Meet Jack Chew: Two decades ago, he fell in love with Louisiana cooking during a whirlwind tour of the bayou country in his Airstream trailer. Today, he’s a retired police officer living in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida who cooks for fun and friends. In fact, every Monday night he cooks for the “Marching and Chowder Society”–a group of retired guys who Jack says, “enjoy good food and conversation with cold beer and cheap wine.”
And now, Jack is chewing his way through the pages of Acadiana Table recipe-by-recipe. Check back weekly for new episodes and join my friend Jack Chew on his culinary adventures.
Jack Chew writes: This week’s recipe was originally supposed to be the Beer Battered Grouper Cheeks with Sweet Potato chips (pg. 102). Florida has imposed a season and size limit on Grouper (all species) for the past few years, and, as a result, grouper cheeks were nowhere to be found in Ft. Lauderdale.
Grouper fillets were available although at a higher price ($12.99) and smaller than I would have liked (about 5 to 8 oz ea.) I wound up buying the largest that I could find, about 2 ½ lb., then cutting them into medallions of about 1 oz. ea. The result was 33+ medallions for six servings. Make no mistake, the batter is the star of this recipe, and the lighter and airier you can make it the better the final result will be.
I started by sifting 1 I/2 cups of all-purpose flour measured by weight (4 ¼ oz. per cup). I weigh flour in these circumstances because humidity affects the density and a level cup may weigh more or less on a given day. The sifting also adds more air to the mixture. With the flour in the mixing bowl, I assembled the rest of the dry ingredients and set them aside. I used regular canned beer, not the craft brewed stuff, because you need a lot of carbonation when you add it to the batter. For the same reason, I used warm beer–the foamier the better. I also made an egg wash to pre-dip the grouper in before adding the batter and cooking. The egg wash makes the batter stick a little better. Once everything is assembled this recipe goes along quickly.
I decided to do the sweet potatoes first using my tabletop fryer. This turned out to be a little small for the job and I needed to cook several batches. Put these in the oven at 200 deg. while you prepare the fish.
For the sweet potatoes, I changed the recipe to spiral cut rather than chips. I have a Vegetti machine that turns out spiral fries in about a half minute per spud and is much quicker and easier than slicing by hand. The strings are also a consistent size and cook more evenly when prepared this way.
When I began frying the Grouper I discovered that the batter stuck to the basket and made it hard to remove the fish when cooked. After the first batch, I simply set the basket aside and used a spider to retrieve my cooked medallions. In the future, I will use an electric fry pan to cook anything with this sort of batter.
I think that I will use this recipe as a “go to” when preparing fried fish of any kind. It is very light and appears to be flexible enough so that other ingredients (such as cornmeal) and flavors (such as dill, Old Bay, or other spices) would add a different flavor note without changing the overall airiness of the batter.
The only other side was garlic toast topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. A homemade Honey Dijon Vinaigrette dressed the salad of fresh kale and long beans and a crushed cashew topping. Sadly, this was the last week for the fresh kale from Randy’s garden. Kale is a winter/spring crop in S. FL. and dies in our intense summer heat.
Everything went smoothly, with compliments and no leftovers. I have had a little trouble from time to time in locating the proper ingredients, but, to date, any substitutions that I have made seemed to fit smoothly into George’s great recipes.
Jack Chew writes: George’s introduction to this Blackened and Smothered Ribeyes recipe is spot on. Once you begin to cook in cast iron you will begin to see what our ancestors knew in the previous century and the Cajuns never forgot. I would never advocate throwing away your Teflon and stainless steel cookware, but a cast-iron skillet or two and a Dutch Oven will surely replace them in a lot of your recipes. Just be certain that the cast iron is properly seasoned and, after use, heat it and coat it again with oil before storing away.
I bought six ribeye steaks about 1” thick and seasoned them with my pre-mixed salt/pepper preparation. This is made by combining ¾ cup of kosher salt with ¼ cup of coarsely ground black pepper. Use this sparingly, pour a little out and sprinkle it over your food, a little goes a long way. One cup of this mixture will usually last more than six months and I find myself using it to season everything from vegetables to corn on the cob.
Since my serving was for six, every ingredient was increased by 1/3. I went a little heavier on the mushrooms and used a full pound instead of 3 cups since I had no plans for mushrooms later in the week. I think that this was OK since steak and mushrooms are natural companions. I will admit that my Dutch oven was filled to the very top for the final steps.
Due to the pre-seasoning of the steaks prior to searing, I didn’t add any salt and pepper to the rest of the dish. I also used beef stock instead of broth in the pot since I had already opened a box for my rice.
I have been using Tabasco Habanero Sauce in some of my recipes and I did so in this one. I added about a half teaspoon to the iron pot and I also had it on the table for those who desired a little more heat.
My rice was cooked with beef stock and a little butter. I find that spraying the inside of the cooking pan with Pam before adding your liquid will keep the rice from sticking and make cleanup a lot easier.
Be prepared for the steaks to come apart in the hour-long cooking period; the connective tissue dissolves and some of the steaks separated on me. This isn’t a critical concern but you should be aware of the possibility. The next time I prepare this dish I will try putting a skewer through the meat to hold it together.
The side for this meal was corn-on-the-cob. I find that serving it with melted butter on the table and a pastry brush works quite well. My salt/pepper combination was also available for those who wanted it.
A fresh kale salad with onions, cherry tomatoes, and long beans (all from Randy’s garden) was served with a balsamic vinaigrette mixed at the table and topped with freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese.
Hot French bread and butter was available but there was so much food that I had nearly a half loaf leftover at the end of the evening.
Thanks again George, for sharing your native cuisine with the entire country.
Jack Chew writes: Of all the Acadiana Table recipes that I have made over the past several months, the Crawfish Potato Skins recipe is probably the most versatile yet. As George says, the recipe can be prepared either as an appetizer, side dish, or as a main course depending on the size of the potato used. You can also substitute shrimp (or crab meat) for the crawfish.
For my usual crowd of six, I baked five large (10 oz.) russet potatoes and served them as an entree. I decided to shave a little time in the preparation by doing the initial cooking in the microwave. I still rubbed the skins with olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper, and cut them before cooking. I used bamboo BBQ skewers to hold them together. They were done in about fifteen minutes; the flesh was firm but not “mushy”, and the skins were done, but didn’t have that wrinkly finish we associate with baked potatoes. The drier texture will come later during the final 30 minutes in the oven.
I used a small (1 ½”) ice cream scoop to dig the flesh out of the skins leaving a nice sidewall about ¼” thick all around. If you have one, the handle of an ice cream scoop makes the chore of digging out the flesh much simpler. Since I was using large russets, there was quite a collection of flesh when this part was done.
My daughter Tracy was going to join us, and since she isn’t a great fan of crawfish, I reserved two “skins” to stuff with shrimp (51/70), everything else was prepared according to the recipe.
When upsizing a recipe as I do for most of them in the book, it is important to really pay attention to the spice content. George’s use of metric weight allows for easy adjustments; just divide by the portions in the recipe, in this case everything was doubled, and I added a smidge extra to account for potato size.
I used extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded on a box grater. I tripled this component to 3 cups, divided. Two cups went into the skins with the potato flesh, meat, sour cream, and vegetables, the third cup I reserved for the final topping.
After the skins had been cooking for 15 minutes, I added the third cup of cheese mixed with a half cup of panko bread crumbs and three tablespoons of melted butter. I spooned this mixture over the top of each individual piece and patted it down. The skins were returned to the oven and the final product, 15 min. later, sported an elegant crust of melted cheese and breadcrumbs browned to perfection.
I served this with steamed broccoli and onion quarters, seasoned with vinegar in the steaming water and a light sprinkle of Cajun seasoning just before bringing to the table. Randy again brought his home-grown kale, and this was served with long beans, shredded carrots, and a homemade Dijon dill vinaigrette.
The meal was well received and I was again left with no uneaten food.
Jack Chew writes: The moment I saw this Cajun recipe for Shrimp and Mushroom Cream over Puff Pastry Shell it captured my imagination like one of those tunes that you can’t get out of your head. The Monday post on the blog came too late for me to change my planned menu for that night, but I had nearly everything on hand except the Campbell’s Cream of Shrimp soup and the pastry shells. I mentioned it to the Monday crowd and two said that they could make it for a Wednesday meal. Done deal, the itch was scratched!
The two major chain supermarkets in my area, Publix and Winn Dixie, do not stock the Cream of Shrimp soup so I had to settle for Cream of Mushroom. I have never noticed any major difference in this type of product between brands so I bought a can of Winn Dixie Cream of Mushroom soup @ $.69 instead of $1.29 for the Campbell’s, just me being frugal, I guess.
I had plenty of Royal Red shrimp, frozen when Penn Dutch had that great sale last month. I used a little over a pound of the U16. I peeled and deveined the shrimp and cut each one down the center lengthwise, both to shorten cooking time and to give the appearance of more volume in the finished product.
I departed from the recipe in a couple of minor ways, I used evaporated milk straight from the can for the milk component, and some pre-sliced Portobello mushrooms which happened to be on sale Wednesday.
To compensate for the flavor component lost when the mushroom soup was substituted I made a small batch of shrimp stock from the leftover shells. This is pretty simple to make: a couple of stalks of celery, a quarter of a large onion, two bay leaves, a dozen peppercorns, four cloves of smashed garlic, and a tablespoon of salt. No need to peel the onion or garlic, you are just going to strain them off anyhow. Cook everything with enough water to cover in a 5 qt. saucepan; add a cup of dry white wine (I used dry Vermouth); bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about an hour. The yield will be around a quart of very strong shrimp stock.
Prepare everything as the recipe suggests; I went a little heavy on the butter for good reason. When the mushroom/onion/celery/pepper mixture was cooked through I added 1 Tb. of flour and stirred it in to make a roux. I then added a cup of the shrimp stock, deglazing the pan and thickening the stock. This returned the flavor component lost when the mushroom soup was substituted in the recipe.
In went the mushroom soup, the ketchup, and a half can of evaporated milk. The result was a pretty thick sauce, so I added another half cup of stock and the sherry. At this point you should taste the recipe for balance and add more seasoning if needed, in this case it wasn’t necessary.
Since the cooking time for the shrimp is so short you can pause the main course, covered, on a back burner and make the other components of the meal.
The pastry shells were the perfect vehicle for an elegant presentation and cooked in exactly 18 minutes at 450 degrees.
The only side for this meal was Haricots Verts, which I prepared sauted with onion and garlic in butter and olive oil. At the table, you may want to serve the beans with a little balsamic drizzle. You can make this at home and only a little is needed to enhance the flavor of any green vegetable.
When everything was ready and the guests arrived, I brought the sauce to a low boil and added the shrimp. The preparation was allowed to cook an additional two or three minutes then plated in the kitchen.
Cost of preparation came out to a little over $22.00. Divided by three the result was $7.50 per serving but this recipe could have served six that would bring per serving cost to $3.25 for normal portions.
