The month of July has been a brutal test of our endurance, here in the South. Daily high temperatures have ranged from 92° to 99°, with heat indexes as high as 110°, due to the high humidity. It’s been a long, relentless stretch of extreme heat, but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know if you live somewhere on this planet.
One way to beat the heat is to have a cool, refreshing salad and one of my favorites is shrimp remoulade. I’ve made this many times and I rarely adhere to a strict recipe, and that’s one of the things I like most about the salad. It’s versatile and easy to make.
As usual, I looked at items I had on-hand to help steer the recipe. The parsley, from my garden, didn’t produce much this year, but it contributed to one of the essential ingredients in a respectable remoulade. We had a bunch of lemons that need to be used, so I used the juice in the remoulade, and I added the rest of the lemons to a half gallon of water, for the shrimp boil.
Any size of shrimp can be used. I used one and a half pounds raw, peeled, and deveined jumbo shrimp.
Finally, if you want to do it right, use Duke’s mayonnaise. I used to think that mayonnaise was mayonnaise, regardless of the brand. That’s until I performed a side-by-side taste test to compare Duke’s to another leading brand. I strongly suggest doing that with all sorts of store-bought items, when possible. I found that Duke’s has a rich, robust flavor that the other brand didn’t have. (I’m not getting money or sponsorship from Duke’s…I just like the stuff.)
Juice from 2 lemons (reserve lemon rinds for shrimp boil)
2/3 cup mayonnaise (Duke’s, of course!)
1 Tbs horseradish (I used horseradish mustard)
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 tsp Louisiana hot sauce
½ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped (reserve stems for shrimp boil)
8 cups water
4 or 5 large bay leaves
1 Tbs Cajun seasoning
1 Tbs Old Bay seasoning (or any other seasoning mix that you like)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 ½ lbs raw shrimp (peeled and deveined)
8 ounces uncooked pasta (I used rigatoni)
1 head of romaine lettuce (trimmed)
¼ head of iceberg lettuce (cut into wedges)
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 green onion, chopped
1 or two pickled banana peppers, sliced
2 tsp capers
Trim the parsley and reserve the stems for the shrimp boil.
To make the remoulade sauce, start by adding lemon juice to a mixing bowl. Add mayonnaise, horseradish, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, and cayenne pepper. Add the chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly. Store for at least 20 minutes, or up to one day, in a refrigerator.
Prepare the pasta according to the directions on the package. The finished pasta should be cooked just the point where it is soft, but not overcooked. Rinse the pasta under cool water and chill, until needed.
Bring 8 cups (one half gallon) of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add lemon rinds, parsley stems, Cajun seasoning, Old Bay seasoning and garlic.
Continue to boil for a minute and then turn the heat off.
Add shrimp and stir gently for about two minutes, or until the shrimp turn pink and are tender.
Strain the water from the shrimp. Run cold water over the shrimp until the shrimp are cool to the touch.
Add the shrimp and pasta to the remoulade and stir gently to coat the ingredients with the sauce.
Arrange romaine lettuce around the rim of a large platter and scatter a few wedges of iceberg lettuce.
Add the shrimp remoulade to the platter. Top with tomato slices, banana peppers, green onion, and capers. Serve chilled.
I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal out of this. It’s really just me prepping for dinner.
So, in case you were wondering what I was up to with onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic and okra, I’ll tell you.
It’s Gumbo, baby!
There’s no greater joy than making and eating a great gumbo. It’s also a little scary, but that just makes it more thrilling! Making a proper roux has been difficult and sometimes disastrous for me in the past, as I’ve mentioned at least once before in previous posts, but this time I took the training wheels off!
One thing that I love about gumbo is that it’s never made the same way twice. I should clarify. I don’t believe it should (or could) be made exactly, the same way twice. As one of my favorite local DJs says, on his “New Orleans Big Beat” radio program, “You never know what you’ll find in the gumbo. It might be jazz, funk, rock and roll, blues, or soul…it all goes into the gumbo!”
Gumbo is a soup/stew. The one thing that is essential in a gumbo is a roux and, if you are familiar with roux, you might be thinking of the butter, flour mixture that you whip up before adding stock, or milk, if you’re making a béchamel. It’s the basis of nearly every good sauce.
