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Cook's Guide - Lusty Louisiana Vittles
by Annette Lucido

Louisiana may offer the most unique food in America. The mix of French, Spanish, Caribbean, Indian and African traditions offers what we think of as "heat with heart" even though my husband, Louis remains convinced "Blackened Redfish" came about when a beer-enhanced Cajun cook was asked about the burned fish he served to the kind of folks who know not "The War Between the States."
 
Great gumbos and boiled shrimp both serve at least twelve, and that's a good thing given the time the gumbo takes. Grits that cook quickly, but not instantly, and our other recipes serve four to six nicely and require much less effort. Our dip's a great way to start the small fry cooking. Add the right music and some cool bottles of your favorite brew and you've a wonderfully seasoned treat ahead.
 
GREAT GUMBO
4 lbs. onions, chopped
4 stalks celery chopped
4 cups fresh okra, chopped
3 lbs. bell peppers, washed, seeded and chopped
4 cups tomatoes ­ fresh Romas or canned in you must
2 cooked chickens ­ poach and remove meat from bones ­ reserve poaching
liquid
3 lbs. sausage ­ diced, sautéed and drained.
3 lbs. fish fillets
4 lbs. small shrimp, peeled
4 tbsp garlic powder
4 tbsp dry mustard
3 tbsp dried oregano or 6 fresh
3 tbsp dried basil or 6 fresh
2 lbs. lard
4 cups flour
8 cups cooked white rice ­ we like long grain.
1 cup fresh minced parsley.
 
Poach chickens in water to cover in a large pot. Cool, bone and reserve meat AND poaching liquid. In the biggest pot in the house add the onions, celery, okra, bell peppers and tomatoes. Cover with poaching liquid from chickens and slowly simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Add everything else save for fish, lard, flour, rice and parsley and simmer
for 45 minutes. Add fish fillets and simmer 15 minutes more. While fish simmers melt lard in a heavy skillet and add flour. Whisk for at least 20 minutes over medium high heat, or until flour browns into a "roux." Add the hot roux a bit at a time to the gumbo pot ­ prepare for splashes, spits, smoke and obscene noises. Stir with a slotted spoon until decently mixed. Serve gumbo in big bowls with a "softball" size lump of rice in the middle. Top with parsley. Note: we also use cilantro or even fresh basil. Some chewy bread to help sponge up the gumbo goes down nicely here.

FISH N' GRITS
Plain sautéed fish and a nice salad seem just the right side dishes for this
wonderful cheese grits recipe IF, and only if, you stay away from "instant" grits that, advertising claims aside, lack the taste and texture of the real thing. While we're told cheddar cheese is traditional here, we like a number of other white cheeses as well.
1 cup grits, quick, but not instant
1 quart water
1 cup cheddar, grated
1/4 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, fresh grated
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1-1/4 cup hot pepper sauce
1 dash cayenne pepper
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated.
Cook the grits and water according to directions ­ time your sautéed fish to finish at the same time as cold grits aren't exactly a taste treat! Add everything but the last * cup of cheddar stir and serve after topping with the remaining cheese.
 
LOUISIANA BOILED SHRIMP
Everyone has their favorite recipe for this and will defend it to the death or until the beer runs out, whatever comes first.
We admit to a low taste for boiled shrimp turned out into colanders and dumped on a picnic table covered with newspapers so you can simply shuck your own. This lets the picky types devein the shrimp and the heroes eat them tail and all. Note: you can also use crawfish in this dish. Just increase the cooking time. The key here is a boil that's cooked at least 30 minutes and the freshest possible shrimp. We dump our shrimp into a big kettle with a built in colander and cook the shrimp only until they turn color.
Shrimp do continue to cook once removed from the water and, of course, can always be put back.
 
4 to 6 cups water ­ we use saltwater if it's okay and omit the teaspoon of
salt below.
4 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic
4 onions, peeled and sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced
1 lemon slice into rounds
1 scant teaspoon salt
3 lbs. shrimp in the shell
 
Dump everything into the water save the shrimp and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Raise the heat and add she shrimp until they color and cook.
Immediately remove them and, after a taste test, cool. Note: we sometimes use a cold water rinse when the hungry hover and seem likely to burn their fingers. So far we've rinsed the shrimp; at times we're tempted to turn a hose on the fickle fingered who poach shrimp before the shrimp reach the picnic table in the back yard.
 