There were only three of us for the meal and twelve shells to consume along with the beans. No leftovers, and in retrospect it wasn’t that filling. Nothing but compliments from my other diners, as I have come to expect when I serve one of George’s Cajun recipes.
Jack Chew writes: The Crawfish and Asparagus tart pictured in the book on pg. 169 really caught my eye and I launched a search for a rectangular tart pan like the one George used for this Cajun recipe. Absolutely no luck at all! I finally wound up buying a set of six 6” individual tart pans at Bed Bath and Beyond, these served quite well and turned out to be a perfect individual serving size for this recipe.
Prepping the pie crusts on the counter and rolling them out was a little messy but quickly accomplished, maybe ten minutes or so. For the asparagus, I decided to trim the tops to form radial arms about 3” long which I used to form a star pattern on top of the custard. The remaining pieces of stem were chopped to about 1/8” and spread on the bottom of the tart pans along with the cheddar cheese. I used 36 asparagus spears for this recipe.
As usual I made the buttermilk portion from evaporated milk and white vinegar, primarily to avoid leftover buttermilk, which no one would drink. From here on, I followed George’s instructions about distributing the crawfish tails and cherry tomatoes. I used about a half pound of tails and placed them individually in each dish. The end result was visual perfection.
The next time that I prepare this recipe I will blind bake the crusts for about 15 minutes before filling, my bottoms were a bit soggy, no complaints, but I noticed, if no one else did.
Jack Chew writes: Reading the blog I saw George’s recipe for Smoked Pork Neck Bones and was intrigued. As usual my regular Winn Dixie and Publix stores didn’t carry the item. About five miles from my house is Broward Meats a Latin/Caribbean food store and a quick phone call verified that they had plenty in stock.
If you have never visited one of these stores you are in for a treat. The shelves are crammed with exotic (to my palate) items like canned Aki, at least twenty varieties of jerk seasoning, the fish counter has all of the salt cod you would buy in a lifetime, and the vegetable counter has lots of fresh items like collards (big bunches and cheap), and a dozen different staples from the Caribbean. There is goat, there are whole chickens with the heads still on; I could go on forever.
The smoked neck bones were cheap, so I got two packages totaling a little under 5 lbs. Since they were pre-packaged I didn’t think to check on the size of the pieces, big mistake as I discovered when I got home. The small pieces were on top and there were a lot of BIG pieces hidden underneath. Chopping this stuff into small pieces with a lightweight Chinese cleaver was a chore that added at least 15 min to prep time. Trust George when he advises to have the butcher do the cutting.
Preparation of this dish was simple and straightforward according to the recipe. Even though it sounds a little complicated a lot of the stuff in here is things that you will have on hand if you cook regularly from George’s recipes.
When the time came to finish the dish I used almost two cups of roux to produce a thick texture and a finish that can best be described as looking like freshly melted dark chocolate.
Presentation was no problem, just bring the black pot to the table and let everyone dig in. Extra hot sauce on the table is a must for this dish, this definitely requires an individual decision on the amount of heat to add (I always use a lot).
The meal was well received but we needed a boneyard dish for the pieces. I will make this again, but try to figure out some method of removing the bones either before cooking or prior to service.
Monday night was the Chick Steak Sandwich (pg.106) and it was a real hit. I had Costco pork chops in the freezer and it was a simple matter to thaw and slice them. Chops from this source are generally over 1 ½” thick so the sliced meat was nearly perfect for the recipe requirements. Since I had to make the chops thin I first “tenderized” them with a meat fork, just stab each chop about a dozen times just before cutting.
To make the thin chop that the recipe recommends I placed each one in a heavy-duty gallon freezer bag then pounded them with a scaloppini maker. You can use a rolling pin, a wine bottle, a mallet or anything else that will provide a broad striking surface. Beat each chop until it nearly fills the bag, making sure to kind of slide the beating instrument as you go. Make certain that you don’t beat them to the point that they are too thin in the middle and too fat on the edges.
Since I don’t have a fryer big enough to fit a serving of this size I used a large cast-iron skillet. To judge the temperature I used the butt end of a wooden chopstick, when it bubbles vigorously the oil is right around 350 degrees (more or less). This process took from 3 to 5 minutes (each) and resulted in a perfect crispy, golden brown finish.
I served with dirty rice and collard greens, potato chips on the side, and lots of cold beer. As usual, no leftovers.
Jack Chew writes: This week began with choosing the Crawfish Etouffee recipe (pg. 82), and that meant I had to locate crawfish tail meat, a task that had become increasingly frustrating. After messaging with George I decided to pass on the imported tail meat and concentrate my efforts to locating genuine LA product here at home.
I called a retired friend of mine in Miami who had been associated with a high-end restaurant during his working years. He suggested that I try a fish wholesale house located nearby in Ft. Lauderdale. A quick phone call to them resulted in another referral, and a third call resulted in “JACKPOT”!!! I was able to source “Riceland Crawfish” Cleaned Crawfish Tails. These are produced by Beauchamp Crawfish of Eunice, Inc. 101 South East Street, Eunice, La 70525, 337-457-1811 http://www.ricelandcrawfish.com. Since this source was a wholesaler in the restaurant supply business, he did me a great favor by selling in less than a case lot. I paid full retail for the product ($15.60 lb.) and I happily bought 4 lbs.
The rest of the recipe went as outlined in the cookbook. I made my trinity in the morning and set it aside in the fridge. I retrieved a quart of homemade seafood stock from the freezer and set it out to thaw.
At 5 pm, I began preparing the Etouffee in a cast iron Dutch Oven. Everything went smoothly, and the meal came together in just under half an hour, time enough for the final touch of butter, parsley, and green onion tops leading to the pre-serving rest on the stovetop. The result was a beautiful mahogany colored Etouffee, which presented well at the table.
The rice in the recipe was made with the unused portion of seafood stock (1 1/2 cups) plus stock-in-a-box to fill out the necessary 4 cups needed.
For the past few weeks winter corn has been plentiful and cheap at the grocery store, frequently selling for 30 to 40 cents an ear. These are fresh and only a day or two removed from the field. Those living farther from the winter vegetable belt may be buying ears that are a week or more ago and may be a little dry. If your husks appear to be dry, soak the un-shucked corn for about 30 min in cool water to re-hydrate.
I now prepare my corn in the microwave using a method I found on YouTube. First cut off the long part of the stem, leaving the husk alone. Microwave on high, husk and all, for 3 minutes an ear (18 min. for 6 ears). Remove from the oven, cut off the BUTT end at the first row of kernels, then just squeeze the tassel end firmly and pull a completely silk-free ear from the other end. Oven mitts and a very sharp knife are necessary, but once you have tried this method, I doubt that you will ever again hand strip and boil your fresh corn. This was served at the table with a bowl of melted butter and a basting brush, plus a salt/pepper mixture (2/3 kosher salt, 1/3 black pepper). You can make a couple of cups at the beginning of the fresh vegetable season and there is never a chance of spoilage.
South FL has several fruit seasons, and we are currently at the height of the papaya bounty. I get mine for free from Tracy or Randy, but they are everywhere in stores right now and not very expensive. For a side dish, I decided to serve a Ripe Papaya Salad. This is simply one ripe papaya, seeded and cubed, combined with a chopped red onion and a diced cucumber. A vinaigrette of olive oil, fresh lemon juice plus zest, raw honey, cinnamon, fresh ginger, chili flakes, coriander leaves (as garnish), plus salt and pepper to taste. Make this an hour ahead and allow everything to come together in the fridge. The recipe is on the Internet but I will be happy to share if anyone needs it. Just ask George and I’ll post it.
Fresh garlic bread rounded out the side dishes, along with wine and/or beer.
The meal came together at 7 pm with six at the table. The corn was served first along with the salad. The main event was the Etouffee and it was THE MAIN EVENT. Gumbo mugs were the vessel of choice and a half cup of the seafood stock infused rice was covered by a generous portion of Etouffee. Everyone had seconds. There was some leftover rice, but alas only a scant 8 oz. of Etouffee remained when my crew was finished eating.
This turned out to be an expensive meal as far as the entree was concerned, Crawfish Tail Meat ranks right up there with Filet Mignon in price. Broken down, however, total food cost was a few cents over $40.00. For a meal of this high quality, that came out to around $6.50 per serving; cheap at five times the price and you would certainly spend at least that at Emeril’s. (yes, it was THAT good, BAM!)
Jack Chew writes: Since I jumped off the reservation for Monday’s meal, I decided to have a second meal on Thursday. Tracy’s birthday was on Wednesday, and it was a good excuse to have a small celebration.I had bought a large pack of Asparagus at Costco on Saturday intending to use it as a side for the Monday meal, and since I changed the menu last minute, I had to find another dish to serve. I settled on Asparagus With Shrimp Creolaise (pg 124).
The package indicated that the asparagus had been picked on 2/27, so as soon as I got home I trimmed off the bottoms, put all 46 spears, cut ends down, in a plastic storage container filled halfway with water and loosely covered on top with the cellophane bag they came in. You can store them, as I did, in the refrigerator on an open shelf. Asparagus treated this way are rejuvenated and will stay fresh for as long as a week or more after you bring them home.
I made the dressing on Wednesday for two reasons, first I wanted to cut down on the prep work Thursday, and second, a dressing such as this one will benefit from a day’s rest while the flavors meld. I also zested the lemon and added it to the dressing to intensify the flavor.
Everything else went as outlined in the recipe. I even used the Zatarain’s Crab and Shrimp Boil rather than my customary Old Bay and Vinegar seasoning (I didn’t want to risk changing the flavor of the dish).
I have never had very good luck peeling hard boiled eggs, they always either stick or break up, look like a mess when I and done, and, inevitably, there is a piece or two of shell that I missed.
I discovered that poached eggs in the microwave are a better solution for me. You can use either a plastic cup with a round bottom ( think small Tupperware 1/2 cup size) or a microwave egg poacher, just remember to put a little oil and a few drops of water in the bottom. Puncture each yolk (very important, they will explode if you don’t), cover them loosely, and only do two eggs at a time. For two poached eggs the cook time is approximately 47 sec. in my microwave. For hard boiled, I set the timer at 90 sec., then checked for doneness; added another 30 sec, and they were finished. The result was 6 perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs with beautiful yellow yolks, a firm fleshy white and no pieces of shell to worry about. Total cook time 6 1/2 min. Your microwave may vary a bit on the timing, just be sure to check the eggs for doneness. This won’t work for deviled eggs, so I never make them.
