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.
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – A COZY CHRISTMAS DINNER
More often than not, a cast of thousands enjoys most Christmas feasts. At least that’s how it was, and sometimes still is, with our family. Years ago when it was simply Mama’s father, her siblings (which numbered six) and their spouses, which then made it twelve, plus all of their children brought the count up to thirty. Then, later when the children grew up, married and had their own children, we got up to almost fifty. We ate in shifts and the meal lasted over three hours.
It was always a great day, with gifts being exchanged along with hugs and family gossip, and the grown-ups sipping on after-dinner drinks while young children fell asleep on the floor under the Christmas tree. As I got older, my sister-in-law and I washed dishes for hours and sipped on coffee and brandy to fortify us.
But now the family has grown so large (we’re now into great-grandchildren), most of my siblings have their own family gatherings simply because the numbers have gotten out of hand. We do manage to get together for a big brunch during the week between Christmas and New Year’s in order to see everyone, though.
This Christmas it appears that my husband Rock and I will have a relatively quiet dinner at home. His two sisters and their spouses are expected to join us and that has worked out just right. Our dining room table can only seat six comfortably.
And I’ve already cleaned Mama’s crystal and polished her sterling flatware. I’ve borrowed some of her china, which was given to my brother and his wife, and I’m anxious to try and duplicate the beautiful table Mama always set. Rock and I have discussed the menu and although it’s not a traditional South Louisiana one, I think it is quite elegant.
The first course is a salad of spinach and cherry tomatoes.
RED AND GREEN CHRISTMAS SALAD
Makes 6 servings
8 cups fresh spinach, cleaned and torn
1 medium-size avocado, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed
1 cup warm Champagne Dressing (recipe follows)
Place the spinach leaves in a large salad bowl and arrange the avocado slices in a circle around the edge of the salad. Arrange the cherry tomatoes in the center of the salad.
Pour the dressing over the salad at the table and gently toss. Divide into equal portions and serve on salad plates.
WARM CHAMPAGNE DRESSING
Makes about 2 ½ cups
1 cup Champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry vermouth
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 ½ cups olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine the vinegar, sugar, flour, vermouth and mustard in a small saucepan. Heat to simmering over medium heat.
Gradually whisk in the egg and cream over low heat. Whisk in the oil in a thin steady stream. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
You will need only one cup for the salad, but the dressing can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container and used within a day or two. Warm to serve.
There’s no reason to prepare a turkey for a small party. Rock suggested Cornish hens and they’re ideal!
ROASTED CORNISH HENS WITH FENNEL
Makes 6 servings
6 Cornish hens, about 1 ¼ pounds each
Salt, cayenne and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ½ pounds fennel bulbs, trimmed, reserving the ribs for stuffing the chickens, and the bulbs thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup dry white wine
½ to ¾ cup water, as needed
2 tablespoons Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur
6 sprigs fresh parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Season the outside and the cavity of the hens with salt, cayenne, and black pepper. Stuff the cavities with the fennel ribs, chopped, then truss the hens.
In a large heavy skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat until the foam subsides. Add the hens, two or three at a time, to the skillet and brown evenly, turning every three to four minutes. Transfer them to a roasting pan.
Pour off all but one tablespoon of the fat and return the skillet to the heat. Add the fennel slices and cook, stirring, until golden and soft. Spoon the fennel around the hens and add the wine and one-half cup of the water.
Roast the hens, basting then every 15 minutes and adding the remaining water if necessary, until the hens are tender and the juices run clear, 40 to 50 minutes.
Remove from the oven and transfer to the stop top. In a small saucepan heat the Pernod over medium-low heat until it is warm, carefully ignite it and pour it carefully over the hens and letting flames go out.
Transfer the hens to serving plates and garnish each with a sprig of parsley. Boil the pan juices until reduced to about two-thirds cup, season with salt and black pepper if necessary and pass at the table.
A side dish of potatoes with peas is all that is needed to accompany the hens.
POTATOES WITH PEAS AND MINT
Makes about 6 servings
20 (about) small red potatoes, rinsed by not peeled
1/3 cup olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups frozen small peas, thawed
½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sour cream (optional)
Boil the potatoes in salted water until just tender. Drain and cut in halves, leaving the skins on. Whisk the oil and wine together and drizzle over the warm potatoes in a large bowl. Stir to coat evenly. Let cool slightly. Put the peas in a colander and warm with hot tap water. Drain well. Add the peas and the mint, season with salt and pepper, and toss gently. When serving, you may want to pass a small bowl of sour cream with the potatoes.
