Shrimp Crostini with Blackened Tilapia

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

Directions:

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)

Directions:

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.

Camarones ala Diabla

Camarones ala Diabla is served at many Mexican restaurants.  The name of the dish translates to Shrimp of the Devil.  The evocative name of the dish might entice you try it or it might make you afraid of the spicy heat that it promises to bring.  I have had Camarones ala Diabla at many restaurants and I have yet to find one that truly brings the heat I want. 

My tolerance for spicy food is higher than most people tolerate and I understand that restaurants cater to the general public so, when I order Camarones ala Diabla I usually tell the waiter, “muy picante, por favor”, or “mas picante”.  Sadly, that usually results in more sauce, rather than a spicier sauce. 

The way I see it, if you’re going to evoke the “devil” in the name of a dish you sell, you should be prepared to deliver the devilish fires of hell.  Don’t hold back!  I want something that sizzles and stings!  ¡Yo quiero picante!

When you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself!

My favorite local seafood vendor, Porter Seafood, rolled into town this weekend and I stopped by to pick up 3 pounds of fresh gulf shrimp.  $8.00 per pound might seem a little pricey, but it’s worth it.  Whole jumbo shrimp, fresh from the gulf, is a real treat.  I nearly cried for joy when I opened the bag and saw these big beauties!

Camarones ala Diabla is not very difficult to make.  All you need are fresh, jumbo shrimp and a wickedly spicy chile sauce. 

My recipe includes more chile de arbol than what most recipes call for and a few whole, crispy, fried jumbo shrimp, to top the dish.  Yes, the whole shrimp are meant to be eaten!  Whole, fried shrimp is a delicacy and it’s something that most Americans shy away from.  I won’t go into the experience of eating them whole except to say that they offer rich flavor, a wide range of textures and they look absolutely awesome!  If you’re even a little curious about trying whole, fried shrimp you should do it.  If the thought of eating a whole shrimp turns you off, don’t do it, but understand that you are missing a sensation that is worth overcoming the initial visual shock. 

Ingredients:

8 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed

8 dried chile de arbol chiles, stems removed (for a milder version, use 3 chile de arbol)

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped

1 tsp coarse salt

2 Tbs sesame seeds, or dried, crushed pumpkin seeds, (optional)

2 dried allspice berries, crushed (optional)

3 Tbs olive oil

1.5 pounds large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Reserve 3 whole, raw jumbo shrimp (do not remove heads, tails or shells)

½ cup milk

½ cup flour

1 egg

2 cups cooking oil

Sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds (semillas de sésamo o semillas de calabaza) add an earthy element to the sauce and the allspice berries (bayas de pimienta) add exotic flavor.  The recipe is fine without these but so much better when they are added.

Directions:

Left: Guajillo chiles: *** Right: Chile de arbol

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles.  Chile de arbol are small and it’s not easy to remove the seeds.  Don’t spend too much time trying.  The seeds will be removed when the sauce is strained.

Steam the chiles in a covered pan or pot, filled with water.  Boil the water, add the chiles, turn off the heat, cover and wait 30 minutes. 

While the chiles steam, prepare the vegetables for the sauce.

Chop the tomatoes, garlic and onion.  Add these to a blender. Add the salt, sesame seeds and crushed allspice to the blender.

After the chiles have steamed, carefully remove them from the water and place them in the blender.

Blend at high speed until pureed.

Strain the sauce and discard the pulp.  This should leave about two cups of smooth sauce.  Reserve until needed.

Rinse the 3 whole shrimp under clear, cool water.  Set aside to air-dry on a plate.

Mix the milk, flour and egg in a bowl.  This will be used to dredge the whole shrimp.  Set aside for now.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Add the peeled, raw shrimp.  Sautee for a few minutes, until the shrimp turn pink.  Do not cook for more than a few minutes, to avoid over cooking. 

Remove the shrimp and set aside.

Add the sauce to the pan.  Once the sauce is bubbling hot, return the shrimp to the pan and stir for a minute.  Remove to a serving platter and keep warm.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 2 cups of cooking oil. 

