Cool Shrimp Remoulade

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.)

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

Stay cool!

The Big Reveal

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.

Ingredients:

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)

Directions:

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

Creamy Garlic Shrimp over Fries

Over the last several years, I have seen “Cheese Fries” or “Cheesy Fries” appearing on several  restaurant menus.  I have to admit, I get a little grossed out when I think about Cheese Fries.

I like French fries and I like melted cheese, but do I want gloopy cheese glopped on top of my French fries?  – – Heck, no!  Most Cheese Fries recipes call for melted processed cheese, which is fine for ballpark nachos, but I don’t want that gloopy mess on my French fries.

Despite my ranting about the utter wrongfulness of cheese fries, I’m not totally insensitive to people’s cravings, even if those cravings might lead them down the perilous path of gluttony!

So, with that, I tip my hat to the Cheese Fries lovers and offer them something I deem worthy.

Ingredients:

6 medium sized russet potatoes, peeled and cut, French fry style, ¼’ thick sticks

1 ½ cups canola oil (or just enough to cover the potatoes in the skillet)

Seasoning salt to taste

3 Tbs. olive oil

1 lb. raw, deveined shrimp (tails on or off)

3 Tbs butter

6 cloves garlic, mashed

1/3 cup roasted bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup grated Swiss cheese

Directions:

Peel and cut the potatoes.  These can be ¼” French fries or thick steak fry wedges.   

Soak the potatoes in cool water to remove some of the starch.  Strain potatoes and air dry for several minutes.

Fry potatoes to golden brown. Remove and strain.  Return the hot oil back to the skillet. After a minute, add the fries back to the hot oil and fry for another minute, to crisp. 

Put the finished fries in an bowl and keep in a warm oven.

Remove most of the oil from the pan and reserve a few tablespoons.  Set heat to medium.  Add shrimp.  Turn shrimp over after two minutes and cook for one more minute.

Remove shrimp to a bowl.  Set aside.

Melt the butter in the skillet and sauté the garlic over medium heat for a minute. 

Add the chicken broth and reduce the sauce by one half.

Add roasted bell pepper.

Add half-and-half and simmer at low heat for a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the grated Parmesan and Swiss cheese over the sauce and simmer, at low heat, without stirring, for a minute.

When the cheese melts, turn the heat off.

Add the cooked shrimp to the sauce.

Add warm fries to serving bowls.  Cover the fries with the creamy shrimp.

Serve with a cheesy movie!

May I suggest, Mystery Science Theater 3000: “The Magic Sword” ?

Valentine’s Day Shrimp Alfredo Pizza

Here’s something for the couple that wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day but doesn’t want to go out to eat, after a long Valentine’s Day, at work.

Ingredients:

5 or 6 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 or 5 cloves of garlic, mashed

1 tsp red chili flakes

3 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs clarified butter (I used a garlic dipping sauce from a recent pizza delivery)

1 uncooked, spicy Italian sausage

1 Tbs butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup dried Parmesan cheese (straight from the can!)

2 ounces sliced Mozzarella cheese

a few black olives, pitted and sliced

3 green onions, chopped

prepared pizza dough (follow the recipe of your choice)

Directions:

Prepare the pizza dough and let it rise. While the dough rises, prepare the other ingredients.

Slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise. Marinate the shrimp in olive oil, garlic and red chili flakes.

Pan fry the Italian sausage and chop into small pieces. Set aside.

chop the green onion and set aside.

In a medium sized skillet, add the clarified butter and butter. Simmer at low heat to melt the butter. Add the heavy cream and mix, briefly. Turn the heat up to medium to thicken the cream sauce. Add the Parmesan cheese and gently whisk to combine. Remove from the heat when the sauce is thick and creamy.

After the dough has risen, roll out the dough out on a floured surface. Spread the dough into a circle. With a pastry cutter, slice a triangular wedge from the rim of the pizza dough. Curl the edges of the dough with your fingers and form the tip of the heart, on the opposite side of the triangular cut. Curl the edges of the dough in the cut area to form the top of the heart.

I prebake pizza dough in the oven at 400° F for about 10 minutes and then remove to add toppings.

Pour some of the olive oil marinade onto the prebaked dough and spread it across the dough. Add the raw shrimp and mashed garlic. Add the Mozzarella cheese slices and chopped, cooked sausage. Top with sliced black olives and green onions.

Bake until the cheese begins to brown.

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Slice and serve!

Happy belated Valentine’s Day!

Shrimp and Eggs

Is it just me, or does the idea of combining shrimp and eggs just seem weird?  Oh, I’m sure that there are bound to be chefs out there that know recipes that call for shrimp and eggs but, I’m just a simple home cook and, until this morning, shrimp and eggs lived in two different worlds. 

Eggs are extremely versatile, and there are many ways to prepare shrimp but, combing them into one dish never crossed my mind.  That all changed when I found some raw shrimp in the refrigerator this morning.  My daughter made (excellent) shrimp quesadillas a few nights ago and there were a few shrimp left over.

Raw shrimp doesn’t last long in the refrigerator so, quick action was needed.  I had planned on making simple scrambled eggs in the wok for breakfast but, I felt a sudden compulsion to marry the shrimp and eggs.  It was a beautiful ceremony!

Ingredients:

8 large, raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 large eggs

1/4 cup chicken broth

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon sake

1 teaspoon oyster sauce

1 green onion, thinly sliced on the diagonal

2 Tbs canola oil

Directions:

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Add chicken broth, salt, pepper, sake and oyster sauce.  Stir quickly, to incorporate.  Add green onions.