CURRY CRAWFISH/SHRIMP
My husband Louis has been known to buy two pounds of shrimp per person to "guarantee" leftovers. The recipe above also works so nicely for crayfish that we always seem to have extra crayfish left over. So we save the leftovers for this splendid, quick-to-make Caribbean curry you can also make with leftover fish. It goes together in the time it takes to cook rice.
 
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup green, red and or yellow peppers, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Cube butter or margarine
2 tablespoons curry powder or paste. We like yellow or green Thai curry
paste, but the red works as well. Too much "store-bought" curry powder seems bland. You do better in Thai, Indian or other ethnic markets or sections.
1 cup cream of coconut
1 cup chopped fresh or, if you must, canned mango
2 pounds of shrimp or crayfish, cleaned.
 
In a Dutch Oven or deep pot over medium heat sauté onions, pepper and garlic in butter until al dente, or still a bit crisp. Stir in the curry powder or paste and continue to stir for a couple of minutes. Reduce heat and add the coconut cream, mango and crayfish and simmer only until heated through. Both standard and "dirty" rice basement this dish.
 
DIPPY SHRIMP
If we don't curry our leftover shrimp, crawfish or fish, we often serve them as dip on the theory that one day's cooking should produce as many meals as possible. This dip is a killer with any kind of seafood and it can be made a couple of days ahead. I'm not sure it's "cooking" as everything simply goes into a blender, but I'm entirely certain that it's a winner. My vegetarian friends even like it with celery sticks.
1 lbs. roasted red peppers, canned, but not drained
6 green onions, chopped
Two large tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
8 oz. cream, or home-made yogurt cheese*, cut in pieces
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 or more pounds cooked shrimp and/or crayfish and/or firm white fish.
 
Dump the peppers, garlic, cream cheese, cumin and lemon into the blender and grind until smooth. Stir in the other ingredients. Keeps up to three days.
 
* You can replicate a number of European herb cheeses by simply dumping a large container of plain yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined colander placed over a bowl. Refrigerate for about a week, pouring off the clear liquid as
needed. Then separate into cup-size containers and add your own herbs. We like oven-roasted garlic, fresh basil, fresh oregano, coarse-ground black pepper or the above-mentioned roasted red peppers. Such "cheese" should
keep a week. Since it's relatively inexpensive, but very impressive, we normally share batches with neighbors.
 
HANGTOWN FRY
Okay, in Louisiana you'd add more seasonings and might serve this with lots of lot sauce in an oyster loaf. However, this recipe reportedly happened in the California Gold Country's Hangtown ­ now Placerville ­ when a miner with his poke full of gold ordered the three most expensive ingredients available ­ eggs, oysters and wine. It's worth noting that, at that time both fresh eggs and oysters fetched a dollar each, and a dollar and a half was day wages! The cook, doubtless of New Orleans venue, whipped up the following. It's still our favorite quick oyster recipe that's acceptable with bottled oysters and sublime with fresh oysters.
 
Half cube butter
1 cup white wine
4 green onions, chopped
12 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste
 
In a cast iron skillet heat a pat of butter. You can also split this recipe that serves four, if you must use a smaller skillet for the omelet stage. Our big skillet that takes a dozen eggs is more than two feet across and too heavy for me to handle. So Louis makes this dish! Note that butter and oil should always go into a hot pan, not a cold one.
 
Add the oysters; sauté for a minute and pour in the wine. Cook the oysters no more than a couple of minutes and remove them to a heated plate.
 
Add the onions, flip up the heat and reduce the wine by about a third.
 
Beat the eggs with four tablespoons of water. Preheat the omelet skillet, add butter and heat until the butter foams. Pour some or all of the eggs into the skillet. When the bottom of the omelet sets add the oysters and
some salt and white pepper. Fold the omelet and add the reserved liquid just before you serve the dish
 
ALTERNATIVE: This method eliminates the dubious joys of omelet folding. Just start your broiler before you start to cook the eggs and set your top oven shelf high. Add the eggs and liquid to bubbling butter in a cast iron
skillet. When the bottom of the omelet barely sets put the pan under the broiler. Realize that the bottom of the omelet continues to cook even under the broiler. Please don't overcook. Dry eggs are awful!
 
Note: We like this with toast and it makes wonderful stuffing in a loaf of French bread.

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