June 27, 2007
Don’t tell R, but I fell in love last night. While having dinner at a Louisiana-style Bluegrass restaurant in Highland Park, I met a dish called sassafras. Even the name sounds enchanting, doesn’t it? Say it with me: sassafras. I actually would have completely overlooked the seemingly unremarkable title of “Tilapia Sassafras” on the menu had my mom not mentioned its excellence.
The complete description of the dish was this: “Pecan Coated Tilapia Flash-Fried, Topped with A Wild Mushroom Sassafras Sauce, Grilled Shrimp and served With White Rice And Green Beans.” The dish came on a wide, oval platter featuring pieces of the pecan-coated tilapia crispy and brown from the frying, with a brown sassafras sauce pooling around the edges. On the other side of the plate was a large pile of green beans glistening with butter and garlic, a mound of white rice already soaking up the surrounding sauces and a skewer of Cajun-spiced shrimp.
The dish was phenomenal. The fish was crispy on the outside, but flaky on the inside and the mushroom sassafras sauce was creamy without being too heavy. Its flavor was unlike any mushroom sauce I’d ever tasted where the mushroom flavor was clearly present, but not over-powering. I would have licked the platter had we not been in public.
This mystery ingredient that caused my taste buds to dance? My beloved sassafras. Technically, sassafras is a plant with a capacity for a great many things. Its scent can be used for aromatherapy candles and its oil makes an excellent insect repellent. But when its leaves are dried and ground, it becomes filé powder, a spice commonly used in Cajun cooking. Genius.
When I got home from dinner, I searched anxiously for a recipe, but found none. I would LOVE to recreate this sauce, but would certainly need a recipe. Any southern cooks out there who are willing to share??? Submit them to the site and I promise to make it and share the results!
-Max, already plotting where to find filé powder for other Cajun recipes