Heat a wok to medium-high heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp.

Briefly stir-fry the shrimp until they turn pink. This might take only one minute.  Remove the shrimp and set aside in a warm place.

Add a tablespoon of oil into the wok and turn the heat on high.  When the oil is hot, add the egg mixture.

Scramble gently for about 1 minute, then return the shrimp to the wok.

Continue scrambling until the eggs are almost cooked. Remove from the heat and let it rest for a minute before serving.

Shrimp with Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

Camarones con Chipotles en Adobo

About chipotles:

Chipotles are smoked chilies.  Jalapeños are most commonly used but, poblano, morita and meco chiles are also used.  The chilies may be smoked to a point where they are hard and dry, or they may be smoked to a point where they remain soft and pliable.

About adobo sauce:

There are many ways to prepare adobo sauce.  Adobo typically has elements of sweet, tangy, bitter and salty flavors.  Adobo sauces can vary in flavor, depending on the ingredients.  Imagine the many different kinds of barbecue sauces.  Same thing.

For this meal, I chose to lightly smoke and char the jalapeños and I made an adobo sauce from leftover tidbits in the refrigerator.  The base of the sauce was a spicy ketchup that I made by adding some hot sauce to the ketchup. To that, I added a little barbecue sauce, a little soy sauce, a pinch of brown sugar, and a few dashes of liquid smoke.  The finished sauce was full of flavor, but not too spicy. 

Ingredients:

1 head of garlic, peeled and mashed

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup lime juice

1 lb jumbo shrimp

Salt and Pepper to taste

Chipotles in adobo (about ½ cup)

Lime wedges for serving

Corn tortillas (softened in hot oil)

1 cup lettuce, chopped

Directions:

Add olive oil and garlic to a ceramic dish and bake in a 325° oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and add lime juice.  Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and mash the garlic to form a paste.  I browned the garlic a little too much and it wouldn’t mash properly, so I removed the garlic.  The oil carried the garlic flavor nicely.

Peel and devein the shrimp.  Reserve the shrimp shells for shrimp stock.

In a large skillet, add 3 tablespoons of the garlic oil and set heat to medium.  Add the shrimp and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Sauté the shrimp for about 3 minutes. 

Remove the shrimp and keep warm.

Add the chipotle sauce to the remaining garlic oil.  Mix to combine.

Add the mixture to the skillet and cook for a minute or two.  Add the shrimp to the skillet and stir briefly.

Turn out to a serving platter.

Top with diced green onions.  Serve with lime wedges, lettuce, warm tortillas, and Mexican rice.

Shrimp Pizza (Extraordinaire)

When I think about making pizza I first consider the taste that I want.  Do I want something spicy, like pepperoni, or perhaps something more subdued, like ground beef?  Do I want a thick, rich, tomato sauce, or a thin whisper of tomato sauce?  Do I want bold herbs and spices?

After I decide on the taste, I start to think about the flavor.  Taste and flavor are not synonymous, even though we sometimes use taste and flavor interchangeably when describing food.  Flavor includes taste, texture and aroma, among other sensory experiences, like sight and sound.  Taste is like listening to a musical instrument and flavor is like listening to an orchestra.

I have made pizzas with shrimp before but none of them had the flavor I wanted, until now.  Charring yellow bell peppers provided a slightly sweet taste that green peppers can’t provide.  The garlic and onion, along with butter and oil made a fantastic sauce.  The overall flavor of the pizza was reminiscent of shrimp scampi, complete with a spritz of lemon juice.  Subtle use of herbs and spices rounded out the flavor nicely.  And of course, Parmesan cheese and mozzarella was the perfect choice to go with shrimp and the vegetables. 

This was a pizza symphony!

Ingredients:

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp red chili flakes

½ tsp salt

1 cup raw medium sized shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 Tbs butter

3 Tbs olive oil

5 cloves garlic, mashed

1 orange bell pepper

1 white onion

1 medium sized tomato, chopped

Juice of ¼ lemon

¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 oz sliced mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Crush the oregano, chile flakes and salt in mortis and pestle.  Set aside.

Butterfly the shrimp and flatten them with the broad side of a chef’s knife.  Set aside.

Add butter and oil to a skillet.  Set the burner to very low heat.

Mash the garlic cloves and add them to the skillet.  Simmer at very low heat for 3 to 4 minutes.  The garlic should be soft, but not browned.  Remove the garlic to a cutting board.  Mash the garlic into a paste. Set the garlic aside.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the shrimp to skillet and simmer, while stirring.  Cook the shrimp until they just begin to turn pink.  Remove the shrimp from the skillet and keep warm.

Pour the hot butter and oil from the pan into a small bowl and set aside.  Return the skillet to the stove and set the heat to high.

Add the bell pepper and onion to the skillet and sauté at high heat until they begin to char. 

Add the chopped tomato and stir briefly.  Remove everything from the skillet and set aside.

Prebake the pizza dough in a 400° oven for about 5 minutes.  Remove the pizza and place on a heat proof surface.

Pour the butter/oil mixture on prebaked pizza dough.  Use a brush to thoroughly coat the dough.

Blot excess oil from the pizza with a paper towel.

Sprinkle ½ cup of the grated Parmesan cheese onto the dough.

Add charred bell peppers and onion.  Add the garlic paste.

Top with the shrimp.

Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pizza.

Add ¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese. 

Layer with slices of mozzarella.

Scatter the crushed oregano, chile flake and salt across the top of the pizza.

Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400°, or until the cheese bubbles and begins to brown.

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.