A recent customer of Southern Exposure Inland Fishing Charters was quoted to say, “This is an eating charter, with great fishing thrown in just to keep us busy.” Interesting description! I had to check it out, so I went to Buras (See the accompanying fishing story “Buras Tag Team” in this feature). 

Sheri Birk, the cook, was a tall, take-charge dynamo who rounded out her formidable personality with a blazing, mega-watt smile. Her lack of patience with fools is easily overlooked when you are feasting on her culinary masterpieces.

Young Sheri explains that she grew up in Florida. “My daddy worked in the Navy. Starting at age 12, I had to have dinner ready at 5 p.m. I would pick the garden every day, then go in and cook. 

“My cooking then was Southern style. I always loved to cook. I love to season food. In Florida, they don’t season food. They don’t know how to eat,” she laughed with a husky voice.

She left home at 17, heading to California. She never made it there. “I stopped in Slidell because my Aunt Tiny lived there. She was an excellent cook and cooked Cajun, Creole, and Southern styles.

“I used to just watch her cook. She working in a restaurant and cooked offshore (on oil and gas platforms). When she wasn’t there, I would read all her cookbooks. Then instead of watching TV, I would buy more cookbooks and read them.”

Sheri became familiar with seafood when she worked at a large family seafood restaurant at a marina. Fresh seafood came into the marina at all times.

Cooking was also a family affair for her. Thanksgivings were always celebrated at her house. “In Louisiana,” she said, “it’s all about food, family and fun. Food brings us together.”

Sheri retired from Southern Exposure’s kitchen after 5 years in charge, although she “pinch cooks” when needed. She also still books all fishing trips for the charter service.

Partner-owner Creighton Ward, swears that the new kitchen commander, David Rouse, is as good a cook as Sheri. If so, he should be commended for filling such big shoes.

Here are two of Sheri’s favorite preparations. 


Crawfish Étouffée

This is Sheri’s personal recipe gleaned and merged from recipes she read and experiments she made throughout 38 years. It is unique for its use of lobster base, an item easily found on the soups and stocks section in most groceries.

Sheri takes her time simmering this sauce before adding the crawfish. “I like all the spices to cook good in it,” she explained. “I don’t like fast cooking at all.” 


INGREDIENTS:

2 tbsp. lobster base

1 stick butter

2 lb. frozen Pictsweet Seasoning Blend (onion, bell pepper, celery, and parsley)

1 cup cooking oil

1 cup flour

1 10-oz. can Rotel original diced tomatoes and green chilies

1 heaping tbsp. minced garlic

2 tbsp. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning

1 tbsp. salt

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. cayenne pepper

1 tbsp. dried parsley flakes

3 bay leaves

1 tbsp. liquid crawfish, shrimp & crab boil

2 12-oz. packages of frozen peeled crawfish tails


PREPARATION

Dissolve the lobster base in 2 cups of water and set aside. Melt the butter in a large pot, then add seasoning blend. Cook over medium-high heat stirring often, until the seasonings become transparent. Heat the cooking oil in a large skillet until it is hot. Add the flour and cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly to prevent the flour from burning. When the resulting roux is caramel brown (not dark brown) in color, stir it into the seasoning blend. Add the Rotel tomatoes and the reserved stock. Stir in to mix, while cooking over medium high heat. Add the Creole seasoning, salt, black and cayenne pepper, parsley flakes, bay leaves, and crawfish, shrimp & crab boil. Stir well and simmer for 2 hours, adding water as needed. Add the crawfish tails and simmer for 20 more minutes. Serve over cooked rice. Serves 10.


Crab Cakes with Dill Remoulade

Crab cakes today so often seem to have more “filler” than crabmeat. Sheri was blunt about what she thinks of that. “I know what I want to eat in crab cakes. I want crab not stuffing! So I fill mine with crabmeat.” Her dill remoulade sauce is a winner too. 


INGREDIENTS:

1 stick butter

1 1/2 lb. frozen Pictsweet Seasoning Blend (onion, bell pepper, celery, and parsley)

3 large eggs, beaten

3 lb. lump crabmeat

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. cayenne pepper

2 tbsp. parsley flakes

1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning

1 1/2 tbsp. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning

1 heaping tbsp. garlic

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 cup Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs

8 oz. plain panko bread crumbs

Vegetable oil


Crab Cakes PREPARATION (sauce follows)

Melt the butter in a large frying pan, then add the seasoning blend. While it is cooking with occasional stirrings over medium-high, add the beaten eggs, crabmeat, salt, black and cayenne pepper, Old Bay Seasoning, Creole seasoning, garlic, mayonnaise, and bread crumbs to a large mixing bowl. Mix the crabmeat and spices, thoroughly but gently by hand to avoid breaking up the lumps of crabmeat. Add the sautéed seasonings and fold them in carefully with a large spoon. Do not over-stir, again to avoid breaking up the lumps of crabmeat. Form the cakes to the desired size by hand, then bread each cake by hand with the panko. Add cooking oil to a ½-inch depth in a frying pan and heat until a drop of added water makes the oil sizzle. Carefully place the cakes in the oil and fry on medium-high until the bottoms are browned. Then very carefully turn over each cake to fry the other size until it is browned. Serve with the Dill Remoulade sauce. Serves 8 as an entrée.


Dill Remoulade Sauce 

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Creole mustard

1 tbsp. prepared horseradish

1/2 tbsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. dried dill weed

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tbsp. dried parsley flakes

1 tsp. ketchup for color


PREPARATION

Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and set aside in refrigerator to serve with the crab cakes.