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Valerie Phillips: Emeril credits his success to 'great people'

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 11 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Those of you who read my blog (you know, all 10 of you) are aware that I met Emeril Lagasse last month at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans.

We had a few minutes to talk about his new cookbook, "Emeril 20-40-60 Fresh Food Fast."

He said he splits a lot of his time between New York and New Orleans, where his corporate office and three of his restaurants are located. And, he'll soon be visiting his restaurants in Florida and Las Vegas, too.

"So I'm still doing my thing 30 years later," he said. Indeed, the "Emeril Empire" has grown substantially since he graduated from Johnson & Wales University's culinary arts college in 1978. In 1982, he replaced Paul Prudhomme as chef of the well-respected Commander's Palace in New Orleans.

That led to his "Essence of Emeril" and "Emeril Live!" TV shows. At one point, he was the fledgling Food Network's biggest star. But in 2008, he became part of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

How does he manage it all?

"It's called having great people," he said. "I'm very fortunate to have people who have been with me for 20 or 25 years."

His first cookbook, "Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking," came out in 1993, before the airwaves and cyberspace became deluged with TV cooking shows, food blogs and Web sites.

"It's not the same as it was; there's a lot out there that people are trying to reinvent, between blogging and all the online stuff and everything," he said. "But I think people still like to read and use good cookbooks. I hope they haven't given up on reading them because I enjoy writing them."

His new cookbook is divided into three sections: recipes that take 20 minutes or less; 40 minutes or less; and 60 minutes or less, so you can make a meal in whatever time you have available.

It's encouraging to realize how quickly some of the dishes can be made.

How many times do you end up ordering pizza or nuking a frozen entree because you don't think you've got time to put together something like Fish Tacos With Black Beans or Boneless Pork Chops Parmigiana?

Each of these dishes is clocked at 20 minutes, provided you already have the ingredients on hand.

One curious recipe was Potato and Turkey Hot Dog Soup With Herbs. It's something his mom, Hilda, used to make when he was growing up.

"We ate it up like no one's business," he wrote in the book. "Your kids are gonna love this one!"

Here's one of the recipes from his book:

FISH TACOS WITH BLACK BEAN SALSA

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

3/4 cup olive oil, divided

1 jalapeno, minced and seeded

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

2 pounds skinless firm white fish fillets such as snapper, trimmed and cut into 3-inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup cornmeal

8 6-inch flour tortillas

3 cups thinly sliced or shredded romaine lettuce

4 lime wedges

1/2 cup sour cream

In a medium bowl, combine black beans, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, the jalapeno, lime juice, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Set aside.

Season the fish fillets evenly with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the black pepper. Dredge quickly in the cornmeal, shaking to remove any excess, and set aside.

Heat a 12-inch saute pan over high heat. Toast each of the tortillas for 30 seconds on one side in the hot saute pan. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm.

In the same saute pan, heat the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the fish fillets, and saute until just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer them to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining fillets.

To assemble the tacos, place 2 tortillas on each plate, and divide the shredded lettuce among them. Spoon the black bean mixture onto the lettuce, and divide the fish fillets among the tortillas. Squeeze the lime wedges over the fish, dollop with the sour cream, and fold the tortillas to close. Serve immediately. Serves 4-6.

e-mail: vphillips@desnews.com

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