Gumbo roux is an entirely different critter. Traditionally speaking, a gumbo roux is made with vegetable oil or lard, or a combination of the two, and flour. Gumbo roux isn’t finished when the flour incorporates with the oil. It must be cooked to a point where it turns dark brown, to produce the desired flavor.
Once a year, or so, I put myself to the test and try to make a gumbo that can stand up to the good gumbos that I have eaten, over the years. With all modesty aside, I really nailed it this time!
Looking back on this particular gumbo experience, I would say that there were three key things that made the gumbo so tasty. First, I was wise enough to prep for the gumbo the night before I made it, as I mentioned in my last post. I could have pushed on and made the gumbo that night but, I didn’t want to make everyone wait for dinner and, my instincts told me to prepare some of the ingredients so that when it came time to make the gumbo, I wouldn’t be pressed for time or be stressed.
Secondly, I did what any great chef would tell me to do. I made a stock. I will describe how I made the stock later, but I assure you, it was the signature touch that not only made this gumbo different than ones I have made before, but it gave a depth of flavor that can’t be pulled out of can or a few bouillon cubes!
The final touch was the roux. As I said, I took the training wheels off and made a doggone roux the way it should be made. My previous attempts at making a roux involved nervously whisking oil and flour over a medium-low heat, trying to avoid the dreaded “burnt roux”. Cooking the roux at a lower heat resulted in 20 minutes of whisking only to wind up with a burnt roux. I was too timid. I’ve seen people make roux and the process should only take about 10 minutes.
You might be thinking, “how do you know if a roux is burnt?” Well, all I can say is smell it and be honest with yourself. If it smells burnt, it’s burnt, and there’s no turning back. Throw the roux out and start all over again.
This time, I added the oil to the pot and turned the heat up high. Not maximum, killer-high, but high. I let the oil get very hot and then I added the flour, all at once. The flour began to brown instantly, and even though I wanted to take some photos during the process, I had to keep whisking furiously. I turned the heat down to medium-high and whisked until my wrist was about to give out. Seven minutes later, I had a deep, dark roux. I turned the heat off and transferred the roux to another bowl, to stop the heating process and give the roux a chance to cool down.
The good thing about a dark roux is that it makes a rich gumbo. The downside about a dark roux is that it won’t thicken a gumbo as much as a lighter, blonde roux will. Big deal. I’ve got fresh okra!
The origin of the word gumbo comes from Africa, and it refers to okra, which brings me back to the memories I have of my first visit to New Orleans. The wonderfully diverse city of New Orleans, and the surrounding areas, owe its alluring charm to the many cultures that has made it what it is today. Africans, Acadians, Spanish, Native American Choctaw and just about every other nationality and culture you can think of helped build New Orleans. The list of immigrants continues with Germans, Mexicans, Caribbean Islanders, Chinese, Jewish, Vietnamese, Italians…I’m not making this up! When people speak of American as a “melting pot” of cultures, they shouldn’t just think of big cities like New York or Chicago. New Orleans was founded by and supported by a mélange of people and cultures. It is truly a remarkable city, and New Orleans is a testament to the notion that a diverse population is a beautiful recipe for a community.
16 medium whole, fresh shrimp
3 Chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)
½ bell pepper, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped and divided
1 large sweet, white onion, finely chopped
1 large bell pepper, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 or 3 garlic cloves, mashed and minced
½ lb. andouille sausage, cut into ½” pieces
2/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
64 oz chicken broth (8 cups)
6 oz fresh okra, cut into ½” pieces
3 Tbs Cajun seasoning
Several sprigs of fresh cilantro (for garnish)
Chop onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Mix the vegetables in a large bowl and set aside.
Peel the shrimp. Reserve the heads and shells. Set shrimp aside.
Rough chop ½ bell pepper and set aside.
Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to a skillet. Set heat to medium/high and add the chicken breasts to the skillet, bone side down. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Turn chicken over and sear, skin side down, for 15 minutes. Turn the chicken over again and add half of a bell pepper, chopped. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the bell pepper softens.
Remove the chicken, separate the crispy skins and return the skins to the skillet. Set cooked chicken aside to cool.
Add the shrimp shells and heads to the skillet. Add 1 cup chicken broth and half of the chopped tomato. Cover and simmer at low heat for 20 minutes.