A perfect side dish for this recipe is a Rice Pilaf to which I have added a little Cajun flavor (I know, the shrimp is CREOLE). Roll a quarter of a box of thin spaghetti in a clean dish towel then break the noodles into quarters. The result will be 3″ pieces which will fit nicely into a 5 qt. saucepan. To the saucepan, add 2 TB of olive oil and heat over a medium flame; add 1 TB of butter and, when it has bubbled up, add the spaghetti pieces and a small onion finely diced. Stir fry this concoction for a few minutes, then add 2 cups of long grain rice, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and 2 TB of Cajun Seasoning. Continue cooking this for another few minutes to coat the rice with the oil and butter. Add one qt. of seafood stock (chicken stock is also acceptable), bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 20 min. The result will be a savory rice dish with a distinct flavor of Acadiana, not hot but you will know that it didn’t come from a box. Yield will be about 5 cups of finished Pilaf. Just before serving, stir in about 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley to enhance eye appeal. This will make six ¾-cup servings with a little leftover.
When preparing the asparagus for cooking, you should take the time to divide the stalks into serving portions and tie them loosely with kitchen twine, this enhances handling when removing from the heat and chilling. In this recipe it worked out to 7 stalks per serving; the remaining four were reserved for use (uncooked) in the table salad.
I know that the recipe calls for small (61/70) shrimp, but I had that bargain purchase, and I couldn’t resist using them–2 lbs. seemed about right. I first split each shrimp down the middle before cooking in the crab boil. I shortened the cook/stand time by a minute or so since the shrimp were cut and needed a little less cooking time.
Serving was on six stainless steel ramekins for the asparagus/shrimp, prepared as George suggests, then plated with the rice pilaf on the side and a fresh table salad. This was served with garlic bread, white wine, and a little hot sauce on the side.
The Creolaise Dressing is an interesting take on a more traditional sauce. Many Creolaise sauces have a Bechamel / Hollandaise base, which means that there is cooking involved. George has taken an alternate path and substituted mayonnaise for the Bechamel/Hollandaise base. The addition of finely diced celery, onions and chopped eggs give the dressing a unique “mouth feel” not found in other preparations. The citrus tang of the lemon and the bite of the Creole mustard perfectly complement the spicy flavor of the shrimp. If you have prepared this dressing the day before, as I did, put it on the counter an hour or so before serving, it will still be cool but loose enough to combine easily with the eggs and shrimp.
This recipe ROCKS, and six cleaned plates testify that everyone in my group concurs. No leftovers.
Jack Chew writes: Monday night saw the first deviation from my self-imposed regimen of cooking exclusively from the Adadiana Table Cookbook. George threw me a blistering curve ball on the blog with Monday’s Mac and Cheese recipe, one that I just couldn’t resist taking a swing at.
For the previous two weeks, the local Winn-Dixie store had advertised Jumbo Key West Shrimp, first at $7.49 per lb., then at $9.00, but never had them in stock. There was a 4- lb. limit on the $7.49 price, and I had managed to get two rain checks at that price. Finally, this week on Monday, they had a supply in stock. I had been dealing with the Asst. Mgr. of the Meat Dept. and he understood my frustration at the lack of product. When I arrived at the counter there was only a scant 7 1/2 lbs. (now @ $9.00) of shrimp left, but he did me a great favor and re-priced everything @ $6.99 per lb.–great treatment from the store (and I still have two rain checks for the NEXT sale).
I got home and proceeded to peel and devein all of my purchase, reserving the shells for stock, and freezing all but 1½ lbs. for the Mac and Cheese.
This is a short, down and dirty recipe with no complications or curves. Knowing my crowd, I scaled the quantities up by 1/3, and proceeded to prep everything. I did double up on the trinity simply because I had it on hand in the vegetable drawer in 1 cup quantities.
I used fresh cheese and shredded it by hand; the Fontina was a little pricey, but I soldiered on regardless. The cheeses will benefit from about 15 minutes in the freezer prior to shredding; if you are using a box grater, you can make the task go more smoothly by spreading a few drops of olive oil on the shredder face to cut down on sticking.
When assembling the dish, I realized that it would be too large for my cast-iron skillet so I used a large baking dish instead. The pork-crackling top was OK but when I repeat this recipe I will either use flavored rinds or add Cajun Seasoning, the rinds themselves were a bit lost in the medley of flavors in this recipe.
Jack Chew writes: This turned out to be a week where one night’s leftovers found their way back to the table mid-week for another meal. I mentioned that there was quite a bit of leftover Jambalaya after Monday night’s feed, enough to form the basis for a second four-serving meal. Since I had cooked the shrimp on Monday separately from the rest of the recipe, I had two (2 lb.) butter tubs of leftover jambalaya with Andouille but no seafood.
Lurking in the back of my freezer was a little more than a pound of sea scallops, some of which I had used previously in the Pastalaya recipe; these were earmarked for tonight’s meal. While the scallops were thawing in ice water, I retrieved the Jambalaya from the fridge and put it into the top of a steamer pot. A couple of cups of water and a dollop of apple cider vinegar went into the bottom. Everything was covered and put on the stove to await heating; allow about 5 min. or so for heating, once the water has started to boil.
When the scallops were thawed I dried them thoroughly, top and bottom on paper towels, and allowed them to warm to nearly room temperature prior to cooking (about 15 min.). The scallops were seared on both sides in a hot pan with butter and a tbs. of coconut oil. It is important to remember with scallops that they must be VERY dry when attempting to sear them, otherwise, they will just steam in the pan and will never brown properly.
The Jambalaya had three days to mature and meld flavors in the fridge, and when served with the scallops, produced a wonderful flavor that was even better than the first serving.
Tasty stuff, George, and the beauty of this meal is that, by using leftovers, everything came together in very short order, probably about 20 minutes or so total, after thawing.
Jack Chew writes: I posted last week about the Royal Red Shrimp purchased from Penn Dutch food store. They were such a bargain that I went back on the last day of the sale and bought another 8 lbs, frozen, which I broke down into 1 lb. lots and vacuum sealed. These are great shrimp, with an almost lobster-like flavor and the shells cook down into an awesome seafood stock.
Sunday afternoon found me once again thumbing through Acadiana Table for a Monday night recipe. Since I had plenty of shrimp on hand, and the price was right ($7.99 lb), I could afford to be generous. I settled on the Creole Shrimp and Andouille Jambalaya (pg.76).
A key ingredient of this recipe is the seafood stock, and, since I had plenty of shells in the freezer, I made up a 3 qt. batch. For my stock, I used about a pound of shrimp shells and tails, 1 onion, 3 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, garlic, thyme, rosemary, a little tomato paste ( 3 tbsp), salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a cup of white wine. No need to peel anything: just cut the onion, chop the celery and carrots, split the garlic and cook away. Minimum cook time for this concoction is about 2 hrs, but I left mine to slowly simmer on the stove overnight, adding water to fill the pot and covering just before bedtime. This will yield three qts. of finished stock from a large stockpot. For additional flavor, you can pre-roast your ingredients in a 350 deg. oven for about 15 min before adding everything to the stockpot. If you decide on overnight cooking, be sure to top off the pot with fresh water.
When going over the recipe I realized that I didn’t have any tasso left, so I substituted slices and pieces of spiral ham, available from Winn-Dixie and Walmart as a stand-alone product. I always keep one of these packages on hand; they will last about 3 months unopened, but should be used or frozen after that.
Everything else was on hand (except for the yellow cherry tomatoes; none in the store, so I substituted red) and the recipe proceeded as instructed until it was time to add the bacon, shrimp, tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients. I put everything in EXCEPT the shrimp for two reasons, first, these are very delicate deep-water shrimp that don’t stand up well to long cooking times, second there was such a volume of shrimp they would have filled the pot to overflowing and I wouldn’t have been able to get the top on. Overcooked shrimp are tough and rubbery and I departed from the recipe in order to eliminate any possibility of ruining the dish. I also think that the use of the stock added sufficient shrimp flavor to the dish, eliminating the possibility of overcooking.
I allowed everything to cook for the first hour, checked the rice for tenderness, shut off the oven and then let the pot rest there for the next 10 minutes. At that point I added my shrimp to the now cooked-down Jambalaya and allowed them to “continuation cook” for another 5 min. on top of the finished rice and sausage. I brought them to the table still covered in the pot, and we dished them out as a topping for the Jambalaya.
The result was a success with my guests, although there were leftovers (six shrimp and about three large butter tubs of rice mixture survived the onslaught), everyone had already eaten their fill. As suggested, this was served with cold beer, crusty bread, and a fresh kale salad. Homemade Dijon Vinaigrette dressing for the salad complements the lusty flavor of the Jambalaya and provides another layer of flavor to the meal.
Thanks again, George. Your recipes can always make an ordinary cook look good in front of his friends.
PS: Penn Dutch food store has the Royal Red Shrimp again this week and I’ll buy another five pounds today. These are U16’s and one whopper of a deal @ $7.99 lb. Tonight’s dinner will be a grilled Teriyaki Steak with mushroom gravy and Royal Red Shrimp with roasted mini potatoes, steamed broccoli, and Caesar Salad.
Jack Chew writes: This week started with a reversal of concept, instead of finding a recipe to prepare, I had to scan Acadiana Table for recipes based on an ingredient already on hand. On Wednesday, Penn Dutch food store featured Royal Red Shrimp (U 16, wild caught) for $7.99 lb. I rushed out and bought 6 bags (2lbs. ea.). Now I had to find the proper dish to honor these tasty beauties.
The recipe for Potato Chip- Fried Shrimp Boats (pg. 186) fit the bill perfectly. It calls for COLOSSAL shrimp, string-fried potatoes and cole slaw, all served in toasted bread boats. I could hear Hank Williams and Shrimp Boats Are A- Comin’ echoing down the halls of my memory from my teenage years.
Shopping was a breeze: 4 baking potatoes, 4 large Hoagie Rolls (French Bread rolls not found), a bag of coleslaw mix, a jar of Marie Callender’s Coleslaw Dressing, a bottle of Crosse and Blackwell Louisiana Shrimp Sauce, and two bags of Sea Salt and Black Pepper Kettle Chips. I had already decided to seek help from the grocery store on this one since prep time was definitely a consideration, thus the coleslaw mix and commercial sauces.
The curly fries gave me an excuse to spend $12 on a “Veggie Pro” slicing tool that makes short work of any task requiring ribbons or spirals. It works on potatoes, carrots, zucchini, crookneck squash, etc. The tool conveniently breaks down and can be stored flat in a drawer. I got mine at Bed Bath & Beyond.
I was expecting four guests so I prepared 2 lbs. of the shrimp. This is a little generous by my standards but actually less than the recipe that calls for (colossal 8 to 10 per lb.)
Preparation was easy because I used a shrimp deveining tool rather than trying to cut each shell with a sharp knife. These tools have been around for ages and mine dates to the 1940’s. Modern versions are available on Amazon for around $5.00. Remember to save the shells for stock making. You can also avoid this step entirely by purchasing EZ Peel shrimp; just pull the shells off and proceed to butterfly them.
With the shrimp iced down and waiting, I went ahead and started to make the curly fries. I had bought four potatoes, which weighed around 3lb. total, and by the time I had made two of them into spirals I realized that the quantity was sufficient for the meal. Potatoes were bowled and covered pre-cooking.
