The weather is getting warmer. The azaleas are about to pop out. The days are getting longer. AND the crawfish season is in full swing. LIFE IS GOOD
After stormy weather moved through and the skies cleared, I took off in my old Jeep to investigate the crawfish ponds in rural St.Martin Parish. At my first stop near the Atchafalaya Basin, a crawfisherman greeted me waving a large crawfish.
“It looks like we’re going to have a good crop this year,” he smiled gleefully.
He handed me the wiggling crawfish and I gave it a once-over.
The crawfish is almost a perfect miniature of a lobster, and an old Cajun tale explains why.
The lobster and the Acadians that lived in what is now Nova Scotia in Canada resided happily together until 1755. It was in that fateful year that the British cruelly expelled the Acadians from their beloved Acadie and they wandered for years searching for a home, some finally settling in the bayous of southern Louisiana. The lobsters yearned for their French friends and set out off across the country to find them. The journey south was so long and arduous that they began to shrink in size. By the time they arrived in south Louisiana, they were only miniatures of their former selves. And the story continues…although they had shrunk, the flavor had intensified. To celebrate their reunion, the fun-loving Acadians created many crawfish dishes—etouffees, stews, pies—to honor their long-lost friends.
About this time of year I’m ready to cook up some of my favorite crawfish dishes. Of course, a big crawfish boil is in order, but I also have several other recipes in my repertoire that I want to share with you.
My personal favorite is a crawfish etouffee served on a bed of rice and accompanied by a tossed green salad dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. My husband is a fan of crawfish cornbread. My sister always opts for crawfish pie while Baby Brother Bruce likes his crawfish with shrimp and pasta.
If you can’t choose just one, heck, make them all. Be sure to have lots of hot crusty French bread, cold beer and soft drinks on hand, and maybe a lemon pie or lemon bars for a refreshing dessert.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 pounds peeled crawfish tails
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour dissolved in ¾ cup water
Salt and cayenne to taste
2 tablespoon chopped green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Cooked long-grain rice for serving
Heat the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy pot. Add the onions, bell peppers, and celery, and cook, stirring, until soft and lightly golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the crawfish and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to throw off a little liquid, about 5 minutes.
Add the flour and water mixture, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and cayenne. Remove from the heat. Add the green onions and parsley. Serve in bowls over rice. CRAWFISH CORNBREAD
Makes 8 to 10 servings
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped yellow onions
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup shredded mild Cheddar cheese
¼ cup chopped pickled jalapenos
1 cup cream-style corn
1 pound peeled crawfish tails, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking pan.
Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour into the prepared pan and bake a greased baking pan and bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let sit for several minutes before cutting into squares to serve.
Makes 6 servings
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup chopped canned tomatoes
1 pound crawfish tails
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 (9-inch) pie crust
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, bell peppers and celery, and cook, stirring until the vegetables are soft and golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the salt, cayenne and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Add the crawfish tails and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and add to the pan. Stir for about two to three minutes, or until the mixture thickens. Add the green onions and parsley and stir to mix. Remove from the heat and cool for about 30 minutes.
Pour the crawfish mixture into the pie crust. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the edges of the pie crust are golden. Cool for several minutes before cutting into wedges to serve.
SHRIMP AND CRAWFISH FETTUCCINI
Makes about 12 servings
3 sticks butter
3 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped green bell peppers
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp peeled and deveined
1 1/2 pounds peeled crawfish tails
2 cups half-and-half
1 pound Velveeta cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
Salt and cayenne
1 pound fettuccini, cooked and drained
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Melt the butter in a heavy, large Dutch oven on medium heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, and celery and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until they are wilted and lightly golden.
Add the flour and stir to mix. Cook, stirring often, for two to three minutes. Add the parsley, shrimp and crawfish. Cook, stirring often, for about five minutes, or until the shrimp turn pink.
Add the half-and-half, cheese, jalapeno peppers and garlic. Stir until the cheese is completely melted and the mixture thickens, about five minutes. Season to taste with salt and cayenne.
Arrange the fettuccini in a three-quart casserole and pour the seafood mixture evenly over it. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with the Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the mixture bubbles.
My father always claimed that a lemon dessert is a winner after a seafood meal, so here’s an easy and delicious cookie to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Makes about 40 squares
1 stick butter, melted
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the butter, powdered sugar and one cup of the flour in a bowl. Mix well. Press this mixture into the bottom of a 9×9-inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.
In another bowl, beat the eggs until light in color. Add the granulated sugar, the remaining two tablespoons flour, the baking powder and the lemon juice. Mix well. Spread this mixture over the crust and bake for 30 minutes more.
Remove and let cool before cutting into squares.
Sweet potatoes (also known as yams) have long been a part of Louisiana’s history and cuisine. It is believed that the sweet potatoes originated in the West Indies and Central America.