Remove the cover from skillet and mash the softened shrimp heads. This is not the time to be squeamish. Just remember, you’re using every part of the shrimp, which is honorable, and you will be rewarded with a very tasty sauce. This is a must!
Simmer uncovered at medium heat for another 10 minutes, to reduce the stock. Pour the stock through a strainer and reserve the finished sauce. This will make about 1 ½ cups of sauce.
I’m not kidding when I say that I’d be happy just to sit at a table and slurp down this stock and forget about making the rest of the meal. It’s that good! But, I know what this relatively small amount of sauce is going to contribute to the gumbo.
After a few moments of enjoying the aroma of the sauce, and dreaming about consomé de camarón, I was ready to get back to the action.
Add a teaspoon of cooking oil to a large stock pot. Put the pot on the stove and set heat to medium/low.
Slice the andouille sausage and add to the pot.
Sear the sausage, without stirring, for a few minutes.
Briefly stir and continue to sear the andouille until the sausage browns slightly. Remove the andouille and reserve the oil in the pot.
Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the pot. Cook at medium heat, stirring frequently for 10 minutes, or until the onion begins to turn translucent. Remove the vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
Remove the bones from the cooled chicken thighs. The bones should easily pull away from the chicken. Chop the chicken and set aside.
Now, go back to the large pot that was used to cook the vegetables. Wipe the pot dry with a paper towel, to prepare for making the roux. You don’t want to add oil to a wet pot! Add 2/3 cup vegetable oil to the pot. Turn heat to high.
Once the oil is hot, add the flour, all at once. The flour should begin to brown as it hits the oil. Don’t panic. Quickly whisk and reduce the heat to medium/high.
Keep whisking as the flour incorporates with the oil. Over the span of a few minutes, you should see the roux turn from blonde to tan. Keep whisking and scraping the sides of the pot with the whisk, occasionally. Let your nose guide you as you whisk. The aroma should smell something like roasted nuts, or toasted sesame seeds. The color of the roux should go from tan to dark mahogany. At this point, reduce the heat a little and bring the roux up to a dark brown. Again, let your nose guide you. If you think that the toasty aroma is approaching anything that might be considered burnt, shut everything down.
Turn the heat off and remove the pot from the stove. A roux does not have to be chocolate brown to be good. I’ve stopped at blonde before and have still enjoyed the final product. This roux wound up being the color of dark, milk chocolate.
As I mentioned earlier, this was the first time I made a roux using high heat. It came together quickly. I transferred the roux to a bowl, to stop the heating process. After the roux cooled a little, I carefully tasted it. Be very careful when tasting a roux. It’s as hot as lava. There was a slight hint of flour when I tasted the roux, which told me that I would want to simmer the gumbo for a long time.
Add the remaining chicken broth (7 cups) to the pot. Turn the heat to medium/low and stir, mixing the residual roux with the broth.
Add the cooked vegetables.
Add the andouille.
Add the okra and remaining chopped tomato.
Okra is a natural thickener. A dark roux is more flavorful than a light roux, but a dark roux will not thicken a gumbo as much as a light roux. Okra can make a soupy gumbo thicker, like a stew.
Add the chopped chicken.
Add the incredible shrimp sauce.
Add 3 tablespoons Cajun seasoning.
Add the roux. Stir gently to blend in the roux.
Turn the heat down to low and simmer, uncovered, for an hour to and hour and a half.
Remember, back at the beginning of this post, when I said that you never know what you’ll find in the gumbo? Well…while the gumbo simmered on the stovetop, I was also finishing a smoked pork shoulder roast in the oven. A few days earlier, I applied a dry rub to the pork roast and smoked it outdoors for about eight hours. It was a cool and windy day, and it was difficult to maintain the proper heat in the smoker, so the roast needed a little more time to finish. I wrapped the roast in foil and put it in the refrigerator and brought it back out while I was making the gumbo.
The wrapped pork should slow-roasted for two hours in the oven and, when I pulled it from the oven, I saw that some of the juices escaped the foil wrap and left a sticky glaze on the pan. I added a little water to the residue and whisked it. That produced a smokey, spicy sauce that just had to go into the gumbo!