I used evaporated milk and vinegar to prepare my buttermilk, and this was set on the counter until ready for use. The hoagie rolls were an adequate substitute for French bread rolls and took about 5 minutes to prepare “oven ready”. The torn out insides were reserved to make bread crumbs later.
Before starting on the shrimp I unbagged the coleslaw mix, placed it in a bowl of ice water, and left it on the counter to rehydrate (about 30 minutes or so). Just before we began to cook the fries, I drained it, spun it in a salad spinner, and put it in a bowl with the dressing to meld flavors. To the Marie Callendar’s dressing, I added a tablespoon of celery seed; it is already in there but I like the taste so I used more. Making the potato chip breading was an absolute breeze, but I used only a single 1lb. bag. This proved more than adequate for breading on 30 or so shrimp.
Shawn arrived early and was put in charge of the curly fries, I have a small countertop fryer and it required several baskets to completely cook all that I had prepared. The butterflied shrimp were all breaded in about five minutes using the three pan method, flour, batter, breading. Remember to use only one hand when doing this, you should always keep a clean hand in case you have to pick up something. The shrimp were fried in batches of four, thus it took about 15 minutes to cook all of them. The bread boats came out of the countertop oven just as I finished the last of the shrimp and everything went to the table at once.
This recipe was outstanding, and I would never have dreamed of breading shrimp with potato chips if George hadn’t blazed the trail. The bottom line was that everyone was stuffed after this meal, I couldn’t even eat my bread boat, I was that full. Needless to say, no leftovers! Kudos again to George!
Jack Chew writes: The Monday night meal was moved to Tuesday this week because of Police/Fire Retirement activities surrounding the holiday. I smoked 40 pounds of pork for one of the luncheons and just wasn’t able to get home in time to prepare a meal from scratch as I usually do.
I had already decided on the Pepper Pot Egg Skillet (pg.30) for the next meal and needed only a few things from the grocery store.
Left over from the Sunday luncheon was a large plate of smoked pulled pork butt, and I decided to make TWO skillets, one using the Tennessee Pride hot smoked sausage (chaurice sausage is not in stores here), and one using a pound of the pulled pork. Fortunately, I have several cast iron skillets and cooking a double recipe wasn’t a problem.
This recipe, like most of them in Acadiana Table, is pretty straightforward and easy to prepare. Prep time for both was about an hour, then twenty five minutes in the stove and a ten minute rest period brought everything together and table ready in a little over an hour and a half.
The recipe didn’t mention what to do with the small sweet peppers, but, looking at the picture I could see that these had been sliced into circles. The big peppers and onions were sliced per recipe instructions. I did add an additional half cup of cheese on the top when the skillets went into the oven, this as much for appearance as enhanced flavor. During the rest period I noticed a lot of fat around the edges, probably due to the extra cheese; a couple of paper towels sucked that right out of there.
I had planned to serve biscuits and gravy along with the skillet, but when I saw the total volume of the finished product, I realized that the recipe needed no further enhancement.
Five showed for dinner, and Randy brought fresh kale, long beans, and green onion tops from his garden for the salad. The bitterness of the fresh kale perfectly contrasted with the spicy heat of the skillet dishes.
I can tell you that when the meal was finished five of us had eaten all but a few slices of both dishes. Didn’t the recipe say “serves 4 to 6 ” EACH? No excuses, it was plain and simple GOOD!!
This recipe is flexible in a couple of ways: It isn’t only for breakfast, it can be served at any meal, and it lends itself to changes without altering (apparently) the basic nature of the dish. While the pulled pork worked well, and would have been acceptable as a stand- alone dish, it didn’t have the same spicy/heat delight as the sausage version. When, and if, I do this recipe with substitute ingredients, I will make it a point to add more heat in the form of extra hot sauce and red pepper flakes.
Thanks again, George, another notch in your belt and an extra hole in mine.
Note: The recipe calls for buttermilk, I used evaporated milk (undiluted) with two TB of white vinegar added. Add the vinegar to the bowl of milk about an hour before using it, then let it stand on the counter until needed. You have a perfect buttermilk substitute. Freeze any leftover in a sandwich bag, label it, and save it for the next time.
This was started on Wednesday and now it is Saturday afternoon and I find myself with still another paean of praise for George’s great recipes.
PS: Yesterday was a busy day and I couldn’t find time to go to the grocery store, however, I had some chicken thighs in the meat drawer and whipped up a THIRD recipe of Lemon Rosemary Chicken Thighs (pg. 230). This goes together so easily, so quickly, and is so tasty, that it has become a regular item on my menu. Keep this one in mind if you are short on time and need a quick tasty meal for your family.
Jack Chew writes: Penn Dutch Food Center sent an email flyer advertising “JUMBO LUMP CRAB MEAT” for $9.99 lb. Since this is exactly half price, I rushed to the store and bought 5 cans. When I got home I had some critical decisions regarding still edible food in the refrigerator and enough room to store fifty bucks worth of white gold. Needless to say, I made room.
I consulted Acadiana Table for an appropriate recipe and zeroed in on White Asparagus and Crab Meat Au Gratin (pg. 142). Like George, I had never seen white asparagus on the produce counter at Winn-Dixie or Publix, but many specialty grocers have opened their doors in recent years and I found the product at Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and Lucky’s, all for around $4.99 lb. When speaking to the produce people I quickly learned that this product has an average shelf life of only about three days, so I deferred my purchase until Saturday. I bought two pounds since the stalks were kind of skinny, and I needed to feed a confirmed six.
For a side dish I settled on corn pudding, not a dish featured in the cookbook but one that I fondly remember from my early years in Maryland. It is appropriate for almost any seafood entree, slightly sweet with a crunch from the whole kernels of corn. There are a number of recipes for this dish on the Internet, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I’m sure that George can provide a distinctly Cajun slant to this dish, but I had to settle for traditional this time.
On Monday I bought a pound of pizza dough at the grocery, followed the directions for first rising, then rolled it out to 1/2″ thickness. I cut 5″ strips of this dough, rolled them between my palms, dusted them lightly with flour, and tied them into knots. A second rise is necessary once the knots are made, brush them with EVOO, cover them with plastic wrap, and let them rest on a parchment covered baking sheet until they double again in size (at least an hour). Just before baking, I added a light sprinkle of coarse garlic salt to the now risen knots, this for visible purposes only.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees then put them in about 15 minutes before serving I made a minced garlic, olive oil, salt and butter topping ( about 3/4 cup) and tossed the finished rolls with this in a large bowl, about a dozen at a time and adding topping as necessary to ensure an even coating. To keep the rolls warm I lined a large crockpot with parchment paper, set it on “warm” and brought it to the table for service. The yield was about 40 rolls, and they were all gone at the end of the meal.
Preparation for the White Asparagus and Crab Meat Au Gratin is pretty straightforward, but peeling the asparagus was another matter entirely. Since I was making six servings, I had two pounds of white asparagus to peel, yield was 7 stalks per serving. I can reliably report that white asparagus doesn’t peel as easily as carrots, I tried holding them in the usual manner and immediately broke two stalks. These things are DELICATE. The final solution is to peel them on a flat surface, rotating with each stroke, it takes about six cuts for each stalk. In the end, I had 3 1/2 oz. of peelings. You definitely can’t skip this step, the outer skin of the stalk is very stringy and must be removed.
Once the asparagus was cooked and in the ramekins, the rest of the recipe took around 20 minutes to finish. I used 2# of back fin lump crabmeat which yielded just over 5 oz per serving. This is a little more generous than the 4 oz. the recipe calls for, but I was using half-price crab meat and I feed some very appreciative guests. Preparation of the sauce was straightforward, although I used evaporated milk as the dairy, cutting it with water as needed until I reached the desired consistency. The evaporated milk is a strategy that I use personally because I’m not a big milk drinker myself (the children are gone thirty years), and it is simply easier to use canned product rather than have fresh go unused and spoil.
I bought a 1/2 lb brick of English Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded up two full cups and still have an ounce or two left over. These cheeses are a little on the pricey side but stand head and shoulders over the usual grocery store offerings of domestic product. TIP: If you use a box grater to shred cheese it helps to lightly coat the outside with a little oil, the cheese moves more easily across the surface and doesn’t stick to the grater.
Only one diner didn’t finish her portion, and that was because she intends to use it in an omelet later in the week. This meal was well received by all and I will make it again once I have finished cooking through Acadiana Table.
Thanks, George, another “killer” recipe from your fertile mind to the kitchens of America.
Jack Chew writes: Tuesday was a busy day (relatively speaking), and I didn’t think about dinner plans until late in the afternoon. Looking for something quick, I recalled the Lemon Rosemary Chicken Thighs that Shawn had prepared several weeks ago, found the recipe on pg 230, and proceeded to defrost some thighs that I had on hand. This recipe is the closest thing to a “30 Minute Meal” (thanks, Rachael) that I have encountered in the book so far.
Departures from the recipe: I used boneless skinless thighs because that was what I had, and they worked just fine. I had acquired a few Meyer Lemons from another friend and substituted them for the ones usually found in the grocery store. If you can find this variety I urge you to try them at least once. The flavor is lighter and less acidic than the fruit we normally associate with lemons, and the end result in this dish is simply outstanding. Since the Meyer Lemon will grow in S. FL I have made plans to buy and plant a tree in my side yard. There is an added benefit; the tree produces several crops a year. I will never recoup the cost of the tree but just the knowledge that the fruit is pesticide free is an adequate reward.
Thursday I had Shawn and Tracy over and we polished off the second stuffed pork loin. I reheated it in a foil pack at 300 degrees, 15 minutes, with about a cup of chicken stock. I must say that this dish is best consumed on the night it is prepared, still full of flavor but it was better the first time.
For my Monday group, I decided on the Crab Gumbo (pg. 191). Winn-Dixie had Dungeness Crab Clusters on sale for $10.99 lb., I bought two packs of about 1 1/4lb. each, this gave me six clusters which were perfect for my needs. These crabs, like our South Florida native Stone Crabs, come pre-cooked and cleaned but still in the shell. This is a very tasty West Coast crab with a somewhat sweeter and saltier flavor, a little different from our traditional Blue Claw Crab of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts but perfectly acceptable for this recipe.
Preparation for this one started on Sunday morning, when I sat down and began picking crab. The claws were removed first, cracked, and set aside for use later in the presentation
Since this is a large crab the legs are quite fleshy and yield a lot of meat on their own. I cracked and cleaned the first two joints of every leg, skipping the small secondary joints and the tips since the flesh there is difficult to extract. After about 45 minutes, I had a full pound and a quarter of meat for the gumbo, and a large pile of shell, cartilage, and leg parts. The picked meat and claws were bagged and refrigerated for use Monday night.
The shells were covered with water and put on a back burner to simmer in a stock pot with a little salt, some peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves, and the bottoms of the celery from my trinity. Since 12 cups of stock were going to be necessary I used a lot of water and cooked/reduced the product for three hours to extract every bit of flavor possible. The yield was about 2 1/2 qt. to which I added a couple of cups of chicken stock to round up to recipe requirements.
