It’s springtime in the mid-south and, if there’s one thing that can compete with the joy of seeing new buds on the trees and seeing the weeds in full bloom , it’s the return of our fresh Gulf seafood vendors! I get giddy just seeing the colorful trailers, parked at local gas stations. For me, it’s a sacred rite of spring to haphazardly park, get out of the car and stand in line, amidst the throng of excited seafood devotees.
I try to find ways to make each visit to the seafood vendor special. This time, the customers weren’t standing in an orderly line. A crowd of people clustered around the trailer, jockeying for position. I stayed back for a moment and enjoyed the tempting aroma of steaming crawfish and shrimp, billowing from large pots at the end of the trailer. I struck up a conversation with a man who was waiting for his order and learned that he was a Marine veteran who served during the late 1950’s and 1960’s. After a brief conversation, his order was bagged and ready and he was on his way home.
I ordered two pounds of fresh whole shrimp and one pound of boiled crawfish. I’m still debating on what to do with the shrimp but I know exactly what to do with the crawfish.
Crawfish isn’t for everyone. It’s an acquired taste. I have discovered that there are ways to prepare crawfish that even non-crawfish people can enjoy. For this meal, I am roasting a whole hen. Anyone that balks at the crawfish will still have something to eat! And, for those who want to try the étouffée, I am asking the crawfish to play second fiddle to another Cajun classic – andouille sausage. I am using Cajun seasonings sparingly, despite my usual craving for extreme spiciness, and I am adding a gentle tomato sauce, to make the dish smooth and creamy.
Ingredients for the roast chicken:
1 whole roasting hen
1 Tbs dried thyme leaves
2 Tbs Cajun seasoning
3 Tbs salted butter
2 celery stalks
¼ cup chicken broth
Wash chicken, inside and out, under cool running water. Trim excess fat and allow the chicken to dry, on a clean surface, at room temperature.
Mix thyme and 1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning with softened butter
Cut two large celery stalks in half and arrange them at the bottom of a large cast iron skillet. This will support the chicken while it roasts and will keep it from sticking to the pan.
Examine the neck cavity of the bird and slide fingers under the skin. Carefully slide your fingers beneath the surface of the skin and slide the palm of your hand along the breast meat. Angle your fingers down to the leg joint and begin separating the skin from the leg and thigh. Do this for each breast and leg.
Cup some of the butter mixture in your fingertips and slide them along the breasts, legs and thighs. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of Cajun seasoning on the outside of the bird, across the breast, legs and thighs.
Pour ¼ cup chicken broth in the cast iron skillet.
Lay the chicken in the pan, top side up. Roast uncovered for 45 minutes at 400°. Turn the oven down to 350° and continue roasting for another 30 minutes.
Remove the chicken and allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
While the chicken roasts, prepare garlic bread and the étouffée.
For the garlic bread:
12” loaf of fresh French bread
4 Tbs melted butter
2 tsp garlic salt
A few dashes of finely ground black pepper
2 tsp dried Parmesan cheese
Slice the fresh French bread, lengthwise.
Lay the opened loaf on a cutting board and brush each side with melted butter.
Shake garlic salt across each half, dust lightly with black pepper and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Close the two halves of bread together and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Bake in a 350° for 15 to 20 minutes.
1 lb boiled crawfish (boiled with Cajun seasonings)
½ lb andouille sausage, sliced into bite sized pieces
3 Tbs cooking oil
1 yellow onion
1 green bell pepper
3 celery stalks
1 small bulb, fresh garlic (with stems)
3 green onions
8 oz tomato sauce
3 Tbs softened butter
3 Tbs flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 Tbs lemon juice
Cooked white rice
Remove the tail meat from the crawfish and place the pieces in a bowl. Squeeze the heads of crawfish over the tail meat, to extract the crawfish juices. Set the crawfish meat aside and discard the crawfish shells, or use later for stock.
Peel and chop the yellow onion, bell pepper and celery. Dice the garlic and add to the vegetables. Set the vegetables aside.
Chop the tomato and green onions and set them aside.
Add 3 tablespoons of oil to a large skillet and set heat to medium. Add the yellow onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the skillet.
Sautee for 10 minutes while stirring frequently.
When the onion turns translucent, add tomato sauce
Simmer at low heat for about 5 minutes.
Mix the melted butter and flour in a small dish. Add some of the warm, cooked sauce to the flour and butter mixture and mix well. Add the mixture to the sauce and mix well. Simmer at low heat for 5 minutes, to thicken the sauce.
Add two cups of chicken broth while stirring the sauce. Add lemon juice and chopped tomatoes. Simmer for a few minutes.
Add the and andouille sausage and mix well.
Add the crawfish meat and simmer at low heat for a few minutes.
Arrange the cooked rice in the center of a large serving platter. Pile the étouffée on top of the rice. Carve the chicken and arrange the pieces around the outer edges of the platter. Top with chopped green onion.
Serve with the warm garlic bread.
Now…what to do with the shrimp?! Maybe a fresh shrimp cocktail, or a shrimp po’ boy, or shrimp remoulade, or coconut shrimp, or…