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Blue Plate Special: Ashfield gets a taste of New Orleans fare

  • Jack Odell cooks up some shrimp in BBQ butter at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Nan Parati and chef Jack Odell at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Shrimp simmer in BBQ butter at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Eggplant pirogue with crawfish sauce and fried shrimp shown at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Shrimp in BBQ butter shown at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. Get it while you can at the restaurant or try it at home using Jack Odell’s recipe in today’s column. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Jambalaya with corn bread and smoked sausage at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



For The Recorder
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Nan Parati is in food heaven. For a limited time, the owner of Elmer’s Store on Main Street in Ashfield can taste the cuisine of her native New Orleans just about every evening in her own restaurant.

“When you go in the kitchen, it smells just like Louisiana. I love it!” she told Paul Franz and me when we stopped in recently to taste the temporary menu.

The aromas in the kitchen come courtesy of Jack Odell, a 31-year-old New Orleans native and chef whom Parati has known his entire life. She met Odell again as an adult when the two were both working at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

She first brought him to Elmer’s briefly two years ago to cook for her during the Ashfield Fall Festival. This year, she invited him to come for the summer season.

“She started working on me early, and I kept telling her ‘no,’” recalled Odell. “Then it got hot.”

Odell arrived in Ashfield in July, and Parati dubbed his evening meal (served Tuesdays through Saturdays) her “Good Old Southern Dinner.” The menu changes frequently based on Odell’s inclination and the variety of vegetables he purchases locally.

Asked to identify her favorite Odell creation, Parati smiled. “Usually the last thing I tried ... Every night he does a highlight from some famous New Orleans restaurant.”

Odell has cooked at a number of classic eateries in and around New Orleans. He also caters special events in his home state, from weddings to shoots of films such as “Django Unchained.”

He enjoys the local produce available in the Pioneer Valley. An enthusiastic forager, he informed me that the variety of local mushrooms is greater here than in Louisiana.

Parati observed that her customers are responding to Odell’s menu “very, very, very well.” In fact, she noted, sometimes the response is almost too positive.

Gumbo, Louisiana’s classic stew, is best made one day and served the next. “His gumbo is outstanding. It’s selling so fast he’s having a hard time [getting it to age],” she sighed.

I asked Odell where he was staying, and he pointed to the floor above the store. “This is home,” he remarked. “I like coming down in the mornings. It’s like a community center here.”

As if to emphasize the community feeling, while we were talking baker Anna Fessenden arrived on her bicycle with still warm baguettes to accompany the evening meal. Odell immediately cut one into pieces for us so we could soak up the sauce from his barbecue butter shrimp.

He also provided a couple of other dishes for us to try: classic jambalaya, served with andouille and cornbread, and an eggplant pirogue with fried shrimp and crawfish sauce. “Pirogue” is a Cajun French word for canoe. The eggplant did indeed resemble a sturdy little fried boat.

Odell, who doesn’t care for cold weather, will return to Louisiana after Ashfield’s Fall Festival in early October. Meanwhile, Nan Parati and her customers are savoring every dinner.

“In New Orleans, when you’re really cooking and you’ve really got flavor going, you’ll hear someone say, ‘I put my socks in it,’” she explained. She pointed to the food on our table. “He really put his socks in this.”

New Orleans style shrimp in barbecue butter sauce

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

1 pound clarified butter (To clarify butter, melt it over low heat until foam rises to the top. Skim off the foam; then pour the butter through cheesecloth into a heatproof bowl to remove any solids that remain.)

2 cups Worcestershire sauce

4 tablespoons minced garlic

the zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons dried parsley

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons paprika

For the shrimp:

10 to 12 small shrimp, shelled and deveined

sauce as needed (you will have leftover sauce to use again)

Instructions:

Combine all the sauce ingredients, and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer the sauce for 20 minutes. Refrigerate the sauce if you are not using it right away.

To cook the shrimp, heat some of the sauce until it is almost at the smoking point. Add the shrimp to the pan, and sauté them until their tails start to curl up. Remove the pan from the heat, and leave the shrimp in the sauce for a few minutes to finish cooking. Serve with French bread to sop up the barbecue butter.

Serves 1 as a very rich main course, or 2 to 4 as an appetizer.

Classic Jambalaya

Ingredients:

1 quart parboiled rice

1 quart tomato sauce

1 quart chicken stock

1 pound andouille, cut into pieces

1 pound shredded chicken (Jack Odell smokes a chicken, uses the carcass to make the chicken stock, and then shreds the chicken.)

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped bell pepper

minced garlic to taste

salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup paprika

hot sauce to taste

Instructions:

In a Dutch oven, combine the rice, tomato sauce and chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until most of the liquids have been absorbed.

In a skillet, sauté the andouille to release its juices. Add the chicken, the vegetables and the salt and pepper. Sauté until everything is warm and wilted. Add this mixture to the rice, add the paprika, and stir in some hot sauce. Serves 15.

Food writer Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” For more information about Tinky visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.