Last year, while perusing the racks of a Metairie uniform store, Father Daniel Brouillette spotted a fellow shopper wearing the chef’s whites of the restaurant that made his favorite crab cakes.
Ever the curious cook, the priest, known to his parishioners as “Father Bru,” approached the man with a burning question: What made the restaurant’s crab cakes so incredibly light?
The secret: Add puréed shrimp to the mixture, and not the usual suspect – bread.
“Crab cakes are ruined with bread,” said Father Bru, 30, currently in his first year as parochial vicar of St. Peter Church in Covington. “Bread makes them too heavy. And oftentimes, if they’re deep-fried, they soak up a lot of the grease because of the bread.”
The resulting recipe, devised by Father Bru after a brief period of trial and error, is shared in this issue of Holy Smoke. Lightly fried in olive oil, topped with a spicy homemade remoulade sauce, and teamed with a spring-mix salad, crab cakes are a simple and satisfying Lenten dish, said the New Orleans-born priest, who abstains from eating meat on Fridays year-round.
“You don’t deep-fry these crab cakes – they’re light, they’re fluffy, and they’re healthier. I put panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs) on top, so they get nice and brown,” Father Bru said, noting that his cornering of the crab cake chef illustrates his overarching approach to cooking: Don’t be bashful.
“Don’t feel like you have to be stuck to a recipe,” he said. “You know what tastes good together, then you go from there.”
Ordained to the priesthood in 2009 and first assigned to St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Destrehan, Father Bru spent the early part of his childhood in Chalmette before moving to Covington and attending St. Peter – the elementary school of his current parish assignment. An alumnus of The St. Paul’s School, he learned to cook by “staring over Mom and Dad’s shoulders” and sampling the vibrantly flavored Cajun dishes of his Marksville-born grandparents.
Father Bru was raised with a tremendous reverence for where food comes from. His earliest memories spring from the many hours he spent outdoors as a fledgling sportsman.
“It’s a huge part of my life – I love to hunt; I love to fish. When I was barely old enough to hold a fishing pole, Dad had me on a boat,” said Father Bru, who recalls as a toddler breading speckled trout caught in the bayous and lakes surrounding Delacroix Island.
“What you brought home from the outdoors was a huge part of my life – and continues to be to this day,” said Fr. Bru, naming a favorite catch, Sac-a-lait (Crappie), a sweet, freshwater game fish.
The priest also is a veteran deer hunter.
“We do all the butchering ourselves,” Father Bru said. “We don’t buy red meat at the house. Everything is wild game.
“Use everything,” he added. “If you need stock, don’t buy the stuff in a can. Make it yourself. If you have (the ingredients) and you don’t use them, you’re wasting them.”
Father Bru credits his years at St. Joseph Seminary College and Notre Dame Seminary for exponentially expanding his culinary repertoire.
“The seminary is meant to form men for priesthood, but one of the essential pillars is human formation – to be a well-rounded human being, to be somebody who’s in relation with others, to be a man for all seasons,” he said, adding that that “the things we do around the table” figured prominently into this priestly formation. Fundraising dinners and “seminary nights,” for example, require a seminarian to cook for his superiors and peers, and expose him to food from around the world.
“We had these wonderful nights where the boys were in charge of everything,” Father Bru said. “So to cook for 100 or 150 men for dinner was no problem at all.”
As a seminarian he traveled to countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, France, Italy and Canada, taking culinary notes along the way. Even at Notre Dame Seminary, “you’re surrounded by all these wonderful restaurants,” he said. “You learn what you like and you say, ‘I can work with this.’”
Father Bru offers two more cooking tips:
• Play with the amount of vegetable seasoning (onions, garlic, celery and bell pepper) to lessen a dish’s need for bottled spices.
• Take the time to prepare a well-rounded meal. “Instead of just doing ‘lasagna and green beans,’ make a nice Caprese salad out of buffalo mozzarella, basil, olive oil, black pepper and salt, and a simple Italian soup like minestrone,” he advised. “And make your own pasta. It’s not hard. Don’t be bashful!”
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.