Add the shrimp and simmer for another 20 minutes. The gumbo is ready to serve.
White rice completes the dish.
Top the rice with a healthy portion of gumbo and top with cilantro.
I’ll never be able to replicate this gumbo recipe, and I’m fine with that. There will be other gumbos to come, and they will have their own special place in my heart.
Eat well and eat with your family and friends every chance you get!
In case you are interested, the radio program, “New Orleans Big Beat” is presented by volunteer radio station, WEVL, in Memphis, TN. Check out their diverse and eclectic programming schedule here: wevl.org
Arroz con Pollo Étouffée, con per miso, s’il vous plaît
In other words, I’m in a spastic, frantic frame of mind!
It’s nearly two hours past my normal bedtime and I’m pausing to let the day’s events soak in. I’m submitting this post without editing, and that’s a scary thing for me. I don’t usually spend a lot of time editing what I write but, I rarely throw caution to the wind by allowing my hands to type out the thoughts in my head without giving consideration to the quality of prose or grammar. Today is a day when I violently throw caution against the wall, just to hear it make a satisfying “splat”.
It’s been a long day. It’s been a long week. Many successes and many failures. So goes the life of a work-a-day-Joe, such as myself. I wanted to leave work today in time to ship a package to a loved one. That didn’t happen. During the drive home, I was stuck in traffic, behind a sea of cars and a parade of police cars and emergency vehicles that maneuvered through the gridlock toward an accident. I found an alternate route, only to encounter another accident. I gnashed my teeth, still reeling from the tremendously bad day at work, and crept along, thinking about what I could make for dinner, once I arrived home.
It never came to me. I was so preoccupied by the events of the day that I couldn’t focus on what to make for dinner. Once I arrived home, I immediately went to the refrigerator and started pulling out items. I pulled out some fresh vegetables, left over chicken and a little bit of butter. I went to the pantry and grabbed some rice, olive oil and flour. I put everything on the kitchen counter and stared at the items and started to put everything together, in my mind.
I texted my wife, who is out of state, visiting my mother-in-law. I gave our dog her daily antibiotic, because she’s healing from a vicious fight with a racoon.
Time to put dinner together, eh?
I pulled out a few fresh tomatoes, yes I still have tomatoes from the garden, and that’s something that I cling to, in these trying times. I shaved some dried thyme leaves from the stem, another gift from the garden. I pulled out a carrot, 3 semi-wilted green onions and two partially frozen celery stalks from the “crisper drawer” from the refrigerator. Why are my vegetables freezing in the refrigerator?!
I wanted to hear some music but I didn’t want to fight with Alexa and the almighty Amazon. I’ve had enough of that. I imagined that I was listening to ZZ Top’s “Asleep in the Desert” and I went to work.
Once I started putting everything together, I tried to put a name on the thing I was creating. I was leaning so heavily on Tex-Mex and Cajun concepts that I decided that this would be a marriage of arroz con pollo and etouffée. It was a beautiful marriage. You should have been there!
2 Tbs olive oil
1 fresh red serrano chili
3 chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 carrot, peeled and diced finely
2 stalks of celery, slightly frozen and diced finely
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced finely
2 Tbs melted butter
1 1/2 Tbs flour
4 Roma tomatoes, diced finely
2 tsp crushed, dried thyme leaves
3 green onions, chopped, separate white and green parts
1 ounce shrimp bouillon cube
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
3 cups cooked white rice
Prepare steamed white rice.
While the rice cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet.
Add the chicken and serrano chili and cover the pan. Simmer at low heat for 10 minutes.
Turn the chicken over and add the garlic. Simmer at medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove chicken and keep warm.
Chop the vegetables.
Removed the chicken from the skillet and keep warm. Deglaze the skillet with a little water.
Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and the vegetable (excluding tomatoes). Simmer covered for 10 minutes.
Mix the melted butter and flour. Add the mixture to the skillet. Set heat to low and whisk for a minute.
Add remaining chicken broth. Add shrimp bouillon, Cajun seasoning, tomatoes and thyme. Stir over low heat for a few minutes.
Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the skillet. Mix to combine.
Add cooked rice, a little bit at a time. Mix and add the rest of the rice.
Simmer for a few more minutes.