Once the oil is hot (350°), dredge the whole shrimp, one at a time, in the milk, flour and egg batter.  Carefully lay the shrimp into the hot oil, one at a time.  Fry the shrimp for one minute and then turn them over to fry on the other side for two minutes.  Turn once more and fry for another minute. 

Sorry, no pictures of this. I was having too much fun!

Carefully remove the shrimp and lay them across the top of the Camarones ala Diabla. 

Serve with the usual Mexican fare…tortillas, lime wedges, rice and beans…

Aye, caramba!  ¡Necesito una cerveza fría!

Don’t forget the cold beer!

Crawfish and Shrimp Etouffee

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.

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

Add parboiled shrimp and crawfish.  Stir briefly.

Serve warm with white rice.

Shellfish Stock / Compound Butter

Fresh shellfish can be pricey so I like to get as much bang for my buck as possible.  One of the easiest ways to extend the value of shellfish is to make a stock from the heads and shells.  Once the stock has been made, it can be stored for later use and can be used in many different dishes.  The unique flavor of shellfish can turn a mediocre dish into something exotic. 

Making stock can be as simple as boiling the heads and shells in water and then straining the solids and reserving the liquid.  Spices, herbs or vegetables can be added to give the stock extra depth of flavor. 

I plan on making some seafood pasta dishes so I made stock from shrimp and crawfish shells.  I bought one pound each of crawfish and shrimp.  One pound of crawfish results in a paltry amount of crawfish meat and the majority is shells and heads.  Shrimp produces a little more meat but you’d be lucky to get half a pound of cooked shrimp from a pound of whole, raw shrimp.

So, with that in mind, I made crawfish butter and shrimp butter.  The flavorful compound butter can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, or in the freezer for months. 

Ingredients:

1 lb fresh shrimp (these were Gulf shrimp)

1 lb steamed crawfish (crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs…whatever you wish to call them)

½ cup unsalted butter, divided in half

Directions for the shrimp:

Remove the heads from the shrimp.  This can be done by gripping the head and pulling away from the rest of the body.  If you are squeamish about this sort of thing, get over it.  It becomes an automatic process after a few decapitations.  Toss the heads into a bowl and set aside.

Peel and devein the shrimp.  Rinse the shrimp under cold water and store in an airtight container.  Add the shells to the bowl containing the heads.

Put the heads and shells into a skillet.  Cover with water and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring and pressing the shells occasionally.   

Strain the solids and discard. Pour the stock into a container and refrigerate or freeze, if desired.

Directions for the crawfish:

Unless you go gigging for crawfish, which is to say, catching your own live crawfish, you will either get them freshly steamed and seasoned or refrigerated, after they were seasoned.  Either way, they are probably going to be seasoned with Cajun spices, and that’s a very good thing.

I prefer to eat steamed crawfish while they are still hot, but this time I only snacked on one and used the rest for an Etouffee. 

Remove the heads from the crawfish and peel the shells.  Reserve the meat. 

Not a lot of meat, but ohhh, it’s so good!

Add the heads and shells to a skillet and cover with water.  Simmer for 30 minutes and strain the solids.  Discard the solids. 

Save the stock in the refrigerator, or freeze.

Making compound Butter

If you want to make compound butter with shrimp stock or crawfish stock, simmer the sauces further.  Simmer at high heat and whisk constantly. Reduce the sauce until nearly all of the moisture is gone. 

I reduced the shrimp stock down to about 3 tablespoons and I reduced the crawfish stock down to about ¼ cup.

Turn the heat off and add ¼ cup butter.  Whisk to incorporate.  Pour the butter into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate.  Once the compound butter solidifies, turn it out on some plastic wrap.  Fold the wrap over the butter.  I like to add extra layer of plastic wrap to get a good seal.  Refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Crawfish Season!

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.

Grab a drink. Find a seat. Tell us a story.

