New book dives into life, recipes of entrepreneur Al Copeland

While you will not find any Popeyes recipes in the book, but there are a great many of them from Copeland’s New Orleans and the Copeland Family.

by Jyl Benson
August 31, 2022

Secrets of a Taste Maker,” the definitive cookbook and biography of Al Copeland Sr., by Chris Rose and Kit Wohl with photography by Sam Hanna, will be going on sale Sept. 13. The book has been in the works for years and offers an intimate look at one of the New Orleans area’s most memorable citizens. The hefty coffee table book roves from Copeland’s humble beginnings in Arabi to his ascension to the King of Popeyes Fried Chicken. While you will not find any Popeyes recipes in the book, but there are a great many of them from Copeland’s New Orleans and the Copeland Family.

Who was Al Copeland?

Al Copeland was a gifted, generous man. He led the winningest team in offshore powerboat racing history, traveled the world with that sport, and still holds several World Records. He donated lavishly to charity. He had an advanced palate and could discern even the faintest hint of an ingredient in a dish, thereby allowing him to break down any recipe. His sensitivity was almost savant-like.

The Popeyes-Diet Coke Speedboat (Courtesy The Copeland Collection)

Those who knew him testify that, with a single taste of any dish, Al Copeland could break it down by its basic elements, ticking off what spices, herbs, oils, blends, fats, greens, proteins, starches and other ingredients it contained with stunning accuracy.

The term for this ability is “super-taster.”

“People with refined taste buds make great chefs, cooks, and food critics,” said Linda Bartoshuk, the scientist who coined the term “super-taster.’ 

Through her research, she discovered a rare physical sensitivity and an exaggerated number of taste buds in some people that enables them to experience a heightened perception of tastes and flavors.  

Bartoshuk has written, “They can tell the subtle difference between the texture and flavor of foods, so food often becomes more than a hobby and becomes an area of great interest.”

Equally spooky was Al Copeland’s death from a rare form of cancer of the salivary glands. Related? Was his gift also his curse?

This book dives into this as well as his flashy personality, collections of fast cars, penchant for beautiful women, devotion to his children, and very public feud with Anne Rice. The late horror writer was irate because Copeland planned to open a glitzy restaurant, Straya, in a location on St. Charles Avenue that was closely associated with her blockbuster novel “Interview with the Vampire.”  

The recipes in this book are carefully crafted and spot-on. With this tome one could tighten up everyone on their holiday list and proclaim themselves “Done!”

Cajun Duckanoff

Adapted fromSecrets of a Taste Maker,” the definitive cookbook and biography of Al Copeland Sr., by Chris Rose and Kit Wohl.

Cajun Duckanoff

Al Copeland Sr., once hit the roof in a fury when he discovered his quality control officer had authorized the kitchen staff to skip the step of flash frying the duck for this dish before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. While you can eliminate this step (which is a bit of  a nuisance), the final result is substandard. At Copeland’s Restaurant, the duck is always flash-fried for this favorite dish.

Serves 4

Copeland’s House Seasoning

Copeland’s House Seasoning (Courtesy The Copeland Collection)

Makes about 3/4 cup

2 tablespoons granulated onion
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground basil
4 teaspoons ground oregano
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 tablespoon ground thyme
2 1/2 teaspoons Spanish paprika

Thoroughly combine all ingredients. Store in an airtight container.

Copeland’s Cajun Duck Seasoning

Makes about 3/4 cup

3 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/ 2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon granulated onion
3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon paprika

 Thoroughly combine all ingredients. Store in an airtight container.

Simple Roasted Duck

1 5-to-6-pound domestic duck
2 tablespoons Copeland’s Cajun Duck Seasoning (above)

Burgundy Mushroom Sauce

 6 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 cups sliced Cremini or white button mushrooms, in all
2/3 cup diced onion
2 Tablespoons Copeland’s House Seasoning 
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (for color)
1/4 cup red Burgundy wine

Duckanoff

3/4 cup Saute Butter (recipe follows)
2 cups quartered Cremini mushrooms
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound fettuccine pasta, cooked al dente, and drained, kept hot
1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
Shredded pulled from 1 Roasted Duck (above)
Copeland’s House Seasoning 
Minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

To make the Simple Roast Duck

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Remove the neck and giblets from the inside of the duck. Cut the tail off the duck and trim excess fat from the duck. Reserve these parts for another use.

Dust the outside of the duck with the seasoning, rubbing the spices into the skin. Place duck in a roasting pan and cook, uncovered, until the internal temperature reaches 150ºF and the juices run clear about 90 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. 

Once the duck is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and meat from the duck. Reserve the bones for another use. Pull the meat into 2-inch clusters.

To make the Burgundy Mushroom Sauce

Melt the butter in a saucepot over very low heat.

Sift in 1/4 cup the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, until it is the color of peanut butter, about 20 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add 1 cup mushrooms, the onions, and the Copeland’s House Seasoning. Cook until the onions are translucent, and the mushrooms begin to sweat, about 8 minutes.

Slowly add the stocks and Kitchen Bouquet while whisking. Bring to a boil, stirring, then reduce to a simmer, and cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes.

In a small bowl whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup flour and the wine to form a slurry. Stir the slurry into the pan, add the remaining mushrooms, and return to a simmer, stirring. Continue to simmer the sauce until it is smooth and thickened enough to thickly coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 20 minutes.

Make the Duckanoff

Melt the Saute Butter in a very large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the heavy cream and 2 cups Burgundy Mushroom Sauce. Bring the sauce to a boil and add the reserved hot pasta. Cook, tossing the pasta until it is thoroughly coated. And heated through.

Divide the pasta and sauce among four serving bowls.

Wipe out the skillet or Dutch oven, add the oil, and set the cooking vessel over high heat. When the oil is smoking add the duck and flash fry, stirring occasionally, until heated through and crispy, about 3 minutes. Dust the duck with Copeland’s House Seasoning to taste.

Divide the seasoned duck evenly among the four bowls of pasta. Garnish with minced parsley.

Sautee Butter

1/2 pounds (6 sticks) unsalted butter, plus 1/4cup (1/2 stick), divided, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
1/3 cup Copeland’s House Seasoning (above)
Melt 1/4 cup butter in a medium skillet and melt over medium heat.

Add the green onions and House Seasoning to the skillet, and sauté until the onions have wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Place in the refrigerator until completely cooled.

Add the remaining 6 sticks of softened butter to the bowl and mix with a rubber spatula until there are no pale streaks remaining.

Scrape the butter into an airtight container or form it into logs and wrap in plastic wrap. The butter keeps, refrigerated, for 1 week, or frozen for 3 months.

Blind Kitchen New Orleans
In this quirky food competition series, local chefs recreate each other’s signature dish, but they can only determine what the dish is using their senses of taste, touch and smell. Each chef is blindfolded during a down-and-dirty guessing phase and when the masks come off, the heat is on, with both chefs cooking what they believe is their opponent’s creation. Click here to watch Blind Kitchen New Orleans only on the Very Local App!

Jyl Benson began her editorial career in 1990 with The Times Picayune in New Orleans and served as a regional reporter covering the southeastern United States for both The New York Times and Time magazine. She wrote Galatoire's Cookbook: Recipes & Family History from the Time-Honored New Orleans Restaurant (Random House 2005) as well as several cultural, historical, and architectural guides to New Orleans. She served as Editor-In-Chief of Louisiana Cookin’ magazine from 2009 to 2011 and founded Louisiana Kitchen & Culture magazine in 2012. Her most recent cookbook Louisiana's Tables (Great Texas Line, 2017) explores the state's culinary culture...

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