Seafood Fridays – Crawfish Etouffee

Do you believe in love at first bite?

I can recall the exact moment when I fell in love with this dish. That’s because it was the same moment that I fell in love with the city and culture of New Orleans.

It was June, 1987. My girlfriend at the time and I had just made the long drive from Chicago to New Orleans for a week-long vacation. After getting settled in our hotel, we wandered the French Quarter for the first time.

I had never been to Europe (still haven’t, in fact), so the narrow, European-style streets filled with colorfully painted buildings with elaborate wrought-iron balconies billowing with the summer’s first flowers was like something out of a dream.

Hungry from our trip, we ended up at the Cafe Royale, where we were seated on the second-floor balcony overlooking the carnival-like atmosphere on Royale Street below us.

Even though I had never eaten crawfish before, I ordered the crawfish etouffee because it was the house specialty and because it just felt right. I was rewarded for my adventurousness with a bowl of one of the most amazing things I had ever eaten. Dark brown, slightly nutty and creamy, sweet deliciousness.

I distinctly remember taking my first bite of that wonderful stew, looking out over the Vieux Carre and thinking, “I love this. All of it.” It was one of those moments of perfect happiness that the late Spalding Gray used to talk about in his monologues.

This particular recipe doesn’t come close to approximating that first intoxicating bowl of crawfish etouffee. In fact, I substituted shrimp because the only crawfish I could find were whole, pre-cooked ones and that wouldn’t work. Chopped small, the shrimp were a good substitute and the flavor of this etouffee was close enough to transport me back to that moment in time.

This recipe also features another New Orleans tradition, Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, also known as simply “Tony’s”. In fact, I adapted this recipe from one on their website. I’ve mentioned Tony’s in the past because it is a good, versatile seasoning for everything from soups to meats to seafood or even barbeque.

Crawfish Etouffee

4 TBS Unsalted butter

1 lb Raw crawfish tails (or shrimp)

3 TBS Tony’s

1 White onion, medium dice

1/2 Green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

2 cloves Garlic, crushed

1 tsp Corn starch

1 cup Water

1 Green Onion, sliced

Brown rice, cooked

1. Melt butter in sauce pan. Meanwhile, toss the crawfish with the Tony’s then saute in the butter for 3 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. In the same pot, add the onions, peppers and garlic and saute 10 minutes. Return the crawfish to the pot.

3. Dissolve the corn starch into the water then pour into the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmmer, then cook gently for 20 minutes. Season with black pepper — you won’t need any more salt due to Tony’s being pretty salty — and serve over brown rice, garnished with scallions.

I served my etouffee with jalapeno cornbread, changing the recipe slightly by substituting whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. It had very little impact on the flavor but added more nutritional value.

Has a dish you’ve eaten ever made you fall in love with a particular city? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Seafood Fridays – Shrimp and Grits

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? I do.

I haven’t been back down to the Crescent City since 2007’s Jazz and Heritage Festival, but I keep tabs on what’s happening by tuning in to WWOZ online every day.

And I reconnect with the city periodically from a culinary perspective, such as this recipe for shrimp and grits.

Up north, grits aren’t as big a deal as they are down south. We prefer polenta, which is also made of corn meal, but usually has a slightly finer grind.

But unlike polenta, grits have the ability to jump from your breakfast bowl onto your dinner plate, where they can serve as a delicious anchor for almost any dish: Shrimp and gits, pork and grits, chicken and grits. If I ever were to open a Southern-style restaurant, I would simply call it “And Grits”.

Grits can be sweet or savory. This past Sunday I took my daughter, Maggie Mae, out to brunch at Stanley’s — a great bar/restaurant in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood near DePaul University, where she goes to school — and among their breakfast offerings were grits sweetened with honey. They were fabulous.

For this recipe, I made standard grits —  with just water and little salt — then ramped them up at the end with butter and a ton of grated parmesan cheese. The result were creamy, nutty grits that perfectly complemented the strong flavors of the shrimp. Even my wife loved it, and she usually won’t eat shrimp.

I decorated the plate with a little braised green chard and some roasted corn-black bean salsa. It not only tasted great, but it looked pretty fantastic as well. I’ll have to save this one for the menu at “And Grits”.

Shrimp and Grits

1/2 lb 16/20 Shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cloves Garlic, crushed

2 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Sesame oil

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp Pick-a-Peppa Sauce

Dash red pepper flake

Fresh cracked black pepper

6 TBS Grits (not instant)

2 cups Water

Dash sea salt

2 TBS Whole butter

1/4 cup Grated parmesan cheese

For the Roasted Corn-Black Bean Salsa

1 can Black beans, drained

2 ears Corn, shucked and boiled

3 Tomatoes, ribs and seed removed, small dice

1/4 cup Red onion, small dice

2 TBS Cilantro, chopped

2 TBS Parsley, chopped

2 Green onions, sliced thin

1 TBS EVOO

Coarse salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Combine shrimp, EVOO, sesame oil, Worcester and Pick-A-Peppa sauces, and red pepper flake in a mixing bowl, season to taste with black pepper, cover and place in refrigerator to marinate at least 30 minutes.