Coconut Chicken Curry with Pesto Sauce and Spicy Shrimp Noodles

I have to admit, I sometimes feel like Marco Polo when I visit an international food market.  I imagine that I am a gallant adventurer, in search of spices and treasures from distant lands.  There are so many strange and wonderful things to see, most of which I know little or nothing about.  Fortunately, I almost always find a friendly proprietor that is happy to answer my questions and will guide me through the store, politely pointing out interesting things. 

“Tell me about ghee,” I might ask.  “Is it like clarified butter?”  And then I might ask about the several different varieties of rice on a shelf and ask what properties they have that make them appropriate for some dishes but not suitable for others.  Invariably, during my visit, I will reach a point where I run out of intelligent questions or the proprietor will begin to fidget and will look for a way to carry on with whatever they were doing before I captivated so much of their time. 

It’s usually around that moment that I feel a sudden desire to return to my homeland, to share my stories and show my new treasures.  I gather a few exotic wonders and pack them away in my sack, bid a fond farewell to my congenial friend, clasp my cloak about my neck and prepare for the arduous journey back home. 

Ok, it’s really just a fifteen minute drive through a light drizzle that dampens the city streets but I like to believe that I am hoisting the sails of my sea bound schooner and that I am preparing to batten down the hatches, at a moment’s notice, in case the stormy seas start to surge.

I know the trade routes like the back of my hand and, in due time, I return to the happy harbor of my home.  And that’s when the fun really begins…

Coconut Chicken Curry with Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

1 ½ tsp salt

1 Japanese eggplant

1 Tbs olive oil

5 garlic cloves

1 lb chicken tenders (tendons removed)

¼ cup basil pesto sauce

juice of 3 limes

juice of 1 lemon

1 ½ Tbs fresh ginger, sliced

1 Thai chili, sliced lengthwise

1 ½ Tbs chili powder

1 carrot

1 Roma tomato, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

2 tsp Garam Masala

13.5 oz Thai coconut milk

3 green onions

Directions:

Using a sharp kitchen knife, remove the white tendon that runs down the length of the chicken tender.

Cut the chicken into 1” pieces and place them in a bowl.

Add the pesto sauce, lime and lemon juice, sliced ginger, Thai chili and chili powder to the bowl and mix by hand.  Marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Cut the eggplant into 1” pieces and add them to a mixing bowl.  Mince one clove of garlic and add it to the bowl, along with a tablespoon of olive oil. 

Spread the eggplant out on a parchment lined baking tray and roast in the oven at 400° for 20 minutes, or until the eggplant has browned a little. Remove and set aside in a bowl.

In a large skillet, sauté the onion and the remaining garlic for one minute, over low heat. 

Add the marinated chicken and turn the heat up to medium.  Stir the chicken while it cooks. 

Once the chicken has firmed and turned white, add the sliced jalapeños and carrots.  Stir frequently.

When the carrots begin to soften, add the chicken broth and deglaze the pan.

Add the Garam Masala, ginger, lime and lemon zest, lime and lemon juice.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the tomato and eggplant and stir.

Cover the skillet and simmer at low heat for 15 minutes. 

At this point, I tasted the broth and determined that the jalapeños were spicier than I had expected.  I removed them and used them as a side dish, for anyone that wanted a little extra heat.

Add the coconut milk and mix with a spatula.  Simmer uncovered for another 5 minutes.

Remove to a serving bowl and keep warm until serving time. Serve in bowls, over basmati rice.

Spicy Shrimp Noodles

Ingredients:

1 lb shrimp (I used frozen shrimp, in the shell, de-veined)

2 Tbs basil pesto sauce

1 Tbs chili powder

2 Tbs fresh ginger, minced

1 lime

1 Tbs cooking oil

12 Thai chiles

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

¼ cup Asian stir fry sauce (I used General Tso sauce, but any kind will do)

1 Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 ½ Tbs oyster sauce

1 Tbs soy sauce

1 Tbs Vietnamese fish sauce

1 tsp Sriracha (or more, if you want it to be spicier!)

