Monday, January 17, 2011
Welcome to Cajun Country.
When I was a kid I remember sitting in front on my television on Saturday afternoons. While all of the other kids were outside running around like sugared-up maniacs throwing rocks at each other I was sitting on the floor of my wood paneled and brown shag carpeted family room with one of my mothers aprons on watching The Cajun Cook on PBS. "I gar-un-tee!" I would yell along with Mr. Justin Wilson trying to mimic his wild Cajun "whoops" and pretend like I was ripping the heads off crawfish for a big pot of invisible gumbo. My mother would come downstairs and stare at me blankly, shake her head and roll her eyes, and then walk right back the stairs to where she came from.
I don't have a Cajun bone in my body. Perhaps it's the simple but serious flavors of the cuisine that speak to me. In fact, I think that Cuban Food (which also has some Creole roots) is pretty similar in a lot of preparations. Not to mention the French in my blood. Unfortunately the one time I drove through Louisiana I was a vegetarian. What a shame. No étoufée, no seafood gumbo, not even some boudin balls. Very sad indeed. I did however get to taste some seriously authentic gumbo z'herbes (green gumbo with lots of tasty winter greens). Nope, that trip saw plenty of voodoo shops and drunken frat boys but barely any tasty food. Back in the day, it was really hard to eat out as a vegetarian and going on a road trip was perilous. You thought you might starve to death until you came across a grocery store and made some janky meal in the car. Hmmm, let's see, I bought a can of beans, some bread, and an apple. "Not again! We had your bean and apple sandwiches yesterday." No ma'am, it was eat at your own risk in those days. Vegetables didn't exist in the South back then. It was all fried meat with a side of bacon and gravy.
I couldn't get my hands on any fresh crawfish but I was really in the mood for étoufée. I decided to make it with prawns instead. I'm sure some Cajun grandmothers make the same substitution. Deep and rich in flavor and the filé powder really adds some deepness. Put the film Southern Comfort in the DVD player, make yourself a sazerac cocktail, and cook this meal. I gar-un-tee it'll knock your socks off.
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded & diced
4 scallions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tomatoes, diced
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, tt
1 tsp filé powder (if you can't find it don't worry about it)
1 ½ cups shrimp stock (water, shrimp shells, onion, celery, simmer 30 minutes)
1 lb. large prawns, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
steamed white rice for serving
1. First make a roux. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a whisk, to make a medium roux.
2. Add the onions, celery, bell peppers, green onions, garlic, bay leaves, cayenne, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the sherry and tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the stock, add the prawns and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice & stir in the filé powder.
4. Adjust the seasoning, to taste. Serve over rice.