2. Place grits, water and salt in a small pot, cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat and let sit at least 10 minutes, then fold in butter and parmesan cheese.

3. Roast corn cobs on the grill until they get a char, then cut the kernels off the cob and combine with all the remaining salsa ingredients. Season to taste with coarse salt and black pepper, cover and marinate in the refrigerator until ready to plate. Using coarse salt rather than sea salt gives the salsa a little crunch.

4. Saute shrimp with marinade in non-stick pan until cooked through, about 4 minutes. To plate, pile grits in the center of the plate and arrange shrimp decoratively on top of the grits. Spoon salsa so that it is falling off the shrimp and grits. Garnish if you want with a little braised greens.

Now that the Lenten season is ending, I have to decide whether to continue Seafood Fridays or not. Does anybody have an opinion? I would love to hear it. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Shrimp Creole

I know a lot of people who are afraid of shrimp.

Maybe it is because when they are raw they look like little insects or perhaps because you have to peel and de-vein them before cooking them, but some people just opt out of shrimp altogether.

Which is a terrible shame because shrimp are one of the most affordable, delicious, healthy and versatile seafood you can find. Shrimp cocktail, shrimp shish-ka-bobs, shrimp with pasta, fried shrimp, popcorn shrimp, and peel and eat shrimp are all among my favorite menu items.

Unless you live on the Gulf Coast or in Thailand, the shrimp you buy at the market were almost certainly frozen at some point during their journey. That’s because fresh shrimp are highly perishable and unless you are cooking and consuming them right off the shrimping boat, they need to be frozen to maintain their quality.

Some shrimpers freeze and package the shrimp at sea on factory boats. Others process their haul at giant factories next to the docks. In the US, most shrimp come from the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts.

Fun fact: When you buy boxed shrimp that is frozen, it usually is the same as the shrimp displayed in your grocer’s seafood department. In most cases, they just took it out of the box and defrosted it first.

Shrimp is sold by its size, with the biggest shrimp costing the most. Shrimp are priced by the number of peices of shrimp it takes to make a pound — 41/50, for example, means it takes between 41 and 50 shrimp of that size to make a pound.

I usually use 16/20 shrimp which typically cost about $5 to $6/lb. But you can buy shrimp that go all the way up to U10 (under-10 shrimp to the pound), which at that point are basically like small lobsters.

This classic New Orleans recipe is delicious even for people who don’t usually like shrimp because the sweetness of the shrimp perfectly complements the tangy, slightly spicy flavor of the sauce.

Shrimp Creole

1 lb 16/20 shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 TBS unsalted butter

1 TBS EVOO

1 onion, medium dice

2 stalks celery, ribs and leaves included, medium dice

1 green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

3 cloves garlic, crushed

3 TBS all-purpose flour

1 8-oz can of tomato sauce

1 cup water

Juice of one lemon

2 bay leaves

1/4 tsp granulated sugar

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 TBS tomato paste

2 to 3 shakes of Worchestersire sauce

Sea salt to taste

1/2 cup green onions, sliced thin

1. Peel shrimp by tearing away the shell starting at the legs, then carefully tugging off the shell at the tail. De-vein shrimp by using a paring knife to make a shallow cut down the back, then use the knife to pull out the vein and discard. Rinse shrimp under cold water and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Put pot on fire and add oil and butter. When butter melts, add onions, green pepper and celery and cook until onion translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic and bay leaf and cook another minute, then add flour and stir around, forming a kind of pot roux.

3. When flour begins to turn slightly brown, add the tomato sauce, water, lemon juice, sugar, and cayenne. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir in tomato paste and Worcestersire sauce. The Creole sauce should thicken to the consistency of creamed soup. If it gets too thick, thin it out with a little additional water. Simmer 30 minutes.

4. Add shrimp and stir so that all shrimp are completely coated with sauce, then simmer an additional 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Season to taste with salt. Serve over brown rice or pasta and garnish with green onions.

Are you afraid of shrimp? Don’t be, but tell us why in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

 

Red Beans and Rice

I am a New Orleanian trapped in a Chicagoan’s body.

I just realized this as I sit here streaming traditional New Orleans jazz on WWOZ-FM while a pot of Red Beans and Rice slow cooks in the kitchen, filling the house with the spicy, smoky aroma of a lazy Monday afternoon in the Crescent City.

Red Beans and Rice

Red Beans and Rice

You see, red beans and rice is traditionally made on Mondays using the leftovers from Sunday’s dinners. I have an old Times-Picayune cookbook that says this tradition that goes back to the city’s colonial days, when ham was what was for dinner on Sunday, and the scraps and leftovers were boiled with a pot of beans all day Monday, while the washing was done.

It is a dish still closely identified with New Orleans. When you visit the city, you will see it on a lot of restaurant menus, and a big pot of it is cooked whenever people gather together to watch a Saints game, for Mardi Gras or second line celebrations, or any other festive occasion, from what I’m told.

Red beans and rice was Louis Armstrong’s favorite dish. How cool is that? Also, how cool is it that the city’s airport is named for Louis Armstrong?!  What a place! (Can you imagine naming O’Hare after Chicago musicians? Buddy Guy International Airport? Styx Field? Wait, I actually kind of like both of those.)