½ lb Vietnamese rice sticks

Directions:

Put the shrimp in a large bowl.  Add just enough water to cover the shrimp.  Add the pesto sauce, chili powder and minced ginger.  Quarter the lime and squeeze the juice over the bowl.  Add the rest of the lime to the bowl.   Marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Since I started with frozen shrimp, I marinated for one hour.

The rice sticks will need to soak in warm water for about 30 minutes, to soften.  Vietnamese rice sticks tend to be very long so I broke them in half before soaking. 

Heat a wok at high heat.  Add the cooking oil and the chilies.  Sear the chilies for about one minute, or until the outer skins begin to blister.  Remove the chiles and set aside.  I put them in a small dish to serve at the table. 

Add the whole, unpeeled shrimp to the wok and stir-fry for one to two minutes.  Remove the shrimp and allow them to cool before removing the shells and tails. 

Set the shrimp aside and return the shells and tails to the wok. Stir the shells over high heat for about one minute, to extract their juices. Remove the shells and tails and discard.

Add the garlic to the wok and stir for about 30 seconds. 

Add the Asian sauce, Hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and Sriracha.  Turn the heat to low and stir to mix.

Drain the rice sticks in a colander and add the rice sticks to the wok.  Stir to coat the rice sticks.  Return the shrimp and mix briefly.  Turn out to a serving bowl.

Gumbo (Part II: The Intimidator)

At the heart of every good gumbo lies a good roux. 

I probably make 3 or 4 roux every week but they are of the small variety.  You know, two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of flour added to two cups of stock or broth.  A small roux takes just a few minutes to prepare and it usually come out just fine.

I have been telling myself that I make gumbo every year or two.  I think that’s because I really enjoy gumbo.  The truth of the matter is that I have probably only made it four times, (now five times).  As much as I love a good hot bowl of gumbo, I dread making the roux.  There are very few things in life that can vex me like a making a big batch of roux. 

Making roux for a gumbo is not easy; at least it’s not easy for me.  The volume of the roux needed is much larger than my normal roux.  Additionally, the roux needs to cook longer to achieve a deep, rich lustrous color and flavor.  Lastly, pushing the cooking process too far results in a burnt roux, which I am unfortunately prone to doing.  If a roux burns it must be tossed and another one must be made.  Nothing good ever happens by attempting to save a burnt roux. 

The good German lager is for me, not the roux!

Once you start a roux you can’t leave it alone until it has finished.  A roux must be stirred constantly to prevent the flour from burning.  Even the tiniest amount of burnt flour will affect the entire roux.

My step-by-step method for making a roux:

1) Add equal amounts of oil and flour to a Dutch oven (over low/medium heat).

2) Stir continuously, making sure to scrape the bottom and edges of the pot as you stir.

3) Keep stirring while the roux goes from blonde, to tan, to mahogany, to chocolate brown.

4) Taste a sample of the roux, after allowing it to sufficiently cool.

5) Detect a hint of burnt flavor, throw away the roux and wipe the Dutch oven clean.

6) Repeat.

Three more important pieces of advice that are often overlooked:

1) Use the bathroom before starting the roux.  You won’t be able to break away from the action until the roux is finished (maybe 45 minutes to an hour).

2) Pour yourself a drink and make sure that it’s within arm’s reach as you stir.

3) Keep a small aloe vera plant in the kitchen, close to the stove, in case of burns.

As for the aloe vera, it’s really good for minor burns.  Roux is jokingly referred to as Cajun Napalm.  Even a tiny drop of the hot roux can cause your skin to blister.  I got two blisters from this batch.  I would have had three blisters but, when I got hit for the third time, I quickly pinched off the tip of an aloe leaf and rubbed it on the burn. 

Look closely and you’ll see I removed a tip from a leaf, at the right.
My drink of choice for the 1st roux was Spaten Lager. A nice Cabernet Sauvignon got me through the 2nd roux. Note the flat ended spatula…this is essential!

As I mentioned, I burned the first roux and had to start another one.  I cooked the roux over low heat both times. 

For the first attempt I used 3 cups canola oil and 3 cups flour.  I cooked the roux for 67 minutes and it reached a near-perfect chocolate brown color, but the roux had a slight burnt flavor. 

