets with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Place them in a baking dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Roast at 400°F for about 1 hour or until tender.

Uncover the roaster and let the beets cool. Cuts the ends off and rub them or use a vegetable peeler to remove the skins. Cut them into 1/4 slices and toss in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Andouille Spoonbread

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 cups milk (the mixture was pretty thick, so we added another cup of milk to this)
4 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) diced andouille sausage
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Combine the corn kernels, milk, andouille, butter, and Creole seasoning in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk in the cornmeal and cook for 5 minutes, until the mixture is mushy. Add more milk at this point if needed. Set aside and let cool.

Separate the egg, putting the yolks into a large bowl and the whites into a stand mixer. Whisk together the egg yolks and baking powder for 1 minute, then stir in the cornmeal batter.

Beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Pour into a greased 8-inch round souffle dish. Bake at 325°F for 25 minutes, until the top is brown and puffy and the center is cooked through.

Upside-up Cup Custards

2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract (we used a 1/4 teaspoon)
5 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons Steen’s pure cane syrup (we used Grade B Maple syrup)
1/2 cup sugar

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl for 2 to 3 minutes until they thicken. Then slowly whisk in 1/2 cup of the hot cream into the yolks. Return the saucepan to low heat and slowly whisk in the egg/cream mixture into the cream.

Cook the custard mixture until it thickens, whisking all the time. Once thickened, strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and add the vanilla.

Divvy up the custard into four 6-ounce ramekins. Put the ramekins into a baking dish large enough to hold them without touching. Fill the baking dish with water halfway up the sides of the cups.

Bake at 300°F for 40 to 45 minutes, until the custard is set but the centers still jiggle a little.

Remove the custards from the water and set them to a wire rack to cool. Drizzle the syrup over the custards before serving.

The Consensus

It was a great dinner in many ways. We found the recipes to be well-written and easy to follow, the dishes all worked well together, and everyone really enjoyed the meal.

Grilled Oysters on the Half Shell – fresh oysters are a hard act to beat, but this recipe takes that wonderful fresh and briny taste and enhances it with garlic and smoke. These were the hit of the evening and disappeared in moments.

Juniper Berry-Grilled Elk – Elk is lean meat with a big flavor and the juniper, pepper, and blackberries brighten it up with spicy, evergreen notes. We served it on the rare side of medium-rare and it was remarkably tender.

Roasted Beet Salad – you wouldn’t think anything this simple could stand out, but this earthy dish got a big boost from the vinegar and truffle oil.

Andouille Spoonbread – this recipe produced more of a souffle than the usual a pudding-like casserole. It was light and the andouille added great spice. This is a side dish we’ll be serving more often. I think it would work particularly well with pulled pork.

Upside-up Cup Custards – rich with eggy goodness, this came out as a more rustic version of creme brule. It was an excellent finish to the meal.

We look forward to trying many more recipes from this collection.