Serve in large bowls with soft bread, on the side.
And there you have it. Stress has been relieved. Once again, good food prevails.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to sit down and jot it all down while listening to the soundtrack to the Terry Gilliam move, “Brazil” and Joni Mitchell’s album, “Hejira.”
Life is strange. Life is good. Life goes on.
Let it all come out. Don’t hold back. Share the ups and downs with the ones you love and, when you sit down for dinner, be a listener.
And now, it’s 3 hours past my bedtime. My pillow is calling!
Chef Paul Prudhomme introduced blackened redfish to the world nearly 40 years ago. If you are a big fan of fish, you will love blackened fish. If fish really isn’t your thing, you might be surprised to discover that you like blackened fish. It might even covert you to pescetarianism! Yes, pescetarianism is a real word. It describes a person who is a vegetarian but, also eats fish and other seafood.
Cajun seasonings and high heat elevate a simple fish filet to new levels. Despite the term, “blackened”, the fish, if prepared properly, will not be overcooked, or taste burnt. And, despite being a Cajun recipe, it should not taste overly spicy.
This recipe should serve two or three people.
2 or 3 zucchini squash, sliced lengthwise, ½ inch thick
4 Tbs cumin powder
1 Tbs garlic powder
1 Tbs cayenne powder
1 Tbs seasoning salt (Cajun, if available)
4 to 6 large fish filets (I used tilapia but Louisiana redfish is traditional)
4 to 5 Tbs butter
1 cup fresh spinach (tossed with oil and vinegar)
Two limes, quartered, for garnish
Cooked rice with a pinch of fresh thyme, added before serving
Prepare steamed white rice.
Simmer the sliced zucchini in skillet with a little water until the squash begins to soften. Remove and keep in a warm place.
Mix the spices (cumin, garlic, cayenne and season salt) in a bowl.
Coat each side of the fish filets with the seasoning and set aside.
Fluff the cooked rice and add fresh thyme. Add the rice to the serving dishes.
Arrange the cooked zucchini slices over the rice.
Add butter to a skillet and set heat to medium/high.
Once the butter sizzles, add the fish filets. Do not crowd the pan!
Pan fry for two minutes and turn the fish over to fry for another two minutes.
Gently lay the cooked fish on top of the zucchini.
Toss the fresh spinach in a little olive oil and vinegar. Add spinach to serving dishes.
As a first time visitor to New Orleans French Quarter, I didn’t know exactly what to expect I would see and discover. Sure, I knew about Bourbon street, famous for Mardi Gras celebrations and I knew there would be plenty of restaurants and pubs to visit but, I was amazed at how accessible all of these places were.
Walking is the best mode of transportation in the French Quarter. The French Quarter is a compact ward of the city and every street is full of a variety of restaurants, bars and boutiques. A twenty-minute stroll can lead to world of discoveries.
We checked into our hotel in the late afternoon and, after a few minutes of rest, we were hungry and ready to find our first meal. We walked out of the hotel lobby and one minute later, we found ourselves at Curio, a bistro and bar on the corner or Royal Street and Bienville Street.
Curio has the French, Spanish and Caribbean architectural style that nearly all of the buildings in the French Quarter share, which means lots of ornate iron work and multiple floors of covered galleries facing the streets.
Curio serves up typical American fare, embellished with Creole flair.
Our waiter, Dylan, was cordial and enthusiastic. He guided us through some of the items on the menu and steered us toward some excellent options.
The standout was the French Onion Soup Au Gratin. My wife and I share this and we might have been happy to split another one amongst us because it was really that good. There was nothing fancy or trendy about the French Onion Soup. What made it so outstanding was its richness. The beef stock was rich and smooth and full of flavors that can only be achieved by a slow process of reduction. The caramelized onions added the perfect amount of sweetness to the soup. The broiled cheese that topped the soup was perfectly melted and had just the right stringiness to make it fun to eat, but not messy.
Blue Crab Cakes
Louisiana Blue Crab Meat, Onions & Peppers, Creole Coleslaw, Cilantro-Lime Mayo
This was my first experience with blue crabs from the Gulf of Mexico. It is likely that the crabs actually came from Lake Pontchartrain, which is actually a large brackish estuary in southeastern Louisiana.