For the second attempt I decided to use 2 cups canola oil, 1 cup lard and 3 cups flour.  I cooked the second roux for 50 minutes. I brought the roux to a dark tan and shut the heat down before it turned to mahogany.  I didn’t want to run the risk of the burning the roux a second time!

This recipe makes about 2 gallons of gumbo (25 to 30 servings).

Ingredients:

1 lb medium sized shrimp, shell on and deveined

1 1/2 lbs cooked chicken breast, cut into 1/2″ cubes

3 cups canola oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 lb Andouille, cut into 1/2″ thick slices

1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 large jalapeño, seeded and sliced

2 cups celery, chopped

1 whole head of garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped

1 Tbs dried thyme

1 Tbs bay leaves

32 oz chicken stock

32 oz vegetable stock

1/2 cup shrimp stock reduction

12 oz okra, chopped

1 lb. crawfish tail meat

1 lb. crabmeat

1/2 cup clam stock reduction

12 oz white clams (about 12 clams)

Lots and lots of hot, steamed white rice

Directions:

Remove the shells from the shrimp and place in a skillet or pot.  Add a teaspoon of seasoning salt. Cover with water and simmer at medium heat for about 15 minutes.  Strain the liquid and reserve.  Discard the shrimp shells.  Heat the liquid in the pan until it reduces by at least half.  Reserve the reduction.

Put the chicken in a pot and cover with water.  Boil at low heat until cooked (about 40 minutes).  Remove the chicken to a platter and cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, add the thyme and bay leaves. Cover with water and steam in a microwave for about a minute. Leave the herbs in the water and set aside.

Prep the vegetables and set aside.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  (I used a 12” deep Dutch oven).  Add 1 cup oil and 1 cup flour and stir to incorporate.  Reduce heat to low/medium.  Add remaining oil and stir.  Add the remaining flour and stir constantly. 

After about 15 minutes the roux will begin to change from pale yellow to blonde.  Turn the heat to low and keep stirring. 

The roux will continue to darken and will become light tan and then dark tan.  Once the roux has turned to tan pay extra attention to the aroma and color of the roux as you stir. 

The color of the roux will begin to take on reddish/brown hue soon.  This is where I usually turn off the heat but, if you are brave and careful, keep stirring until the roux becomes chocolate brown. 

Once you are finished with the roux, turn off the heat and continue stirring for several more minutes.  The roux will remain very hot for at least 30 minutes.  Set the roux aside for now.

I stopped just short of mahogany on my second roux…yes, I chickened out!

And now, the easy part!

In a very, very large Dutch oven, (I used a 14” deep Dutch oven), add the chopped onion.  Sauté until the onion begins to turn brown. 

Add the bell pepper, celery and jalapeño.  Stir for a minute and add the garlic.  Stir for a few minutes and then remove everything to a bowl.

Add the sliced Andouille to the pot.  Stir over medium/high heat to brown the Andouille.  Remove the Andouille and set aside.

Add the chicken stock and vegetable stock to the pot and cook over high heat for 2 minutes.  Return the onions and Andouille to the pot.  Add the water from the steamed thyme and bay leaves. Discard the bay leaves and add the thyme to the pot. Turn the heat down to medium. 

Add about half of the roux to the pot and stir, to mix.  

Add the okra and stir.

Add the rest of the roux and stir.  The roux will thicken quickly.  If it is too thick, as mine was, add some water.  I added 3 cups of water.  Continue stirring.

Add the crawfish meat.  Stir briefly and turn the heat to low/medium.

Add the parsley and stir.

In a large skillet,  add two cups of water.  Set the heat to high and cover.  When the water reaches a hard boil, add the white clams, turn off the heat and cover.  The clams will snap open quickly.  Steam the clams for about a minute and remove to a bowl.  If some of the clams have not opened, bring the water back to boil and add the unopened clams.  If they pop open, hooray!  If they don’t open, they are doomed and will need to join the burned roux, in the trash can.  (All of my clams opened – Yippee!)