According to history, when the French began settling in south Louisiana in 1687, they discovered the native Indians—Attakapas, Alabama, Choctaw and Opelousas tribes—growing and enjoying the tasty, nourishing sweet potatoes. It wasn’t long before the French and Spanish settlers soon made it one of their favorite food items.
It’s no wonder that a variety of sweet potato dishes hold a place of honor on holiday tables at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They can be boiled, baked, fried, mashed and combine well with a variety of ingredients to create an endless list of delicious concoctions.
When I was toddler, Mama and and I enjoyed a baked sweet potato, lathered with butter and drizzled with cane syrup, on many a cold autumn afternoon. As I got older, I came to adore them fried, much like French fries, sprinkled with salt and black pepper, or sometimes sugar and cinnamon. Of course, I ate my fair share of them candied, creamed with milk and butter, in pies, and sometimes rolled in honey and chopped pecans. I consumed so much of these golden tuberous roots that I had the nickname of “Patate Douce” well into my teens.
What I didn’t know then is that they are highly nutritious. A diet rich in a vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene, is associated with a lower incidence of lung and other cancers. Beta-carotene is the bright yellow/orange pigment found in vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash, and red peppers, both sweet and hot.
Lucky for us in Louisiana, our climate and soil are quite suitable for farming several varieties of these healthful vegetables.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, Louisiana was the Number One sweet potato producer in the nation, supplying almost seventy percent of the nation’s sweet potatoes. In fact, it was back in 1946, when the town of Opelousas in St. Landry Parish, in the heart of sweet potato country, held the first annual Louisiana Yambilee celebration. The story goes that the festival was born over a cup of coffee. J. W. “Bill” Low, a native Texan, who came to live in Opelousas suggested an idea of a celebration to his friend, Felix Dezauche, a yam shipper and processor, endorsed the idea. Thus, one of the oldest and largest Louisiana festivals came into being.
We don’t have to wait for the holidays or a special occasion to enjoy our sweet potatoes. Have them any time, on any number of ways. Here are some ideas to get you going.
This happens to be one of my favorite preparations.
SWEET POTATO PONE
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 cup sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter or margarine, softened
2 cups grated raw sweet potatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Beat the egg with the sugar and butter in a mixing bowl until creamy and smooth. In another bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, salt and milk and mix well. Add the butter mixture to the potato mixture and mix well. Pour the mixture into lightly buttered baking dish and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the top with the pecans. Return to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the mixture sets slightly.
These potato chips, made with Idahos and sweet potatoes, are great for casual meals to serve with burgers, grilled chicken or pork chops. If you have a mandoline with a slicing blade, adjust it to the smallest possible setting. If you don’t have a mandoline, a very sharp knife and a steady hand should work. You might even consider using the slicing attachment on your food processor.
Makes 6 servings
3 sweet potatoes, peeled
2 Idaho potatoes, peeled
Vegetable oil for deep frying, heated to 360 degrees
Cut the potatoes crosswise into very thin slices. Soak them in ice water in separate bowls for at least one hour. Drain the potatoes and pat them dry with paper towels. Fry the sweet potatoes and the Idaho potatoes separately in batches in the hot oil until they are crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. To keep them warm and crisp, spread the potatoes on a baking sheet and keep them in a 300-degree oven.
This next preparation is quite simple and can be served with anything.
MASHED SWEET POTATOES
Makes 6 servings
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
Cook the sweet potatoes in lightly salted water, until tender. Drain. Transfer them to a food processor and puree, adding the butter and cream. Scrape into a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
This final recipe is one you can serve anytime, but it certainly deserves a place on your next holiday table.
RUM-GLAZED SWEET POTATOES
Makes 8 servings
3 pounds sweet potatoes, pricked several times with a fork
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup roasted pecan halves
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
Bake the sweet potatoes in a 400-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until tender. Let cool and peel. Cut the potatoes crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Toss the apples in the lemon juice. Arrange the sweet potatoes and apples in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with the pecans. In a saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, honey, rum, cinnamon, ginger, and mace. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Spoon the syrup over the potato and apple mixture. Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, basting occasionally with the butter sauce. Then place the pan under the broiler, about 4 inches from the fire, until the edges of the potatoes and apples are slightly brown.
Diners, corner cafes, and Mom and Pop neighborhood bars and restaurants that serve down-home meals, otherwise known as “blue plate specials” may not be as numerous as they used to be, but they are still around. Thank goodness! These institutions usually go the extra mile for their specials, giving large servings and using local ingredients. When I hear the term “blue plate specials” I conjure up such meals as meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas, or smothered chicken with lots of gravy atop a mound of white rice, or better yet, stewed okra and tomatoes accompanied by braised round steak and onions!