Dessert can be as simple as brandy freezes (ice cream, brandy and heavy cream whirled in a blender or food processor) poured in crystal glasses, or as extravagant as your favorite chocolate decadent dessert.
My duck-hunting friends are getting antsy for the season to arrive. They’ve been busy preparing for what I believe is one of men’s favorite times of the year. Shotguns have been cleaned and oiled, and probably a small fortune has been spent on shells. The duck blinds have been reworked and stand ready for that first cold front to blow in from the west. Decoys have been retrieved from storage to be marked or tagged. Now it’s just a matter of time before they can go forth to their camps, get up before dawn, walk through the wind, rain, and mud, then sit in a wet duck blind. Not my idea of fun.
I too am ready and waiting for the season to begin, only because I enjoy the spoils of the hunt. I am quite fond of a roasted duck or a good sausage and duck gumbo, or duck prepared in any number of ways for that matter.
Whenever I’m fortunate enough to receive a gift of a couple of ducks, I get out Papa’s recipes.
PAPA’S ROAST DUCK
Makes 4 servings
4 teals or 2 mallards or pintail ducks
3 cloves garlic, slivered
2 cups coarsely chopped green bell peppers
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
1/2 cup dry sherry
4 strips thickly sliced bacon
1 cup chicken broth
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 pound tompinambours (Jerusalem artichokes), peeled (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Make one or two slits (number depends on the size of the duck) in the duck breasts with a sharp, pointed knife. Insert one or two slivers of the garlic in each hole. Rub the outside and the cavities of the ducks with a liberal amount of salt and cayenne. Place the ducks in a large deep bowl. Combine the bell peppers and onions in another bowl and mix. Stuff half of the mixture in the duck cavities and put the remaining half around the ducks in the bowl. Add the dry sherry. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours, turning the ducks once or twice in the marinade. Remove the ducks from the refrigerator, drain and reserve the marinade.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Dust each duck liberally with flour and set aside. Fry the bacon in a large cast-iron pot over medium heat until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. When the bacon is cool, crumble and reserve. Add the ducks to the pot and brown them in the bacon grease, turning often to brown evenly.
Add the chicken broth and cook for 10 minutes. Add the reserved marinade, cover and bake in the oven for about one to one and a half hours, or until the ducks are tender. Baste occasionally with pan gravy and add more broth if gravy becomes dry. Add the mushrooms and the topinambours, cover and cook for 30 minutes, or until the topinambours are fork-tender. Remove from the oven. Add the reserved bacon and the parsley. Let the duck sit for 10 minutes before carving to serve.
GRILLED DUCK BREASTS
Makes 2 servings (3 per serving)
1 stick butter
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
6 duck breasts (preferably mallard), removed from the bone and skinned
Freshly ground black pepper
6 thick bacon strips
6 slices of white bread, toasted and buttered
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the Worcestershire sauce, garlic and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, for three to four minutes, or until the mushrooms are slightly soft. Remove from heat and set aside. Light a fire in the barbecue pit and allow the coals to get glowing red hot. Rub the duck breasts generously with salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Carefully wrap each breast with a strip of bacon, securing it with toothpicks. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. When the coals are ready, grill the breasts quickly, three to four minutes on each side if you like them juicy with a little blood in the meat; longer if you prefer them well done. Baste with some of the butter sauce. To serve, place the duck breasts on the toasted, buttered bread and pour the remaining butter and mushroom sauce over each breast.
Accompany the breasts with a tangy, tossed green salad and wild rice tossed with a handful of chopped roasted pecans.
When a cold front blows through, there is nothing better in my book than this gumbo.
DUCK, OYSTER AND ANDOUILLE GUMBO
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 mallards, dressed, rinsed in cool water and patted dry
Salt, black pepper and cayenne
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 medium-size yellow onions, chopped
2 medium-size green bell peppers, chopped
8 cups (about) water or chicken stock
2 pounds andouille sausage, cut crosswise into ¼-inch slices
2 dozen oysters with their liquor
¼ cup chopped green onions (green part only)
Cut the ducks into serving pieces and season generously with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Set aside.
Heat ¼ cup of the oil in a large, heavy pot (preferably black iron) over a medium-heat. Add the duck pieces and brown evenly on all sides. Remove and transfer the duck pieces to a platter and set aside.
Drain off the oil in the pot.
In the same pot, over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup oil and the flour, and stirring slowly and constantly, make a dark brown roux. Add the onions and bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
Return the ducks to the pot and slowly add enough warm water or stock to cover the ducks completely. Add the andouille and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until the ducks are tender, about 2 hours.
Add the oysters and their liquor, and the green onions and cook until the edges of the oysters curl slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve hot over rice.