Reduce the steaming liquid from the clams to about one third.  You should wind up with a milky white reduction.  Strain the liquid through a paper towel and sieve to remove any sandy grit. Add the reduction to the gumbo pot.

Pull the clams from the shells and add the clams to the gumbo.  Discard the shells.

Add the chicken to the gumbo and stir.

Add the crab and stir.

Add the shrimp and green onions to the gumbo and stir.  The shrimp will cook within a couple of minutes.

Give the gumbo a good final stir.

Serve in bowls, over warm white rice.

So, other than a few 2nd degree burns and a failed roux, everything went according to plan!

Impromptu Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve turned out to be a rollicking good time with family, food and holiday movies.  The evening  menu showcased some impromptu stir-fry dishes and the holiday movie marathon ended with a classic… “The Star Wars Holiday Special”.  For the uninitiated, the Star Wars Holiday Special aired on TV in 1978 and was subsequently banished by George Lucas.  It starred all of the favorite Star Wars characters like, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Beatrice Arthur.  Yes, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur!  It’s a must-see!

The idea behind Thai cuisine for Christmas Eve came from a small jar of Thai Green Curry that has been sitting in my refrigerator for quite some time and I wanted to finish it off.  I searched my pantry and refrigerator for items that would be suitable for stir-fry.  Much of the afternoon was spent prepping vegetables, roasting garlic, soaking the noodles and watching holiday classics.  

Thai Green Curry Chicken

Ingredients:

1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1” pieces

2 Tbs Thai green curry paste (3 Tbs for extra spicy)

1 Tbs oil

2 garlic cloves (fresh)

1 head of garlic (roasted)

2 Tbs fresh ginger, sliced thin

¼ yellow onion, julienne sliced

1 cup chicken stock

1 ½ cups coconut milk

2 Tbs fish sauce

1 Tbs dried basil and 1 tsp dried parsley  (substitution for fresh Thai basil)

1 lime

Zest of lime

1 can of water chestnuts (8 ounces, drained and sliced)

1 roasted red bell pepper, sliced

1 green onion, diced greens and chopped white roots

¼ cup cilantro leaves

Directions:

Mix the cut chicken breast with the Thai curry paste.  Refrigerate until needed.

In a bowl, combine the chicken stock with ½ cup coconut milk.  Add the fish sauce, basil, parsley and the juice of half of a lime.  Set aside.

In a wok, add a tablespoon of cooking oil. Warm a tablespoon of sliced ginger and one garlic clove.

Add 1 cup of coconut milk to the wok and turn the heat up to medium/hot. 

Add the roasted garlic and stir the coconut milk as it thickens. 

Add the chicken stock mixture and simmer at low/medium heat .  Add the sliced water chestnuts, green onion roots and sliced jalapeño.  Simmer for a few minutes and removed to a bowl. 

Wipe the wok clean and add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and turn the heat to high.  Add a some garlic and ginger. Add the serrano chile and sear the chile in the oil.  Remove the chile and reserve.

Add the marinated chicken to the wok and stir at high heat.  Return the serrano chile to the wok, along with a garlic clove and 1 tablespoon of sliced ginger.  Stir the chicken for a few minutes and remove the serrano. 

Continue stirring the chicken until the chicken is cooked and browned. 

Add the coconut milk/chicken stock mixture to the wok. Stir to incorporate and turn out to an oven proof bowl. Keep in a warm oven until ready to eat.  When you are ready to eat, add a tablespoon of lime juice and top with cilantro, roasted red pepper and fresh lime wedges.

Serve in bowls, over jasmine rice.

Chicken with Peppers and Pineapple

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into 1” pieces

1 cup flour

¾ cup cornstarch

1 Tbs oil

1 Tbs fresh ginger, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 serrano chile

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 small yellow onion, julienne sliced

2 jalapeños, seeded and sliced into rings

2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into ½” pieces

1 Mandarin orange

Zest of an orange

2 Tbs garlic chile sauce (Sambal Oelek)

2 cups vegetable oil

¼ cup cilantro

¼ cup green onion, chopped

Directions:

In a large bowl, add mix the flour with the cornstarch.  Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat.  Set aside.

