Louisiana chef's book offers good reading along with great recipes for anglers

Jan 21 2010 - 11:57pm

DETROIT -- If I had to choose one outdoors book to take to a desert island . . . wait, that's ridiculous. I could never pick just one. Or two, for that matter. But if you let me choose five, two would be cookbooks by Louisiana chef John Folse.

Calling one of Folse's huge and wonderful tomes a cookbook is like calling Lake Superior a pond. The latest, "Hooks, Lies & Alibis," celebrates seafood (his previous "After the Hunt" had game recipes.) Like its predecessor, "Hooks" is massive, 12 inches by 10 inches and 899 pages.

And contained in this weighty book is a lot more than cooking recipes. There is an excellent history of angling from earliest times, great stories about fishing and fishermen and fishing places, and hundreds of well-chosen photographs and art reproductions that illustrate the ideas as well as the recipes.

Reading Folse's book is like listening to a great professor -- you get educated without realizing it. Did you know tilapia is now one of the most popular fish sold in American supermarkets and restaurants?

Or that the saying "Holy Mackerel" may derive from a 17th Century law that allowed this fish to be sold on Sundays, when fish markets were closed, because its oily flesh spoiled so quickly. (Although I've also seen the phrase attributed to the Ichthus fish symbol adopted by early Christians.)

As for the recipes, they are as mouthwatering as they are varied, ranging from Achilles Greek fish salad to Zeke Babin's black pot courtbouillon. I'm going to make that last one soon, and as I eat it I'll reminisce about the wonderful catfish courtbouillion made by the mother of my long-gone friend Jim Boudier, a proud bayou boy from Opelousas, La.

One I can't wait to try next summer is fricassee of gaspergou creole style. Gaspergou is what Louisianans call freshwater drum, the "sheepshead" of the Great Lakes that most anglers curse as a nuisance and which can be caught by the hundreds. But Folse includes a recipe for this maligned "trash fish" that looks fantastic, as well as a Bulgarian recipe for stuffed carp that I'm not sure I want publicized, because carp are one of my favorite gamefish.

"Hooks, Lies and Alibis" -- co-authored with Michaela D. York -- has a chapter of wonderful sauces for seafood that are mostly within the ability of kitchen dilettantes like me, another chapter on reptiles and amphibians (wait till you see "iguana mole), and lots of fabulous desserts to go with those fish courses.

A product of Chef John Folse and Co. Publishing, "Hooks, Lies & Alibis" sells for about $60 and is a bargain at that price, offering as much entertainment and education as a whole shelf of books that cost 10 times as much.

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