Everything else was done according to recipe directions and quantities. To make up for the crab bodies that George used, I added two cans of cheap canned crabmeat from Bumblebee for flavor only. I also doubled up on the trinity to give the stew a little more body, not really necessary, but I like a thick gumbo.
By the time I was finished it was late afternoon, and the second seasoning took me to the point where George says the Gumbo can be held indefinitely. Not wanting to warm up my refrigerator with a large quantity of hot stew, I put the gumbo into my large Crockpot, set it on “warm”, and went over to the kid’s house to watch the Superbowl. The stew remained in the Crockpot until I served it Monday night.
On Monday morning I skimmed about ¼ cup of oil from the top of the bowl, this probably came from the oil used in cooking the trinity and some from the roux itself.
An hour before serving I added the reserved crabmeat and the cracked claws, time enough to heat up the meat but not cook it any further. A fresh kale salad, garlic bread, rice, and corn on the cob completed the meal.
Once again George has come through with an outstanding recipe, but with the quantity prepared, I do have some leftovers which I eagerly look forward to finishing myself in the next few days.
Jack Chew writes: This week actually began last Wednesday when I received an email from Penn Dutch announcing a 2-day sale on pork loins @ $1.99#. I hadn’t planned on any particular dish for my Monday night crew but I knew that George had a couple of good pork recipes in Acadiana Table, after all pork is a staple in Cajun Country. The loins on sale averaged a little over 2 pounds, at that price I bought two, came to around $4.40 each.
On Friday I settled on the “BACON-WRAPPED STUFFED PORK LOIN WITH CHARRED PEACH GLAZE” (pg. 256). My first problem was that peaches weren’t on the produce counter in either Publix or Winn-Dixie. My alternatives were canned peaches or mango. I consulted George and he advised to go with the mango as he had no fondness for the artificially sweetened and syrupy canned peaches. He thought that Mango would add a South Florida flair to the recipe.
On Monday, as I went to the store to pick up the mangos, peaches had miraculously appeared at the Publix Produce counter. Saved from a messy preparation chore (mangos) by a miraculous intervention. I also found that if I had opted for the mangos there was Mango Nectar right next to the Peach Nectar on the grocery shelf, so a total substitution of two ingredients would have been possible, something to bear in mind for the next time I prepare this recipe.
The pork loins that I bought were a little over 2 pounds each, but I decided to follow the recipe and cook both. Due to the size it was necessary to slightly increase the quantities, 2 pkg of cream cheese and 8 jalapenos, went into the loin stuffing and about a pound and a half of thick-cut bacon was necessary to give complete coverage, my loins were each about 16″ long.
For the glaze, I used 6 peaches plus a little more chili powder and Cajun seasoning than called for. I don’t think that the recipe quantities for these ingredients are carved in stone. The pork loins were also pretty long, enough so that I had to use a baking sheet for the roasting. This was also a departure since George had much smaller loins for his recipe.
Everything went like clockwork and the recipe came together in under an hour, a near record time for me. The open roasting at 400 degrees took a little longer than anticipated, the bacon just refused to brown in only 15 min.
A word of caution, if you use a sheet pan for the roasting be VERY careful when you remove it from the oven, going in there isn’t much liquid, coming out it is nearly overflowing and constitutes a spill risk (I found out the hard way).
For a side, I served the small purple “gourmet” potatoes that you can find in most stores these days for around $3.00 per bag. One bag will easily serve six. One way to prepare is to cover with water and bring to a boil for about 8 to 9 min, just long enough so that they are still not cooked through. Drain them and put back into the still warm pot to finish drying. In a bowl with about 1/4 cup of EVOO, dump the dry potatoes, a couple of tablespoons of Paprika, a couple of tablespoons of Montreal Steak Seasoning (or another grill seasoning), salt and pepper. Shake everything up then roast at 400 degrees for about 15 min, they are done when the skin just starts to wrinkle. I usually do this in the countertop toaster/oven, the oven pan is the perfect size for the quantity.
We had a cancellation this week so only four were present at 7PM when I served. To a man, they raved over the unique flavor combination, congratulations, George, still another winner from the pages of “Acadiana Table”.
Since we were only four at the table this week the second loin wasn’t even carved, I plan to have Tracy and Shawn over on Wed. when they get back from their out of town meeting. Maybe the flavors will meld even more over the two-day wait; I certainly hope so, although sometimes it is hard to improve on perfection.
Jack Chew writes: Preparations and planning for this week began as usual on Friday when I started looking for a suitable Monday menu. I finally decided on Creole Oyster and Spinach Soup (pg 56). There were two reasons for the decision, I had almost everything on hand to make the recipe, and it also reflected back on the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Stew I enjoyed growing up (and still make frequently). Just from looking at the recipe I could see that this dish had many similarities to the Maryland version, and they both had probable origins dating back to colonial times and what the settlers brought from Europe.
Sides for this dish were still spinning around in my head on Monday when I mentioned the menu to son-in-law Shawn, He immediately told me that he wasn’t a fan of oysters (raised in the mid-west) and especially ones in a cream based soup which would aggravate this lactose intolerance. Time to re-think tonight’s menu.
Returning to Acadiana Table I began looking at other seafood entrees, and finally settled on Seafood-Stuffed Poblanos With Mango Salsa (pg. 175). For the side dish I chose Squeezebox Sweet Potatoes with Sugarcane Cream Sauce (pg 126) both of these recipes had ingredients that necessitated a trip to the store.
I have mentioned before that Crawfish Tail Meat is not available in any of the local fish markets. As a substitute I have used either shrimp or Langoustine meat (available from Costco), but since the recipe already has shrimp I was narrowed to a single option, the Langoustine.
I decided that another Internet search might reveal some local source for the Crawfish. In my search I found numerous LA sources, but nothing local. Tucked away in the corner of one page, I noticed Boudreaux’s Crawfish Tail Meat listed as a Walmart product, only available in-store. This listing was on a page with other LA sources, so there was only a remote chance that the product would be available in Ft. Lauderdale.
We have a new Walmart Super Center just a few miles from my home. I called them and was connected to the Meat Dept. The first employee I spoke to had no idea of what I was talking about, nor did the second or third, finally, after nearly 30 minutes I spoke to the Frozen Food Mgr. who first checked his order book and then physically confirmed that they had the item in stock.
I immediately dressed and made my way to the store where I purchased three 12 oz. pkgs, one for today. The others went into the freezer for future recipes since the book is full of stuff that requires Crawfish in one form or another. I bought all of my missing ingredients, including some frozen Mango Chunks which were an absolute Godsend; prepping fresh Mango would have used up at least another fifteen minutes and made a real mess.
When I finally settled down to begin cooking it was after 5:30 PM and my butt was so far in the weeds I couldn’t see daylight. Dinner was definitely at risk of being VERY late. I called Shawn who volunteered to come over and lend a hand. Whenever I am cooking, I try to use the “mise en place” system, which means all of the measurements are done beforehand, ingredients are separated in order and used at the time when called for. I find that this saves a lot of time and reduces extra effort.
First to go was the sweet potatoes for the Squeezebox recipe. I put two wooden spoons parallel on the cutting board, sat a potato between them and made numerous 3/16″ slices. This works best if you use a VERY sharp knife, the raw sweet potato is very tough and requires a lot of effort if your knife isn’t up to the task. These were set aside for cooking in the countertop oven. The sauce had yet to be made but I was more concerned with getting started on the main course.
Rice went on the stove and began cooking. Celery and onions were diced, green onion tops, cilantro, cheese, cajun seasoning, hot sauce, Rotel tomatoes, shrimp, crab, and crawfish were on the counter and waiting. BTW, I wasn’t about to open a $20 can of backfin lump to use only a cup or so. I substituted 2 cans of Bumblebee Fancy White Crab Meat that came in under $7. There is a definite difference in texture, no lumps, but I don’t think anyone noticed. I prepped the Poblanos on the front burner. I used an older cake rack to arrange them since there was a tendency for the peppers to fall through the grate top and they were difficult to handle otherwise. These were covered and set aside for later peeling.
The rest of the meal went into the skillet and cooked up in less than ten minutes. The mixture was added to the now peeled poblanos and put into the oven for finishing. Just before putting the poblanos in the oven, I added some more cheese on top of each one, this bubbled up while cooking but didn’t brown. For the cheese I substituted a shredded Habanero Jack cheese available at WalMart. This may sound like it has a lot of heat but it is actually just a little more spicy than the Monterey Jack.
Shawn arrived and I set him to work on making the Mango Salsa. Tracy arrived also and she was tasked with completing the Squeezebox Potatoes with Sugarcane Cream Sauce. Since the potatoes were already sliced she started on the sauce. It was now 6:30. Tracy came to me and pointed out that the recipe called for the potatoes to cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours of baking. I had already considered that and we put them in the microwave, without the sauce and cooked them on the “potato” setting. This takes about five minutes. Once the potatoes were cooked, and they were still a little al dente, we added the cream sauce and put them in the countertop at 400 degrees for finishing, about another ten minutes.
With the additional help, the dinner was only about ten minutes late. Served with the Poblanos and Sweet Potatoes we had a fresh kale salad with home grown long beans and home grown green onions. Randy provides these ingredients each week when in season. Service, as usual, is family style at the table. Each diner got one stuffed Poblano and a half of a Squeezebox Potato. There was garlic bread for all, and lots, cold beer, cheap wine and great conversation.
The Squeezebox Potatoes were a sensation, the flavors are intense and unexpected; everybody raved. This will definitely be a consideration for future side dishes and could even substitute for dessert. After preparation there was some leftover stuffing, this was put into two stainless ramekins and cooked along with the poblanos. This filling will no doubt be a lunch or two later this week
Jack Chew writes: This week’s menu is a redo of one I attempted earlier in the fall. On my first attempt to cook Shrimp Etouffée Over Softshell Crabs (pg 196) I found that I was out of crabs and substituted Crab Cakes which worked very well. I have since remedied the problem with the purchase of three dozen “whales”, the largest size of softshell crab available. I purchase these from a MD supplier, Marshall Seafood and Farming in Marion Station, MD. They are a reliable source, they ship promptly, and I have no hesitation in endorsing them. They are a family operation and the service is personal.
I am originally from Baltimore, MD where everything “crab” takes on a religious connotation, from preparation to consumption there are strong opinions on how the dish should be served. In my family, softshell crabs were a regular staple, usually served as sandwiches with a side of French Fries, on two slabs of homemade bread. My grandmother was the cook and preparation was simple–flour, salt and pepper, a little cornmeal, and a heaping amount of Old Bay seasoning. These were sautéed in a skillet with butter. My mouth still waters when I recall those meals. Baltimore’s row house neighborhoods, with white marble steps and brick streets, were centers of entrepreneurship. In South Baltimore near the Inner Harbor, and East Baltimore near the brickyards, almost every block had an enterprising housewife who served crabs out of the basement window in the spring and all summer.