Add one tablespoon cooking oil to a wok.  Simmer the ginger and garlic at low heat for minute and then remove the ginger and garlic. 

Add the serrano and cook at high heat for 30 seconds.  Remove and discard the serrano (or save for another time).

Add the chopped bell peppers, sliced onion, sliced jalapeño.  Turn the heat to high and stir-fry for a few minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic back to the wok and continue to stir until the peppers have softened to your liking.  (Don’t overcook…mushy stir-fry vegetables make a disappointing stir-fry).

In a small bowl, add the cut pineapple.  Add the juice and zest of the orange.

Add the pineapple to the wok and stir a few times to incorporate the flavors.  Turn out to a bowl.  Add the sambal oelek.  Keep the bowl in a warm place.

Add a little flour to the bowl containing the chicken that has been coated in flour and cornstarch.  Toss the chicken to prevent the chicken pieces from sticking together.

Wipe the wok clean.   Add 2 cups of cooking oil to the wok and turn the heat to high.   Add the chicken to the wok, a few pieces at a time.  Stir the chicken occasionally.  Remove the chicken to a paper towel lined platter when it turns golden brown and crispy.

Carefully pour the frying oil in an appropriate container to cool.

Wipe the wok clean and return it to the stove top.  Add the vegetables and chicken back to the hot wok and stir a few times.  Turn out to a serving bowl.  Top with cilantro and green onions.

Shrimp with Rice Noodles

Ingredients:

16 ounces rice vermicelli noodles (rice stick)

1 lb raw shrimp, deveined with tails and shells removed

1 Tbs olive oil

½ tsp sesame oil

1 Tbs ginger, thinly sliced

1/4 yellow onion, julienne sliced

1 Tbs Hoisin sauce

2 tsp oyster sauce

1 Tbs fish sauce

2 green onions

Directions:

Crack the dried noodles in half and add them to a large pot.  Add enough water to the cover the noodles by at least two inches. 

Heat the water to a boil.  Swish the noodles around in the pot as they boil.  Sample the noodles while they cook.  They should become al dente, just like properly cooked spaghetti noodles.  Once the noodles have cooked, strain out the water and rinse the noodles with cold water to stop the heating process.  Add the noodles back to the pot and cover with cold water.  Reserve until needed.

Add olive oil and sesame oil to a hot wok.  Add the ginger and stir for a minute.  Discard the ginger.

Add the shrimp to the hot wok and stir-fry for a few minutes.  Add the onion and stir. The shrimp will cook quickly. 

Add the Hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce and stir to mix. 

Strain the noodles and add them to the wok.  Stir to coat the noodles and turn everything out to a serving bowl. 

Add the root pieces of the onion to the wok and sear. 

Top the dish with chopped green onion tips and seared green onion roots.

Thai Trifecta

Dessert suggestion:  Sliced bananas, dusted with cinnamon and chocolate sauce and whipped cream topping.

Dust with cinnamon, drizzle chocolate syrup and top with whipped cream

Quick Chick & Shrimp

Several days ago, as I was driving home after an arduous, long day of work, I wondered what I should do for dinner.  It was just going to be my wife and I for dinner.   I started to think about fish.  And then, I thought about shrimp, and then I realized that what I was wanting was something akin to the classic British, “fish and chips”.  Then I thought about mac and cheese, and how that mac and cheese goes so well with fried shrimp, or fried fish.  And then, I realized I didn’t have any fish.  Chicken.  Yes, chicken, instead of fish.  The synapses in my brain jump around in quirky ways like that most of the time.  I really enjoy my drives home, except when I find myself driving next to people texting on their cell phones!

I allowed myself an hour to prepare the meal.  Time at home is precious for me during this busy part of the year.  I typically have about 4 to 5 hours after I get home to prepare a meal, eat it and digest it before I trot off to bed.   

