Brian Comeaux calls his signature style "Creole Country Cooking.”
Since the age of 19, this electrical engineer from Lake Charles has sampled spices, tested tastes, and absorbed enough flavors to put together a repertoire of dishes that has made him the cook to turn to when his friends and family hunger for a dinner that leaves them wowed.
Though Brian may have graduated McNeese State University in 1988 with his engineering degree, his culinary education came straight from the kitchens of his father and grandfather, which left him with not only with a passion for cooking but also some of his most frequently requested dishes.
Among those is one of his personal favorites: Sausage and red gravy.
"It’s my favorite gravy, and a favorite with all my friends -- I don't know anybody who wouldn't say this isn't their favorite,” Brian said. "When I tell them I'm cooking sausage and red gravy, they'll come get it. I never have to throw any away, never.”
It was a dish learned during a trip with his father to Toledo Bend. When wind and rain put fishing off the day’s business, and with nothing else to cook but some pork sausage Brian had brought, his father decided it was time to show Brian how his own sausage and tomato gravy was made. It has been one of Brian’s most requested dishes since.
"It smells good while it's cooking. It looks good in the pot. And when you put it on a plate of rice and you take a bite, it's unbelievable. The weight of the fork breaks the sausage -- the texture of the sausage changes completely,” Brian said.
It’s not enough to know the recipe, though. For Brian, what the cook puts into his dinner is just as important as how it’s put together.
For seasonings, Brian will use salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper most frequently. He prefers finer-ground black pepper over coarser varieties, and while he will use garlic powder on some occasions, he prefers fresh garlic, onions, celery and bell pepper. He will even use the white bulbs on green onions for the extra flavor they provide.
But Brian doesn’t measure. He can portion out a teaspoon or tablespoon into the palm of his hand, and after years of cooking with his cookware, he knows his pots and pans and just how much seasoning each one needs.
For rice, Brian only uses medium grain, as he says it absorbs gravy much more readily. And as for his pork sausage, Brian will only buy from two places, Market Basket on Nelson Road in Lake Charles or Sonnier’s Sausage and Boudin on Mill Street.
Brian will only use the freshest ingredients, and as an avid hunter and fisherman, and with a friend who maintains a garden, it’s no trouble to find fresh ingredients that are in season, though he’s not afraid to prepare his ingredients well ahead of time. In July, he will receive several bushels of fresh okra of about 20 pounds each, which he will then smother and freeze to make shrimp and okra gumbo later in the year when shrimp comes into season.
Much of his cooking success can be attributed to his willingness to take the time to prepare his dishes properly.
"I’m a moody cook,” Brian said. "I have to be passionate about it. If I’m cooking just to cook, you’re probably going to get those kinds of results. But if I’m in the mood for gumbo, I’ll get up early in the morning and start thinking about a day ahead of time what I have, what I need and what proportions I want.”
The care Brian takes in his cooking, though, is what makes his dishes so popular. Even a pork sausage jambalaya whose ingredients have been prepared in advance to cook while traveling will draw lines of people.
And Brian is also not afraid to experiment. He’ll talk to cooks at restaurants, take recipes from cook books or cooking shows and find a way to make something new and delicious.
"If it’s something I feel like we have fresh ingredients around here for or I could turn into a creole dish or something, I’ll look at it and I’ll substitute this and that and try it. Ninety-nine percent of the time people love it,” Brian said.
One of his popular concoctions is his shrimp dip.
"I take 2 pounds of shrimp and then boil them like you would for a shrimp boil, put them in a food processor and chop them up and put them in a bowl. You’ve got to have this one dip: Kraft french onion dip, not the other name brands. Then you put in Worcestershire, lemon juice, Tabasco, salt and pepper, a little bit of Cajun seasoning, mix that all up, and it’s unbelievable on a Captain’s Wafer.”
It took Brian several years to reach a level of cooking skill that didn’t require a third of his meals to be thrown out. But as long as a novice cook starts simple, takes enough time and has passion, she can learn to bring out the best in her dishes.
"You have to be passionate about it,” Brian said. "I always have a taste and texture in mind and that's what I am shooting for in a particular dish and then there is the actual taste and texture. As you get better the two tend to match consistently.”
Pork Sausage and Tomato Gravy
5 lbs pork sausage (fresh from Sonnier’s or Market Basket on Nelson Road)
2 cans (29 oz) tomato sauce
1/3 cup sugar
2 large yellow onions
1 cup water
1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of black pepper
2 tablespoons of salt
½ cup ketchup
Cut sausage into 3 inch pieces, place in black iron pot on high. Brown sausage while stirring for 10 minutes. Add sugar and 1 chopped onion; continue to brown 10-15 minutes. Add water, scrape pot to make brown gravy. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Simmer on low for 3 hours stirring every ½ hour. Brian uses a pot warmer on a gas stove for indirect heat.
Shrimp and Potatoes
2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp
4 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 tablespoon of course red pepper
5 table spoons of olive oil
1 table spoon of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of salt
1 table spoon of Old Bay seafood seasoning
Place potatoes into a pot and cover with water, when water comes to a boil, cook for 10 minutes and remove from heat and drain the water. Place potatoes on cutting board and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Cut potatoes into 1/4" cubes. In a skillet, heat olive oil and course red pepper on high for 5 minutes, add garlic and stir. After 1 minute add potatoes and even them out in skillet then add salt to taste. Do not stir, allow potatoes to cook for 5 minutes (crisping the edges). I usually flip the potatoes to turn them over but it can be done with a wood spoon. Allow 5 minutes then add the shrimp and Old Bay, reduce heat to medium and stir. Cook for 15 minutes stirring every few minutes. Sample and adjust seasoning. Great side dish.