I don’t have crab cakes very often but I know good crab cakes when I eat them. Good crab cakes need to be full of sweet crab meat and they need to be seared perfectly, to achieve a crisp but yielding outer crust. The crab cakes at Curio are very good and the cilantro-lime mayo dressing was a refreshing change of pace from the more typical remoulade sauce, or tartar sauce that is prevalent on the East coast.
As good as these were, they rank number two on my crab cake experiences. Number one came from a restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, some years ago. It was a combination of the superior Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and the skilled chef that made them earned them top prize.
Coriander Blackened Redfish
Honey Creamed Mustard Greens
Locally sourced redfish is plentiful in Louisiana. Most are caught in the Gulf but redfish also find their way into Lake Ponchartrain. Blackened redfish was developed by famed chef, Paul Prudhomme, right here, in the New Orleans French Quarter, nearly forty years ago.
Blackening fish is a brave yet counterintuitive method of pan frying fish. Paul Prudhomme’s genius shines brightly through this inventive preparation. The fish filet is heavily dusted with seasonings and then quickly pan fried in butter at high heat. The result is a very aromatic fish, smoky to the nose, but not overly spicy. The highlight of the fish I had at Curio was the emphasis on cumin, in the spice mix. Cumin, when charred, adds a whole new depth of flavor. The fish sat atop rich, creamy mustard greens. Time could have stopped while I was eating this and that would have been just fine, with me. I like big, bold flavors in nearly everything I eat and this redfish satisfied me in every way.
My wife order the Chicken Caprese Sandwich. She noted that the chicken was moist and tender and the Mozzarella, tomato and basil caprese was very fresh but the star of the sandwich was the delicious brioche bun.
One of the nicest things about our experience at Curio was our timing. We arrived in the late afternoon, when the dinner crowd was just beginning to arrive and, after a leisurely meal, we returned to our hotel before the raucous crowds packed the streets and bars. We dined al fresco, on the second floor gallery. The temperature was nearly perfect. We were still a few hours away from sunset and a gentle breeze made the moment even better. We sat and talked and looked down at the streets below, observing the crowds below. This was a very nice way to start our New Orleans experience.
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…
Sometimes, all it takes is an exotic name of a dish to get me excited about cooking. Jambalaya fits the bill perfectly. “Jambalaya” rolls off the tongue lyrically and it speaks of the African influences in this Louisianan, Cajun dish. French and Spanish cultures are also essential to Cajun cuisine, which has helped make Cajun food a wonderful mélange of cross-culturalism. And, lest I forget, there is a particular sofrito that is the fundamental base of many Cajun creations. The sofrito, which traditionally consists of diced onion, celery and bell pepper is so revered in Louisiana that they refer to it as the “holy trinity”.
The last several months have been full of challenges, disappointments and despair but, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. We’ve all been suffering from anxiety, depression and hardship in our own ways. I selfishly want this dangerous virus to be crushed so that I can happily return to my favorite restaurants, without feeling that I am putting myself or others at risk.
I am glad that I know how to cook. Maybe I should rephrase that.
I am thankful that I have the confidence and courage to cook and that I have the necessary tools to prepare a meal. If there is anything good to be said about 2020 it might be that we have been given the opportunity to invest in our families and bolster each other with love and support. Providing home-cooked meals for the family allows us to gather around the table and enjoy good food and have meaningful conversations.
Okay, that’s enough my maudlin rambling. Let’s make a Jambalaya. But, before we get to it, just imagine how James Earl Jones would say “jambalaya”. Let that be your muse!
1 ½ cup chicken broth
8 oz tomato sauce
1 Tbs Cajun seasoning
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried parsley
½ cup chopped celery
1 medium onion
3 small, mild jalapeños ( I didn’t have bell peppers on hand)
2 cloves garlic
3 small tomatoes (the last of my fresh tomatoes!)
½ lb smoked sausage (andouille is traditional, but I used another tasty smoked pork sausage)
10 shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup rice (I used short grain, but long grain is perfectly fine)
Garlic bread (get a good loaf of French bread – it might become the star of the show!)
Butter and garlic salt, for the bread
I like to prepare everything in advance and I like to have all of my ingredients ready and within arm’s length. Mise en place, if you will.