Needless to say that the preparation of soft crabs in any other way than what I grew up with required a huge leap of faith. I made my trinity early, and at the same time I opened a can of Evaporated Milk added two TBS of white vinegar, then set it aside in a bowl at room temperature. This would constitute the buttermilk portion of George’s recipe. The etouffée went together in short order, much easier the second time around. I used 36 oz. of Winn-Dixie Fisherman’s Wharf “Jumbo Gumbo Shrimp to make six ample servings. These raw, peeled and deveined shrimp, are a real bargain and they are often a BOGO which makes the price even better.
The leftover Seafood Stock went into the rice along with a generous helping of butter. Preparation of the crabs was done at the table, I use a West Bend Electric Skillet. If you don’t have one they can usually be found at garage sales for less than $5.You won’t need a gallon of oil to cook your crabs in this skillet, just pour about 2″ of oil (sufficient to cover your crabs) and deep fry away. I skipped the half and half but added a half stick of butter to the cooking oil.
Son-In-Law Shawn is from the mid-west and never developed a taste for the crabs; for him I made Tilapia fillets battered in the same flour and buttermilk and sautéed at the table along with the crabs. The etouffée and rice worked just as well for the Tilapia as it did for the crabs. I find that making the trinity and doing most of the prep work early in the day allows me to prepare these dishes in a more leisurely manner. The etouffée (minus the shrimp) takes about an hour, then can be kept in the oven until about 20 minutes before serving. Add the shrimp at this time, and return it to the stovetop for finishing. Shrimp, if cooked too long, get tough and lose a lot of flavor, I find that adding them as a final stage works very well.
Judging from the reaction of my buddies this will become a regular feature at our Monday night table. The etouffée is also a flexible component which can be used in many other seafood dishes, something like this makes you look like a genius when you serve it.
Jack Chew writes: This week on ACADIANA TABLE began by thumbing through the book last Friday. Cabbage Jambalaya (pg 145) just leaped off the page at me. Since Jambalaya was one of the first Cajun dishes I ever attempted, and this became the week’s project.
I have tried unsuccessfully to locate Savoie’s Rice Dressing Mix in my area so I thought I would try to substitute Zatarain’s Dirty Rice Mix for the missing ingredient. Fortunately, I emailed George and asked if this would be a reasonable substitute. His reply was a definite NO! He advised that making a recipe of Dirty Rice (recipe on the blog) would be an adequate substitution. The Zatarain’s mix is a dried concoction and uses ground beef for the meat and different spices, thus altering the balance of flavors in the final dish.
Shopping was a breeze and I only had to buy Chicken Livers ($1.39) and Pork Sausage. I use Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage frequently and this week it was on sale for $2.69, I bought two and froze one for later. Bell peppers were $1.00 each so I bought two, knowing that any excess would be used in other dishes. Parsley was $1.00 and the 2 heads of cabbage came to $2.67. My Aidell’s Andouille Sausage comes in three-pound packs so one pound cost a little over $4.00. It looks like the entire meal went together for under $20 including extras, sides, and dessert.
After shredding the cabbage I looked at the sheer volume of the stuff and realized that I would need a larger pot, it simply overwhelmed my 10″ Dutch oven. Using a large stock pot, I added the ham hocks, chicken stock and cabbage and started the first stage (1 hr.)
In a separate pan, I browned the Andouille and set it aside, then proceeded to cook the sausage and chicken livers with the trinity for the dirty rice. The chicken livers came in a butter tub-size container and probably weighed a little more than a pound, but I used them all anyway.
I cooked the rice in a separate pot with a little butter, some salt and a quart of chicken stock. TIP: coat the bottom of the pot you are using to cook the rice in with a light spray of Pam or other cooking spray, the rice won’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
A word of caution here, I used chicken stock for the dirty rice because the recipe called for COOKED rice. The Cabbage Jambalaya recipe calls for UNCOOKED rice. The end result was that:
- I used more chicken stock than required. (1 qt for the dirty rice, 2 qt. for the cabbage) The second qt. in the cabbage was needed to cover everything for the initial phase of cooking.
- My failure to pay attention caused me to put the COOKED dirty rice in the pot for the last 45 minutes and resulted in somewhat mushy rice.
What should have happened in this case was to add UNCOOKED rice to my trinity/ sausage/chicken liver mixture and finish everything in the last 45 minutes with the cabbage. Doing it that way would have made the 2 qt. in the big pot adequate for the entire recipe.
I had planned to serve Collard Greens cooked with onions and turnips as a side dish, but looking at the quantity this recipe provides convinced me that a salad and some garlic bread would be more than adequate.
Despite my errors the recipe was a success, everyone had seconds, and a couple had thirds. This is a generous recipe even after all of the eating there were leftovers for taking home and enough for another two servings later in the week.
Thanks, George, for the advice on the Zatarain’s.
Jack Chew writes: This week’s menu began on Friday when I thumbed through the book looking for a likely Monday night meal. The Seafood Pastalaya (pg 75) literally leaped out at me. What in the world is “Pastalaya” anyhow? A brief perusal of George’s explanation quickly made me decide that this would be the next star for my Monday crowd.
Costco had oysters for $7.99/pt. and I bought those. Winn-Dixie had bay scallops for $5.99 (12 oz.), so two of the main ingredients were bought on Saturday. I had more than enough shrimp on hand in the freezer.
Monday morning I made my trinity, cut the green onion tops and stored everything in plastic bags in the fridge. The shrimp and scallops were defrosted and joined the trinity to await later use. I decided to make the recipe for six, so, scaling the ingredients accordingly, my proportions were right on with what the recipe required. I used half and half to replace the heavy cream. I weighed out 1 1/2# of rotini twists for the pasta, these curly morsels hold the sauce in the dish much more conveniently than regular strand spaghetti. In retrospect I could have gotten away with just one pound of the pasta, but I erred in the favor of having more. No local grocery had yellow grape tomatoes, so 1 pt. of red grape tomatoes were substituted.
This recipe lends itself readily to staging, since each step is a logical transition from the previous one. Prep began at 5:30 for an announced 7:30pm serving.
I cooked the pasta to one minute short of al dente, poured it back into the pot with two TB of olive oil, and left it covered on the count for 7 minutes. Cooking times for the next ingredients were slightly longer than the recipe indicates because of the increased quantities.
I used a 10″ Dutch oven for cooking the main ingredients, and, while everything was reducing, I prepared a double recipe of corn bread to which I added a can of whole kernel corn. I preheated the cast iron skillet in the oven and then added Crisco to the sides before pouring the batter. The double recipe took about 25 min to cook completely.
I mentioned earlier about the rotini twists, the 1 1/2#, when added at the end, completely filled the Dutch oven nearly to overflowing. That much just was a bit of overkill on my part. If you decide to make this, increase the other ingredients but leave the pasta the same.
We served a fresh kale salad with a Dijon-based vinaigrette, parmesan cheese and lots of real butter for the cornbread. Cold beer and red wine completed the entree. My Tabasco Gumbo Mugs were the perfect serving choice.
There were leftovers this time, but everyone had some to take home and nobody complained.
Jack Chew writes: This was a busy week and I had no time to decide on a menu for Monday night, so, on Monday morning I sat down with the book and began searching. After a few minutes, I zeroed in on the Cheesy Beef and Potato Skillet (pg. 98). It was a perfect fit for the tastes of my crowd. I had the ground beef from last week, lots of green pepper, onions and celery for the trinity, and every spice known to man in the kitchen. I would need to go to the grocery store for russet potatoes, jalapeno jack cheese, spinach, and a red bell pepper, something I knew wouldn’t take a great deal of time. Other things kept me around the house until nearly 4 PM, at which time I went to the store and got the missing supplies.
It is my usual tactic to make trinity in the morning, but since it called for RED bell pepper I put off the task until it was time to cook. In retrospect, that turned out to be a mistake, albeit a small one.
I decided to expand the recipe by 1/3, and a lucky thing I did!
Cooking started at 5PM for a 7PM serving.
I bought three large russet potatoes and sliced them on the mandolin so that I would have a consistency of thickness when cooking. I started with the potatoes since they were the longest cooking segment of the recipe. I used a recently acquired Wagner (really old, 1920 or before) 10″W x 3″D cast iron Chicken Fryer skillet. The problem was, because of the diameter of the pan, I was only able to cook about ten potato rounds at a time, and the task required constant attention to avoid burning. This meant that I couldn’t leave the stove to prepare the rest of the ingredients and I had neglected to make the trinity first. Bottom line, because of the limited size of the pan, the potatoes took about 30 minutes. I was slightly behind time but not in crisis mode like last week.
Trinity was quickly prepared and left to saute on low. Meanwhile, the spinach was stemmed and the beef seasoned. Things came together rapidly after that.
Once everything was cooked and the beer evaporated, I added the jalapenos, cheese, and potatoes to the pan and put it into the oven. I doubled the jalapenos in the recipe, and there were no complaints.
This left me just enough time to prepare Paula Deen’s Cheesy Squash and Onion Casserole as a side dish. Check this recipe out, even though it isn’t really Cajun/Creole, it fits the cuisine like a glove. I always use more cheese than is called for, adding Swiss to the squash/onion/cheddar/sour cream mixture and using Ritz BACON flavored crackers as a topping, mixed with a little extra cheddar.
TIP: If a recipe calls for cracker crumbs don’t go to the store and buy them, make your own. Take a sleeve of crackers, unopened, and wrap them tightly in a kitchen towel, hit with your fist a few times to break the crackers into smaller pieces then finish the job by squeezing into crumb size with your hands. Unwrap the result, tear the sleeve open, use whatever amount you need, and put the rest in a freezer bag and save for later use. There is no mess, no bowl to clean, and you don’t have to buy more than you actually need.
There were only four present for tonight’s gathering but when the meal was done only about a single serving for leftovers remained. Another George Graham culinary conquest. Several recipes in the book call for Savoies Rice Dressing Mix, a product which isn’t available in S. Fla. I came across Zatarains Dirty rice Mix in Winn-Dixie yesterday and I will try that as a substitute. If anyone has any information about the switch, feel free to let me know.
Jack Chew writes: This week of cooking through Acadiana Table started with an email from George suggesting that I reheat the Boudin by wrapping in a paper towel soaked in water, and then microwaved for a minute or two. This procedure worked quite well and resulted in perfectly steamed sausages.
I had cooked the first of the batch in a skillet with oil, which crisped the casing and made eating similar to a hot dog on a bun. This was good but a little messy. Steaming is not only the proper way to prepare the sausage, it changes the eating experience. I use natural hog casing for the stuffing so it is still raw before steaming or grilling. After steaming I understand what George was saying when he wrote (on pg. 252) that a Cajun squeezes the link like a tube of toothpaste right into his mouth. The practical reason for this is probably that the casing is VERY rubbery and not really chewable. Squeezed onto a saltine with a dab of Zatarain’s Creole Mustard is a whole new experience and one that I intend to repeat often.