You can put a lot of things in red beans and rice, besides the titular ingredients. Traditionally, there’s a mix of vegetables and ham or sausage in a tomato-based sauce, but there are really no limits. If you serve it with jalapeno cornbread, please call me because I will be there.

I like to mix all the ingredients the night before in the crock pot, then refrigerate it until the next morning. Before going to work, I pop it into the slow-cooker, set the timer for 8 hours on low and when I get home the house is filled with magic. Must drive the dogs nuts.

If you’re home, you can also cook it on the stovetop over a low flame for several hours. Just give it a stir once in a while when you walk past it.

If you buy one of those boxes of Zatarain’s red beans and rice, your heart is in the right place, but you’re not doing it right.

Red Beans and Rice

16 oz package Polska Kielbasa (or Turkey Kielbasa), sliced into medallions

1 medium white onion, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

3-4 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2-3 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, diced

15 oz can whole peeled tomtoes, hand crushed

12 oz can diced tomatos and chiles

2 cans red beans, drained and rinsed

1 bay leaf

1 cup Spicy V-8

2 cups cooked rice

Combine all ingredients, except the rice, in crock pot. Stir together and cook on low for 8-10 hours, stirring occasionally.

To plate, press rice into a ramekin and invert in the center of a soup bowl. Ladle the red beans mixture around the rice, and garnish with parsley or cilantro sprigs.

Serve with jalapeno cornbread or any kind of fresh made bread, turn on a little Professor Longhair and you officially are an honorary New Orleanian.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Share your Crescent City favorites in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Jambalaya!

Something you may not know about me: New Orleans is my favorite city.

Although I’ve never been lucky enough to live there, I try to get there as often as I can, especially during the city’s big Jazz and Heritage Festival in the spring. I just love the music, the European flavor of the French Quarter, the quirky neighborhoods, and especially the food.

My love for the Crescent City has crept onto numerous menus at restaurants where I have worked, sometimes for no reason other than I love the cuisine. Whenever I get lonesome for that town, I stop by one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, Heaven on Seven, a Creole and Cajun inspired joint that has some of the best food I’ve had anywhere outside Louisiana.

Digging around my refrigerator the other day, I noticed I had some leftover chicken, sausage and shrimp. Jambalaya, I immediately thought. With the Bears playing the Saints this weekend, what could be better than this all-time New Orleans favorite.

Jambalaya with Jalapeno Cornbread

Jambalaya with Jalapeno Cornbread

This recipe is simple, inexpensive and delicious. It’s a great way to use up odds and ends from your fridge or freezer. Chicken, Andouille sausage and shrimp are the traditional ingredients, but really you can make it with anything you have, including straight vegetarian.

You can cook it in your slow cooker, but I couldn’t wait that long so I cooked it up on the stove top. And I just had to serve it with some jalapeno cornbread.

Jambalaya

1 or 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 or 2 Italian sausage links (or Andouille, if you can find it), cut into 1-2 inch peices

1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup white onion, diced

1 green pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 TBS all-purpose flour

2 TBS tomato paste

15 oz can of diced tomatoes

3/4 cup white rice (not instant, puh-lease!)

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup chicken broth

3/4 cup water

1 TBS Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (usually just referred to as “Tony’s”) (You can substitute with Old Bay or any kind of Cajun or Creole seasoning)

EVOO

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375. Heat 1 TBS EVOO in cast iron skillet. When oil starts to smoke, add chicken and sausage, seasoning with S&P. Let brown, about 2 minutes, then turn and season and brown the other side a minute, then throw the whole pan in the oven to finish cooking, about 7 minutes. Remove and set aside for later.

2. In large pot, heat 1 TBS EVOO. When oil starts to smoke, add onion, green pepper, celery and bay leaf. Sweat until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for about another 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. Add the chicken stock, water, Tony’s, diced chicken and sausage and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook until rice is done, about 25 minutes.

3. Combine the shrimp with 1 TBS of EVOO and sprinkle with 1 tsp Tony’s. Refrigerate to let flavors marinate. Just before service, in hot saute pan, drizzle a little EVOO. When oil starts to smoke, add shrimp. Saute until done, about 3-4 minutes, flipping once or twice.

To plate, use a kitchen spoon to build a big pile of jambalaya in the center of a pasta bowl. Arrange the shrimp around the pile. Garnish with parsley sprig or chopped parsley.

Jalapeno Cornbread

Jalapeno Cornbread

Jalapeno Cornbread

1 cup All Purpose Flour

2 TBS sugar

TBS baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup milk

2 eggs, beaten

¼ cup vegetable oil

3-4 jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, diced

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease your cast iron skillet with pan spray and throw it in the oven.

1. While the oven is warming, combine milk, eggs and oil in a bowl. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cornmeal. Slowly stir liquid mixture into powder mixture just until batter is wet. Fold in jalapenos, then use potholders to remove skillet from oven and pour batter into skillet.

2. Cook for about 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

This recipe can also be made in a 9”x9” baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Do you love New Orleans cooking as much as I do? What are your favorite dishes? Let us know in the comments section below.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!