Barry Flach Jr. just loves to feed people. At least that is the opinion of his wife Tina.
The 47-year-old is a still a newlywed, having lived as a bachelor for his first 46 years.
“I learned to cook as a bachelor. I had to eat a lot to support this,” he said, rubbing his tummy.
“No,” Tina disagreed, “you can always cook something. Barry cooks, cooks! He is a great cook, but a messy cook.”
Barry is a big guy — 6-foot-2 and broad-shouldered — but he moved around the kitchen with practiced ease. He carries an infectious grin on his fair-skinned face and claims to have once had a full head of “fire-engine red hair,” which is where the nick-name “Rusty” came from.
He is a real New Orleans kind of guy, taking great pains to grow his beloved mirlitons.
He loves figs and okra, too. He has his own okra patch and a fig tree behind his home.
“We used to have fig pies,” he reminisced.
But seafood is his favorite food, as it should be, considering his background.
“I’ve been picking shrimp since I was 5,” he said. “My father — he’s named Barry, too — was a part-time shrimper. He loved shrimping in Lake Pontchartrain, but chose the (financially) safe route for his family and became a machinist.
“Nowadays kids are on the street. We (including brother Mike and sister Michele) were always on the boat. There were a lot of things to remember. One day, we trawled up a wallet, probably from someone from a wrecked plane. I said, ‘Hey, there really is money in shrimping.’”
Barry tried college for two years before deciding that it just wasn’t for him. Because he spent so much time on boats, he naturally gravitated to commercial fishing, primarily crabbing — something he could do without a crew.
For 11 years he crabbed, mixed with some shrimping and a little gill netting for black drum.
But, like his father, he had to make a decision about fishing.
“Being outdoors and being in a boat every day was great, but I decided I needed health benefits and retirement,” he explained.
So, for the last 14 years he has been a union plumber in metro New Orleans.
But his love of the outdoors hasn’t left him.
“Some people have four or even five sports seasons. I have two: hunting and fishing,” he said. “I’m a sportsman for everything in the outdoors. But society has held me captive with a 40-hour work week.”
He has a hunting camp in Mississippi and a fishing camp in Cocodrie. Naturally he cooks at both of them.
Flach named this gem after his godchild, Marlena Bruno, who he calls his fishing buddy. He got the basic recipe 12 years ago from a friend who called it “Shrimp Patricia.”
He modified it by using egg noodles, crab boil instead of Creole seasoning, and by adding crabmeat and crawfish tails.
“The first time I ate the dish, I thought it was very good, but it needed something extra,” Flach said. “Shrimp alone was too mild. I wanted it to be like a gumbo with a little bit extra in it, like New Orleans.
“It’s one of my favorites. I cook it four times a year. It gets expensive with all that seafood in it.”
Barry believes that crawfish stock has the best flavor, but will use stock made of shrimp or crab shells, as well. Surprisingly, for a former commercial fisherman, he noted that imitation crab meat can be used as a substitute for the real thing.
This dish tastes even better the next day after an overnight stay in the refrigerator.
2 sticks butter
8 oz. mushrooms, separated
1 large onion, chopped
1/3 cup celery, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped coarsely
1 orange bell pepper, chopped coarsely
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped coarsely
1 26-oz. can cream of mushroom soup
1 qt. seafood stock
1 qt. heavy whipping cream
1 pt. Half & Half
1 lb. peeled shrimp
1 lb. crawfish tails
1 lb. crabmeat
1 tbsp liquid crab boil
1 lb egg noodles, boiled in lightly salted water
Melt the butter in a large pot. Coarsely chop 3/4 of the mushrooms and add to the butter along with the onion, celery and bell peppers. Sauté until tender. Stir in the cream of mushroom soup and seafood stock and simmer 15 minutes. Add the whipping cream, Half & Half, the remainder of the mushrooms, and the shrimp and crawfish. When heated through, add the crab meat and simmer 10 minutes. Add the crab boil and then stir in the egg noodles. Allow the dish to set for 5 minutes, and then taste to check if more seasoning is needed. The finished dish should be soupy. Serves 12-15.
This oyster spaghetti is finished in the oven, like a layered casserole. The pedigree on this recipe is that it came to Flach’s mother Carol from Effie Tedesco, whose husband Bott was a net maker and a native of the fishing community of Yscloskey.
When Barry was 10 years old, the Tedescos invited the Flaches to St. Bernard to eat, and this is what they served.
“I remember I had two portions,” Barry laughed. “I made the dish from memory the first time in 2002 at my fishing camp. The bay leaves and thyme used in this recipe were what we grew up using in seafood dishes.”
If you purchase shucked oysters instead of shucking your own, use the liquid in which the oysters are packaged instead of oyster liquor. If the oyster liquor or liquid doesn’t come to 2 cups, make up the difference with water.
6 dozen oysters
2 sticks butter
1/2 cup flour
1 onion, chopped
1/2 head of garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups oyster liquor
5 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. spaghetti, boiled in lightly salted water
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Shuck the oysters and save the liquor. Set both aside. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Whisk in flour and cook until lightly browned, stirring constantly. Add onions and garlic and sauté until tender. Pour in oyster liquor. Add bay leaves and thyme and bring to a boil. Add 2 cups water, salt and pepper and bring back to a boil. Stir in the oysters and cook until the edges of the oysters curl. Layer 1/3 of the pasta in the bottom of a baking dish. Spoon 1/3 of the oyster sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of bread crumbs over sauce and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese over breadcrumbs. Repeat the layering two more times. On the last layer, retain a small amount of the liquid from the sauce to drizzle over the top. Bake in an oven at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until lightly browned.