Lent is a time for reflection and fasting in preparation for Easter. In Louisiana, Lent is also a time when family and friends get together for fish fries and crawfish boils. Chef Peter Sclafani of Ruffino’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge sat down with Louisiana Cookin’ to talk about the Lenten traditions he observed growing up, what his restaurant offers during Lent, and his delectable shrimp scampi recipe.
Tell us about how your family observed Lent while you were growing up.
Peter Sclafani: My family has always been Catholic. When I was a kid, my dad had a seafood restaurant. We did some plate lunches, and we did lots of boiled seafood. We even had a seafood market where we sold raw seafood and sacks of live crawfish. Lent was always a really busy time for us, especially all those Fridays and Good Fridays. I do remember working a lot, even when I was little. The family always came together for Lent, but it was always centered around great seafood.
What were the dishes you looked forward to most during Lent?
PS: Crawfish season is always in Lent. We went fishing every single weekend. Our favorite thing to catch was speckled trout, but sometimes in Lent with the colder weather, we’d end up with more redfish. We used to go out in Lake Pontchartrain trawling for shrimp. I remember my dad would make barbecued shrimp for us. It was so, so good. When we started doing more at the restaurant, shrimp scampi was always a popular dish.
Let’s talk more about that shrimp scampi. It’s a really interesting dish.
PS: What I love about it is that we make a compound butter for it. I didn’t grow up having this compound butter; we always made it to order. But as the restaurant grows, consistency becomes one of the big issues. I thought, “How could we pre-make this butter to make sure that every dish comes out exactly the same way?” We soften the butter and put it in a food processor, and we blend all the ingredients up. You can roll that little log using parchment paper—we just use plastic wrap—and you can put that in the refrigerator. Now you have this great garlic butter that’s good for so many things.
Tell us about your family’s Lenten traditions.
PS: My kids go to Catholic school and we’re practicing Catholics, so we do observe it. I don’t get to fish as often as I’d like, but I do try to hit up my friends who are fishing to get some really good fish. We like to eat a lot of fish at home. When we’re at the restaurant eating, my family’s go-to is just that cedar plank redfish.
What are some of the highlights at Ruffino’s during Lent?
PS: We run [a special] every Friday in Lent, and it’s called our Seafood Festival. We feature different seafood each week. When it’s crawfish week, we’ll do all of our specials with crawfish. When we get to Friday, we do kind of a prix fixe menu that has three appetizers, three entrées, and our celebration salad. And we’ll do something we call studies. During crawfish week, we’ll have a big plate with four small crawfish dishes, so you get a little taste of all things crawfish. Our guests absolutely go nuts over these studies. It’s by far our biggest seller during Lent.
Hungry for more? Try Chef Peter Sclafani’s Shrimp Scampi tonight.
by Caitlin Watzke • Crab and Brie Tart and Fish Pomodoro photos courtesy of Collin Richie