When I was growing up in St. Martinville, there was a café called Hebert’s and you could tell the day of the week by the menu for the day. The specials were noted on a large chalkboard at the entrance to the establishment. On Monday, it was usually red or white beans served with rice and a link of fresh pork sausage. Tuesday’s lunch was chicken-fried steak accompanied by either macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes (and never made from dehydrated flakes in a box). Fried chicken, potato salad, and peas and carrots was Wednesday’s offering. On Thursday it was meatballs and spaghetti or chicken stew. Friday’s special was always my favorite—fried catfish served with shrimp stew over rice, and cole slaw. Hot French bread and lots of butter was always handy, and Mrs. Hebert made some of the best pies—lemon, pecan, chocolate cream, coconut, and blackberry—I had ever tasted.
Alas, Hebert’s is gone, so I ride around looking for hole-in-the-wall places that serve up meat-and-three (meat with three sides). A place in New Iberia near the St. Peter’s Catholic church often offers the best barbecued pork ribs and pork chops served with rice dressing, baked beans, cole slaw, and bread pudding, all for less than $10.00. Another place I lunch is at a luncheon spot in my hometown that has a great Friday meal of fried catfish, shrimp and potato salad.
When cooler weather sets in (which hopefully will be soon because I’m growing tired of this hot dry weather), my husband Rock often requests a blue plate special for our Wednesday supper. Understand that these are not for the weak of heart. These recipes are what Papa would call “truck-driver” items.
Makes 4 servings
- ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound cubed beefsteaks
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons plus ½ cup milk
- 1 cup saltine cracker crumbs
- Vegetable oil
- 1 ¼ cups chicken broth
- 1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
Heat about one-half of the oil in a large skillet to about 360 degrees. Fry the steaks in the oil over medium heat until browned, turning once. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer turning occasionally, for 15 minutes. Remove the steaks and drain on paper towels.
Drain off the drippings, reserving about three tablespoons in the skillet. Add the remaining three tablespoons of the flour, stirring until smooth. Cook one minute over medium heat, stirring constantly. Gradually add the broth and the remaining one-half cup of milk. Stir constantly until the mixture is thick and bubbly. Add the Worcestershire and hot sauce, and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve with mashed potatoes.
GOOD OLD MASHED POTATOES
Makes about 6 servings
- 8 medium-size red potatoes (about 3 ½ pounds), peeled and quartered
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- ½ cup milk
- Salt and black pepper to taste
OLD-FASHIONED MACARONI AND CHEESE
Makes about 6 servings
- 1 (8-ounce) package elbow macaroni
- 2 ½ cups (about 10 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1 ½ cups milk
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- Makes one pie to serve 6
- 1 ¾ cups sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup cocoa
- 2 cups milk
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 baked 9-inch pastry shell
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Spoon into the pastry shell and set aside.
Beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add the remaining one-half cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form, two to four minutes.
Spread the meringue over the chocolate filling. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly golden, about 20 minutes.
Football season has arrived. It doesn’t feel like football weather, but anxious fans are eager to trek to stadiums to cheer on their favorite college team or to the Superdome to see what the Saints are going to do this season.
One of my nephews dropped by for a visit – well, what he was looking for was an idea for a tailgaiting party. He declared that the weather was just too hot to make gumbo, chili or jambalaya. Did I have an alternative idea?
This is what I suggested. Bring along a small grill and make this whopper of a hamburger. It’s easy to pull together. The sandwich, chips and pre-made brownies should satisfy his friends before they enter the stadium.
CAJUN TAILGATE BURGER
Makes 8 to 10 servings
You can dress the burger classically, with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and mustard, but use your creativity and make it your own. Dress it with cheese, jalapenos, and guacamole. Or dress it with grilled onions and blue cheese.
- 2 ½ pounds lean ground beef
- 4 pickled jalapenos, chopped
- 3 tablespoons of the liquid from the jar of jalapenos
- 1 tablespoon onion juice
- 1 tablespoon garlic juice
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce
- 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning mix
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon Liquid Smoke
- ½ cup dry fine seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 eggs
- 1 round bread, such as Vienna, muffaletto, sourdough, 10 to 12 inches in diameter, cut in half lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 6 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
- 4 large lettuce leaves
- 1 large tomato, sliced
- Grey Poupon mustard
Remove the mixture from the refrigerator and shape into a large patty, about 1 inch larger than the round bread and about 1 ½ inches thick.
Place it on the grill and close the lid. Cook for 20 minutes on one side, then turn it and cook it for another 20 minutes.
Butter each half of the bread with the butter. Place the bread halves, inside of the bread down, on the grill and toast for 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove the burger and the bread from the grill. Place the burger on the bottom half of the bread. Dress the burger with the cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and mustard.
Place the top half on top of the dressed burger and press down firmly, but gently. Cut into wedges to serve.