I used whole, raw shrimp, but it is a wonderful convenience to use raw, frozen shrimp that has been peeled and deveined.
Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, seasoning and herbs to a large skillet. Set heat to low/medium and simmer for a few minutes.
Add the holy trinity (onion, celery and, in this case, jalapeño) to the pan. Adding garlic to the holy trinity is referred to “adding the Pope”, so, add the Pope. Add the chopped tomatoes.
Mix everything in the pan and simmer at low/medium heat for a few minutes.
Add the uncooked rice. Stir to combine.
Cut the sausage into ½” disks. Add to the pan.
Cover the pan with a lid and simmer at low/medium heat, until the rice becomes tender. This took about 30 minutes, for me.
While the rice cooks, prepare the garlic bread.
Slice the French bread into thick pieces (1 ½’ or 2” thick). Brush melted butter on one side of each piece and dust liberally with garlic salt. Reassemble the loaf and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove the garlic bread from the oven and keep it sealed until you are ready to serve.
Once the rice is soft, add the shrimp . Nestle the shrimp in the jambalaya and cover the pan again. Simmer for another 5 to 7 minutes.
Serve with laughter and merriment. Eat well, stay healthy and find something to admire about everyone you meet!
Recently, on my way home from work, I had a sudden craving for shrimp toast, you know, the classic Chinese takeout appetizer. I wanted to try making it at home, even though I’d never attempted it.
There’s always that moment, during the drive home, when I consider whether I know exactly how to make the thing I am thinking of, or if I will need to improvise. This was definitely going to require some improvisation.
I imagined how shrimp toast tastes as it’s pulled out of the fryer. Hot and crunchy on the outside and soft and creamy shrimpiness on the inside. And then, as I waited at a red light, I came to a sad realization. Shrimp toast is great when it’s hot and fresh but given time, it cools and becomes a squishy, oily, shrimp-flavored sponge. The craving for takeout-style shrimp toast was gone.
I took a moment to think about what I was actually craving. In my mind, I imagined a baked, creamy shrimp spread on top of thick slices of toasted French bread. I couldn’t recall what the dish was actually called but I was evoking crostini. I kept referring to it as “shrimp toast” as I drove home and, in truth, that’s really all it is…it’s just not the deep fried Chinese takeout variety.
Since I was already in a seafood frame of mind I decided to pair the crostini with New Orleans-style blackened fish.
Shrimp Crostini with Blackened Tilapia
Ingredients for the Shrimp Crostini:
½ lb fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and finely chopped
¼ cup diced green onions, chopped fine
3 Tbs mayonnaise
3 Tbs cream cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
½ tsp salt
9 slices of good quality, fresh French bread (1” thick)
2 Tbs butter
Peel and devein the shrimp. Rinse thoroughly under cool water. Chop into small pieces.
Add the shrimp and remaining ingredients, (excluding the bread!) to a large mix bowl. Beat the heck out everything with a whisk, fork or any other suitable weapon.
Prepare a 9” round ceramic backing dish by spreading 2 tablespoons of oil across the bottom and sides of the dish. Wipe away excess with a paper towel.
Add the shrimp mixture to the dish and press the mixture down firmly with your fingers, spreading it to the edges of the dish.
Bake in a 400° oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the top begins to brown. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
While the shrimp cools, prepare the French bread.
Slice the bread into 1” thick pieces.
Melt the butter and brush over both sides of the bread slices.
Place the pieces of bread in a 9” glass pie plate.
Using a spoon, or a small spatula, add dollops of the baked shrimp mixture to the toast. Press the toast together as tightly as possible.
Put the pie plate in a 400° oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the sides of the toast are crisp. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
Ingredients for the Blackened Tilapia:
3 Tbs Cajun seasoning
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried onion flake, ground fine
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp dried thyme
4 tilapia filets (about 1 lb)
Mix all of the dried seasonings together.
Spread the seasonings across a large platter.
Lay the tilapia filets on the seasoning and press down firmly with your hands to coat the fish. Turn the fish over and repeat.
Heat a heavy steel skillet or cast iron skillet to high heat.
Once the skillet is screaming hot, add the butter. Just as soon as the butter is almost completely melted, which will happen quickly, add the filets.