Mac and cheese…check.  Chicken and shrimp…a quick prep and fry…check.  Steamed broccoli…a few minutes in the microwave…check.

The most time consuming part of the meal was the mac and cheese.  The rest was a flurry of flour and cornmeal and chopping a few things.  Easy.

I made enough mac and cheese for six people and I made enough chicken and shrimp for two or three.

My son and his girlfriend joined us, just as we were cleaning up after dinner.  We had enough chicken and shrimp left to share and plenty of mac and cheese.  It was all gone in a matter of a few minutes.  Mac and cheese saved the day…Perfect!

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup fresh broccoli

½ cup cooking oil

2 medium sized chicken breasts, thinly sliced

10 raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

2 eggs

1 tsp garlic powder

½ tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Cut the broccoli into large, bite-sized pieces.  Place in a microwave safe bowl.  Seal with plastic wrap and set aside.

Cut chicken into 3” to 4” pieces. 

Butterfly cut the shrimp.  I do a back butterfly, cutting into the backside, instead of the underside.  Set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet at medium/high heat.

Pour the flour onto a plate.  Dredge the chicken in flour, egg and then flour again.  Drop chicken in pan and pan fry to golden brown, remove to a paper towel lined plate.  Keep warm.

Add the cornmeal to the remaining flour and mix with a fork.

Dredge the shrimp in flour and cornmeal mixture, egg and then flour and cornmeal mixture again.  Drop the shrimp into the hot oil and cook for about 1 minute, or until the shrimp begins to brown and feels firm to the touch.

Lay the shrimp on the paper towel lined plate, along with the chicken, and keep warm.

Put the covered broccoli in the microwave and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the broccoli has softened. Serve with mac and cheese and ketchup or spicy ketchup. 

Shrimp with Creamy Garlic Butter and Pasta

This dish is a bit like Shrimp Scampi but, not so bold and intense in flavor.  The creaminess, provided by the half-and-half, along with the pasta turns a wild Shrimp Scampi into something gentle and soothing.

Ingredients:

4 Tbs unsalted butter

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp coarse salt

1 tsp red chili flakes

4 garlic cloves

1 lb large, raw shrimp, deveined and peeled

2 green onions

¼ cup fresh basil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

½ cup half-and-half

12 oz dry pasta (I used Farfalle – butterfly pasta)

Ingredients for the sauce thickener:

1 Tbs softened butter

1 Tbs flour

Ingredients for the garnish:

½ cup diced tomatoes

2 root ends of green onions

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp vinegar

½ tsp oregano

¼ tsp garlic powder

Directions:

You should prepare all of the ingredients in advance.  Shrimp cooks very quickly and you want to have all of the other ingredients ready when you need them.

Boil the pasta to al dente.  Normally I would use lots of water but this time, I wanted the noodles to keep some of their starchiness so that the sauce would cling to it better.

While the pasta cooks…

Pulverize coarse salt and red chili flakes in a mortar and pestle.  Set aside.

Chop the garlic and slice the green onions.  Reserve the root portions of the green onions.  Set aside.

Prepare the sauce thickener by blending the flour with the softened butter.  I like to use a fork for blending.  Set aside until needed.

Prepare the garnish by dicing the tomato and roots of the green onion.

Drain the pasta but do not rinse.  Set aside.

Strain the garnish to remove the olive oil and vinegar.  Set the garnish aside.

Rinse the shrimp under cold water and remove the shells. 

In a large skillet, add 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Simmer at low heat. 

Add the garlic and crushed salt and red chili flakes.  Simmer at low heat for about two minutes.  This will allow the garlic to mellow a little. 

Add the shrimp to the pan.  Turn the heat to low/medium. 

Stir the shrimp until they turn from translucent to slightly pink.

Add the green onion, basil and lemon juice to the pan and stir for about a half minute.

Add the sauce thickener and mix with the buttery sauce.  It should thicken within a minute or so. Add the half-and-half and stir. 

Add the Parmesan cheese.

Turn the heat off and add the pasta.  Stir a few times and remove to a serving bowl.

Top with the tomato and onion garnish.