Someone mentioned “Crawfish Pie” the other day and it got me thinking about cajun food, creole dishes, and how much I have a taste for the variety that it brings to the table. I grew up in southeast Texas, right on the Louisiana border, with merely a river separating the two states and the two different breeds of people who lived in them. I am a Texan , no doubt about that – but they say when you live next to the bayou that you can’t help but be part cajun. Shoot, I swam and skied in those bayous it must have rubbed off a tad. I can’t honestly claim to be a cajun, I am a Texan and proud of it, but I can say that I have an appetite for cajun-creole food. Paul Prudhomme, renowned chef, describes the intoxicating power of creole cuisine like this, “every bite is as exciting as every other bite, where all your taste buds are affected by turns-sweet and sour, salty and bitter- where the flavors dance in your mouth and shout hooray!”
Generally creole is closer to French cuisine with delicate blends, subtle sauces, and traditional presentation. In the old days the people of New Orleans incorporated their local ingredients with the French traditions and techniques to create a style unique to New Orleans. Cajun on the other hand, derives from a more rustic style of cooking. Usually everything is thrown together in one pot, using spicier seasoning, and served in a more casual style. I grew up on dishes indicative of both styles, dark roux gumbo, crawfish etoufee, red beans & rice, seafood bisques, jambalaya, deviled crab cakes, oysters on the half shell, and shrimp remoulade. My mouth is watering…
My adoring husband and I decided we were in the mood for Jambalaya. I dug out my “Commander’s Palace New Orleans Cookbook”. A New Orleans establishment where it is a pleasure to dine. On this particular day I didn’t feel like dragging myself to the grocery store, as it was drizzly and cold out. I altered the recipe to fit whatever was in the frig or pantry. Don’t you just love it when you can do this and turn out a delicious meal? I know I do! Following is the actual recipe from the Commander’s cookbook with my adjustments in parentheses. Enjoy!
1/8 cup of butter
1/2 onion chopped coarsely
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped coarsely
1 celery rib, chopped coarsely
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 lb. shrimp, peeled (I did not have shrimp on hand)
3/4 lb. chicken, boneless & skinless, cut into cubes
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1 28 oz. can stewed tomatoes (I was out – so I used 1 small can of tomato paste)
2-21/2 cups chicken stock (I added about 1/2 cup extra since I used tomato paste)
2 teaspoons Louisiana Red Hot Sauce
1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 lb. andouille sausage or any spicy sausage, sliced 1/4″ thick (I used spicy buffalo sausage)
1/2 lb. smoked ham, cut into cubes ( I did not have and did not substitute)
1/2 lb. crawfish tails, peeled (I did not have and did not substitute)
3-4 green onions, coarsley chopped
Salt to taste
1/12 cups long-grained rice
Heat butter in an uncovered heavy bottomed pot. Add vegetables and garlic, saute, stirring for 5 minutes. Add shrimp, chicken, bay leaves, and thyme and continue to cook over medium heat until chicken becomes white and shrimp are pink., about 10-15 minutes. (I added only the chicken here)
Add paprika and stir thoroughly to mix with other ingredients. Add tomatoes, stock, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well. (here instead of the stewed tomatoes I added the paste)
Add sausage and ham. Stir well. Add crawfish tails and cook over moderate heat until liquid is boiling. Add green onions, salt and rice. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes.
This is a one pot meal – perfect. No matter the meat, seafood, or poultry ingredients you add it will be delicious and a snap to throw together. You can adjust the spiciness by bringing the Louisiana Red Hot Sauce to the table and adding as much spice as you like. (I always have a bottle of this stuff in my pantry) The degree of spice is a personal state of affairs! Remember to use your imagination with what is in your pantry or not – you just might surprise yourself and turn out a meal fit for a cajun king.
All this talk of cajun & creole cuisine has set my taste buds for some crawfish, particularly a Crawfish Pie. Be on the lookout for the recipe and photos of a crawfish pie in the very near future.