Stand back. Don’t mess with the fish. After about two minutes, the butter will brown. Carefully turn the fish over with a large flat spatula and let the fish fry for another two minutes. Press the fish with the side of your thumb. If it feels firm, it’s done. If it doesn’t feel firm, it will in about another 30 seconds.
Carefully remove the fish with a spatula and place on a serving dish.
Serve on a bed of steamed rice and steamed broccoli.
Louisiana hot sauce is the preferred condiment for the Shrimp Crostini and Blackened Fish. Use as directed.
Here’s one of my many mottos: If it’s spicy, there’s a good chance I will like it.
Having lived most of my life in the South, I have had the joy of eating some excellent Tex-Mex and Cajun food. Both cuisines tend to lean toward the spicy side and I like to make it lean just a little bit more!
Etouffee and gumbo are similar in that they are both served over rice but gumbo is more like a stew, comprised of various types of seafood, meats and vegetables. Etouffee usually only has one type of meat and the sauce is thicker than gumbo. Crawfish Etouffee is the quintessential Etouffee but don’t rule out the shrimp or chicken versions. Use what you have in your kitchen.
Etouffee, which means “smothered” in French, is a classic Louisiana dish. There are two basic types of Etoufee: Creole and Cajun. The Creole variety uses a dark roux and the flavors are deep and complex. The Cajun variety uses a light roux and is spicier than the Creole version.
30 minute Crawfish and Shrimp Etouffee
Yes, this only took 30 minutes to cook from start to finish. But, here’s the catch. I did a lot of prep work a few days before I made this dish. Previously, I cleaned and de-veined the shrimp, parboiled them and stored the shrimp in the refrigerator. I peeled the steamed crawfish and stored them in the refrigerator.
I made stock reductions from the crawfish and the shrimp and then I made compound butter using the crawfish and shrimp reductions. All of that work took a considerable amount of time, but it was worth it.
The rest was easy.
1 ounce compound shrimp butter
2 ounces compound crawfish butter
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1 Tbs unsalted butter
½ onion, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped
2 ounces flour
3 green onions, chopped
2 Tbs tomato sauce
1 ½ Tbs Cajun seasoning
1 cup water
½ lb raw shrimp (peeled and deveined)
½ lb crawfish meat
In a large skillet, add the shrimp butter and crawfish butter. Turn heat to medium/low.
As the butter melts, add garlic and sauté for about one minute.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the onion and continue stirring for another minute.
Add the celery and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Add the flour and whisk or stir, to form a roux.
Add 1 cup of water and stir until a thick sauce forms.
Add tomato sauce, green onions and Cajun seasoning. Stir to combine.
Hooray! The crawfish are here, the crawfish are here!
Every year, around this time, crawfish and shrimp vendors start popping up at local gas station parking lots. They set up shop on the weekends, with pick up trucks and trailers for about 6 weeks and then they vanish, as quickly and as quietly as they arrived, returning to the bayous. But, while they are here, I have access to the biggest, freshest and most succulent gulf shrimp and wonderful, spicy, hot Cajun crawfish .
Most of these vendors only take cash. I rarely carry cash but, when these guys roll into town I don’t mind making a trip to the nearest ATM and withdrawing money from my bank account. I drive back to the seafood guys waving cash in my hand. Yes, it’s really that good.
I remember a time, just a few years ago, when I saw the crawfish guys boiling their shrimp and cawfish and I panicked, realizing that I was nearing the end of their short season. It was Saturday, around 5:00 pm. I drove the 3 miles to the bank teller machine and withdrew some cash. By the time I returned, they had already packed up and were gone. Gone! Gone for good, at least until the next year.
Never again. Lesson learned. I will not let the moment escape me. Even if all I get is a tiny sample of some briny shrimp or a few scrawny crawfish, I won’t pass up the opportunity to savor some of the finest food this world has to offer.
I am not a creole chef and I wasn’t raised on the bayou. I’m not Cajun…I’m Texan true and true, but I am forever mesmerized and enamored by the lure of fresh gulf seafood and funky, backwater fare.
Something good happens when the shrimp are set to boil. The world is a happier place when hot, red crawfish are pulled from the pot. Mystery and wonder fills the air. Friends are made instantly. Smiles become contagious. Romance is at hand. No struggles, no strife.