The menu for this week was the Creole Meatballs in Red Gravy (pg. 270-271). I messed up on this one big time; the principle of “Read the Directions Stupid” rose up and bit me in the butt. I started early making the Trinity for both the meatballs and the gravy, then bagged and refrigerated them. After lunch, I went to the grocery store and bought my beef and pork. Ground Beef was on sale @ $5.49/3#, a bargain from the regular price. Grou d Pork was just over $4.00, but pork shoulder was on sale BOGO @ $4.47. By purchasing two 3/4# pkgs, I got the pork for an effective rate of $2.24# , I ended up paying $5.59 for the pork and $2.74 for the beef. I froze the remaining 1- 1/2# of beef for later use.
With the Trinity made and plenty of roux on hand, my only task before actual preparation was to grind the pork in the food processor. Since that is a five-minute task, I felt confident that starting the prep for the meal could begin at 5 PM for a 7 PM serving. I hadn’t read the directions or rather I had failed to notice that there are actually TWO recipes for this dish, definitely not the fault of the author or the printer only the cook who was over confident.
When I actually started at 5:15 I had the meat ground in a jiffy I, mixed it in the bowl and then proceeded to cook the first batch of Trinity. That’s when it hit me, it is already 5:35 and I am planning to serve at 7 PM.
- Make the meatballs ( 15 min)
2. Brown the meatballs in batches of ten (all that would fit in the pot without crowding, total meatball yield was 43 for the 3# of mixed meats and Trinity (20 min)
3. The meatballs have to cook in the oven for forty-five minutes, followed by an hour in the gravy at a simmer.
4. This leaves me the prep time for the gravy (20 min) once the meatballs are in the oven. That went smoothly and by 6:15 the gravy was happily simmering away on the back burner.
5 At 6:40 the meatballs went into the gravy (a little early for the gravy) and the hour of meatballs cooking in the hot tub began.
Guests began arriving about 6:45, the wine stock was immediately imperiled so two more bottles were put into emergency cooling in the freezer. (about 15 min works, turn once)
- At 7:20 the rice went on and things finally began to congeal.
Randy and Attie brought fresh salad makings from his garden: long beans, basil, green onion tops and kale; added were carrots, shredded Asiago cheese, and onions, all from the fridge. The salads are delicious, and so much more flavorful than the stuff that was picked days earlier. A real plus, NO added pesticides, he doesn’t use them.
As soon as the rice went on we sat down to eat the salad and drink a little more wine. At 7:45 everything came together and the meal was served 45 min late. This is a great dish, just be ready for a lot of steps because you are actually cooing two recipes for a single entree. I underestimated the cooking times (my fault) but the end result was a great meal enjoyed by all.
George, you may be a little off in your portions for this one, we served four and everyone had seconds (that’s 8 servings), I only cooked 4 cups of rice and had leftover. I bagged 8 meatballs and 3 or 4 cups of gravy for Shawn and Tracy (2 more servings) . There are still enough leftovers to make another full meal for two with seconds. By my reckoning that is about 14 servings, give or take a few. Understand, please, I’m not complaining, just wondering how much a CAJUN eats at a serving if this only makes 6 to 8 portions.
I think that the red gravy will go very nicely in other dishes; spaghetti/pasta comes to mind at once, and chicken thighs or quarters as well. I could easily see stuffed pork chops with the gravy and I am sure that other dishes will come to mind as I go along.
Jack Chew writes: This week of cooking through Acadiana Table actually began on Saturday when I decided to serve the Whole Catfish in Creole Red Gravy (pg. 84) to my Monday night bunch.
Catching, skinning, and prepping catfish just wasn’t on the agenda, While catfish are plentiful in the S. FL canals, time constraints forced a more convenient substitution for the main ingredient in the recipe. Earlier last month I had purchased a 10# case of SWAI fillets. These are farm-raised catfish and portion controlled to 8 oz. servings. I don’t think anyone should hesitate to buy this product, the meat is firm and tasty and stands up well to long cooking times.
While the recipe called for two, whole, 2# catfish, I used four 8 oz. fillets for a four-portion meal. The logic was: A. The whole fish were to be removed and boned after cooking anyhow and, B. I had the fillets on hand, to begin with. With heads removed and skinned I think that the fillet solution probably yielded nearly the same amount of cooked fish. I don’t think that the substitution had any effect on the recipe.
To be sure that there was enough volume to the dish I increased the Andouille by one link (about a half cup). I again used boxed seafood stock in the amount called for in the dish, then used the remainder to replace 2 cups of the water when making the rice.
While separating the case of Swai and vacuum packing the fillets into 16 oz. meal-sized portions I managed to cut my thumb. Note to self: next time use a DULL knife to separate frozen food.
Prep for this dish is pretty straightforward, just make your trinity, remembering that the bell pepper is half red, half green. All of the other ingredients are routinely available in the grocery stores except for the dark roux.
I make roux about two cups at a time and, as George suggests, freeze the leftovers. I use a melon baller to portion, then allow them to freeze in small plastic cups, a cookie sheet would also work. Each ball in my device yields approximately 2 TB. Once frozen, the balls are put in ZipLock bags with the air evacuated and stored until needed. Four of these balls equal a cup using my measure, your device may yield a different amount.
While this recipe calls for an entire can of Tomato Paste many others do not. I always cut out both ends of the can and push the product onto my cutting board. After using whatever amount the recipe calls for I put the leftover paste into the bottom of a sandwich bag, squeeze out the air and shape it into a roll about the diameter of a quarter and freeze it. When the next recipe calls for tomato paste it is simple to slice off the amount needed, reseal the bag and return it to the freezer.
Bay leaves are always a choking hazard and sometimes it is difficult to remove all of them from a finished dish like a stew. I simply pull off a 6″ length of kitchen twine, form a slipknot in one end and then secure the bay leaves by tightening the knot. When the dish is done it is easy to locate the string and all of the bay leaves come out at once.
This recipe called for whole peeled tomatoes, which I used. When it came time to break them up prior to serving, I used a potato masher, simpler and a lot faster than chasing those slippery little devils around the pot with a spoon.
I served a side of Collard Greens with onions and turnip added, tasty and appropriate. I also had some homemade vinegar and pepper sauce to enhance flavoring. This is an easy condiment to make: use 2 hot peppers (I used the little bird peppers) sliced open on one side lengthwise. Boil a cup of cider vinegar, drop the peppers in for about two minutes then bottle the result, including the peppers. Let the concoction stand for about a week before using the first time. Once this is made you can simply add hot vinegar to the container, the strength of flavor and heat will last for six months or more. Net cost is less than a nickel a cup.
Once again, I zested the lemon before putting the slices into the gravy, then I served the zest as a garnish, along with the green onion tops and hot sauce, for anyone wishing to add a more intense lemon flavor to the dish.
I can reliably report, once again, that we had NO leftovers from this Acadiana Table meal.
On the agenda for tomorrow: Shawn and I are going to make Boudin (pg.252). I have already cooked the pork and the liver, the rice will be fresh. I bought 45′ of hog casing at Penn Dutch, but it is also available from Bass Pro Shops and online at Amazon. If you use natural casing, remember to soak it first to remove the preservative salt and increase flexibility. I own a sausage stuffer, but the recipe says you can also make patties, so don’t be intimidated. Sausage sounds much more complicated than it really is and you ALWAYS know EXACTLY what went into the recipe, no fillers, no preservatives.
To make patties use an ice cream scoop and a cookie sheet to lay out your mixture. When all of the portions are on the sheet use a 2″ or 3″ biscuit cutter and the bottom of a 10 oz. can or a small glass to press them into shape.
The book has already seen a lot of use, probably more than normal because I made a deliberate decision to cook from it every week. To save wear and tear on the pages I have, from day one, copied each recipe on my printer and cooked from that sheet. I would rather not have the volume open on the counter and at risk from spills, spatters, and dirty fingerprints. This method also allows you to make prep notes, record changes, and keep a permanent record of the dishes you have cooked
George has made judging the success of a recipe more difficult. Previously I could tell by the amount of leftover food just how well a dish was received. To date, even though I usually make enough for at least two extra servings, there have been no leftovers. This speaks well for the recipes AND the author.
Jack Chew writes: This week of cooking through Acadiana Table began at Shawn and Tracy’s on Sunday night. Shawn prepared the Grilled Baby Eggplant with Parsley-Pecan Pesto. (Pg. 134), and the Lemon Rosemary Chicken Thighs (Pg. 230)
Changes to the recipe:
Bone-in/skin on chicken thighs were used because he had them on hand. One thing in the recipe was a bit confusing, the second lemon, quartered, appears in the ingredients but no mention is made in the preparation instructions. It was my take that it was intended to be served as a garnish and squeezed over the thighs at the table. I wasn’t there when he made the recipe, so absent the instruction, he simply cooked the quartered lemon along with the chicken thighs. I doubt that it made any significant difference to the final product.
This is the mildest recipe from the book to date, none of the flavors reached the intensity level of other dishes such as the Garfish Courtbouillon. That being said, the level of flavoring was subtle, like your wife giving you a peck on the cheek in passing and a lewd wink promising later pleasure. Altogether satisfying.
Jack Chew writes: Monday was scheduled to be the Shrimp Etouffee Over Softshell Crabs. DISASTER STRUCK! The three softshell crabs (Whales, the largest size) that I was sure were safely ensconced in my reach-in freezer were nowhere to be found, and those in the grocery stores here are almost always of the “heat and serve” variety, not useable for this dish. The Memory and Freezer Gods had once again conspired to thwart my plans, especially the memory guy.
Welcome to the world of “Cajun/Tidewater Fusion Cooking”. I am absolutely certain that this is not the first time someone has materially altered one of the recipes but necessity and time constraints made it imperative to insert a major substitution for one of the principal ingredients. MARYLAND CRAB CAKES! This traditional dish from my youth made the perfect substitute for the missing softshell crabs.
The Etouffee was prepared according to the recipe instructions, scaling up to six servings. The cook times for everything were spot-on. Once again, if you scale up, be certain that you have a large enough pan; the Trinity for six servings is four and a half cups and doesn’t cook down a whole lot.
I substituted peeled and deveined “Fisherman’s Wharf” shrimp in “Jumbo Gumbo” size (71-90), tail off, from Winn Dixie. These were on sale ($5.99) for 12 oz, and I used three packages in the recipe, they are also a frequent BOGO and I stock up when I can. I think that the smaller size shrimp might actually enhance the flavor of the recipe. I also poured the meltwater directly from the pack into the Etouffee when I added the seafood stock.
The seafood stock available in the grocery store is a poor substitute for one you have made yourself, but I was all out of shrimp shells and tails, which I save and freeze religiously, and, to date I have been unable to locate any of the dried shrimp mentioned in Acadiana Table. I have found dried shrimp on the Internet but they seem to be of the fish food variety and I am hesitant to use them in something I’m going to eat myself or feed to my family and friends
The recipe calls for lemon juice and it has been my habit to zest the fruit prior to squeezing. The zest can be used later, to enhance/intensify the dish you are cooking, or frozen and saved for another day. In this case I added a pinch of the zest on top of every cooked crab cake just before ladling on the Etouffee. It worked.
Since the recipe calls for only 2 1/2 C of stock I used the remainder of the quart in the preparation of my rice, adding water to complete the necessary volume. I always cook rice with stock, it intensifies the flavor and I frequently add butter for the same reason.
This is the most expensive recipe I have prepared to date, about $45 for everything, which breaks down to $7.50 per serving not including the wine. That being said, if you can duplicate such a meal for under $30.00 per serving at any quality restaurant anywhere in the country, please send me the address.
The side for this meal was Green Beans with Ham Hock, a traditional southern dish which goes well with anything. Two #s of beans, trimmed and cut, one large onion diced, one smoked ham hock, some garlic, pepper but no salt, and a half gallon of water. Bring it to a boil then put it on the back burner to simmer for four hours. The liquid will reduce to about 1/4 of the original volume. When done, remove the ham hock, trim and dice the meat from it, and add back to the pot. Cook another ten minutes, then serve.
A few words on preparation:
Trinity is always a combination of green pepper, celery and onion in equal portions, A few recipes vary this ratio but it seems to be pretty common. When preparing a recipe you seldom wind up with an exact amount, either you have too much or too little. My solution is always to make more than I need and vacuum pack the excess. I have a Food Saver, but if you don’t have this appliance it is simple to put the excess Trinity into a ZipLock sandwich bag, close it most of the way, and submerge the sealed part in water. The air will be forced out and you can then complete the sealing. Preserved this way I have used Trinity as long as five or six days after original preparation with no detectable change of flavor. I have never tried to freeze Trinity this way but I am a little dubious because the freezing could break down the fiber in the veggies and result in a mushy finished product.
George is dragging me, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. Every recipe in Acadiana Table has the gram equivalent printed next to the traditional cup, tablespoon, etc. Since I almost always scale up my recipes using a gram scale to measure beats the bejeebers out of measuring the old style. Try it; you’ll like it. I still don’t use gram equivalent for every measurement, I have been mixing by eye for so long that I can get nearly every Tbs. or tsp. correct just by estimating in the palm of my hand.
The crab meat was backfin lump from Winn-Dixie ($19.99) The lumps in this product are smaller than those in Phillips Seafood (usually about $22.00), but nobody had any of that brand this week, so I used what was available.
When making crab cakes, or any product requiring a mixture that will be made into patties or balls, I find that it is convenient to use an ice cream scoop (or a melon baller for smaller sizes) to arrive at even portions. In the case of yesterday’s crab cake, the pound of meat, when mixed with the other ingredients, worked out to be ten generous portions (about 4 oz. ea.). Each scoop was rounded off to the size of a racquetball, ejected onto a cookie sheet, flattened by hand and refrigerated for an hour or so before cooking.
Jack Chew writes: This week of cooking through Acadiana Table: Monday night’s Maque Choux With Shrimp and Tuesday’s Garfish Courtbouillon wiped out the last of my Tones Cajun Seasoning (12 oz.) which had to be at least five years old anyhow.
I decided to make my own following the recipe on pg.13. This is straightforward, takes less than five minutes to make, and is a SUPER cheap addition to the larder. The quantity is much less than you can purchase in the stores, which means that you will never again be using an ingredient that has been on the shelf for an indeterminate length of time. The Tone’s was probably at least five years old and, while still potent, had in all likelihood undergone a change of flavor.
I made one recipe of this and will never buy from the store again. The flavor is superb and I am secure in the knowledge that there is NOTHING in there but spices with no preservatives.
I found that the Celery Salt on hand (needed to compete the recipe above) had caked up solid. I tossed it and made my own, it is simple:
2 TB Salt (I used kosher) and 2 TB celery seeds. I ran the mixture through a coffee grinder and would up with a little more than 1/4 cup of FRESH Celery Salt. Again DIRT CHEAP, no additives, and you can make a new batch any time you run out, no need to go to the store.
Jack Chew writes: This week was Corn Maque Choux With Shrimp. I used 2 1/2# of 51/60 peeled and deveined frozen shrimp for this one and doubled the recipe. I also added 1 cup of the Tasso, diced fine, for additional flavor. I may have overdone the cayenne in this one or maybe the Tasso added more heat than I anticipated; in any case, if you are doubling the recipe I suggest that you keep the cayenne and the Cajun Seasoning to original quantities then add the heat to taste. I wasn’t bothered by the heat but had two comments suggesting that it could have been milder.
Jack Chew writes: This week of cooking through Acadiana Table was really busy: On Wed. I bought 6# of boneless pork shoulder boneless ribs (marked down for quick sale) and made Tasso, finishing the process including smoking by Sat.
On Fri. I bought a little over 8# of chicken backs, necks, and feet and made the chicken stock. I have made stock before using rotisserie chicken skin and bones, but the recipe in the book is clearly superior and yields an impressive result. Be sure to roast everything first, it adds a depth of flavor you won’t believe. On Sunday, Shawn made the Cajun Jambalaya from the blog and it was superb. Leftovers were even better on Tuesday. Monday night get together was moved to Wednesday. Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo– following the recipe but substituting Aidels’ Andouille Sausage because I needed to use that last pound in the fridge. Excellent results, tasty with rave reviews.
Jack Chew writes: This week I had six again for Monday night dinner. On the menu for last night was Sausage and Chicken Gumbo, and again Georges’ recipe was a hit with everyone There were enough leftovers for another meal for two.
I didn’t change anything, but I didn’t make the potato salad or the hard-boiled eggs. I have to use Aidells Andouille Sausage from Costco because there just doesn’t seem to be a source in Ft. Lauderdale for the real stuff. I had to use boxed chicken stock since I haven’t made any recently, but I just found a local source for chicken feet, necks and backs so I intend to make your version later this week. For those in Ft. Lauderdale area, it is Bass Bros. Supermarket at NW 9 Ave and NW 6 St., Ft. Lauderdale. The store is right in the heart of the ghetto but the area is safe. I am looking forward to making George’s stock.
I buy whole chickens at Costco, $.99 lb for two three pounders, total about $6.00. Butcher them at home and save a lot of money Cut out the backs and remove the wing tips with poultry shears; reserve those with the neck for later use in making stock. The livers will go great in Dirty Rice. I save the gizzards and hearts for poultry gravy.
Following the first hour of cooking, I removed and boned the chicken carcasses, reserving the bones and skin in the freezer for later stock making.
I first was introduced to “THE TRUE CAJUN CUISINE” when we visited Louisiana in 1988 for an Airstream Rally at Mardi Gras. Eight rigs decided to explore “Cajun Country” after the rally and we eventually arrived in the Houma area, camping on Bayou Blue. It was a cold, windy rainy week but we really had a lot of fun. In our wanderings through the area we ranged all of the way from Lafayette and Avery Island to a small restaurant on Bayou Petit Caillou owned and operated by an amazing woman, Wylma Duplantis Dusenberry.
At the time, Wylma was only open two or three days a week and Sunday afternoon for a big dinner. The floor plan was open with a waist high partition separating the cooking and dining areas. It was a amall kitchen with one cook, she only prepared enough food for about 40 meals and the menu was whatever she was serving that day. I have never had such great food in my life, and that is what hooked me on the cuisine. An added treat was the music on the Sunday we visited, the family is VERY talented. We ate there three times in a single week.
Wylma produced La Trouvaille Cookbook, The Simple Joy of Cajun Cooking and it has been my bible for the past 28 years. Now Acadiana Table will take its’ place beside Wylma’s book in a well-deserved position of honor. I don’t cook Cajun every day, but I consider these two volumes to be the ultimate authorities on the subject, and they will both be used frequently.
I’m certain that you are going to receive many compliments on Acadiana Table and I’m sure that a few nuts like me will start cooking through every recipe. Maybe you should have a separate page on the blog for Acadiana Table posts. I know I would like to see what experiences others are having and maybe pick up a few pointers along the way.
Jack Chew writes: Another week of cooking through Acadiana Table. Last week I cooked the Double Stuffed Pork Chops Stuffed With Apple Sausage (pg 264). I made a couple of insignificant changes that shouldn’t affect the recipe at all:
- I used pork loin chops because they were on sale at Costco, cheaper by $2 per #. They were nearly 2″ thick and were perfect for pocketing. I had 12 in the pkg. so reserved and froze six.
- I cooked for six, thus increased everything by 1/3, you will need a BIG pan to make the stuffing. The recipe easily converts for larger quantities.
- For the third pound of pork, I substituted a pound of Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage to add a little more heat.
- When the stuffing was about half cooked, I reserved a cup of liquid. I then added more cider, two TB of fat and two TB of flour to make a gravy in a separate pan. You should have about 2 1/2 C when you are done. We just like gravy, especially with pork.
- I served the pork chops with a side of Yellow Crookneck Squash Casserole baked with onions, cheese and a bacon flavored Ritz Cracker crust. I used a Paula Deen recipe for this, and it went well with the meal.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Only 4 showed for dinner, so I had to refrigerate the leftovers. The additional melding of flavors over two days was an amazing gustatory adventure. This was so good the third day that the next time I prepare it I will deliberately make too much.
Last Sunday, my son-in-law prepared the Sweet Heat Carrots (pg.137) as a side for his Sunday night barbecue. They were a hit. He included some parsnips in the recipe because they were on hand, and he didn’t want to waste them. I knew I had a good reason for buying two copies of Acadiana Table, now I’m not the only one in the family hooked on the cuisine.
Jack Chew writes: I made the Sausage and Onions today – a complete hit! I host a dinner on Mondays for some friends and there were ZERO leftovers–a usual occurrence when I make one of your recipes.
Alligator Sausage and Creole Red Onions aren’t available in S. FL, but you can assure your readers that the recipe works well with Roger Dean Hot Sausage from Winn Dixie and regular red onions with any dark beer in the store. The addition of horseradish to the potatoes is a stroke of genius, an unexpected flavor that really tweaks the palate.
Keep these coming: I’m a dedicated fan and a true believer!
Jack Chew writes: Tuesday night, I made the Garfish Courtbouillon. Naturally, Garfish just isn’t available at any market locally, so I used catfish fillets, sold here as “Swai”. This is CHEAP stuff, around $2.29 per#, but it is firm meaty white fish that stands up to longer cooking times. I doubled the recipe, used 3# of fish, and all that was left was about a pint of the liquid. I had to use Swanson’s Seafood Stock because I haven’t found the shrimp you mention in the recipe (the nearest Asian market is a few miles away). Five of us finished the double recipe, and the only thing left was about a pint of the liquid which I ate for lunch today with Oyster Crackers.
I’ll keep you posted each week. Next week is the Softshell Crabs with Shrimp Etouffee. I’m originally from MD and always keep a few softshells in the freezer.
Jack Chew writes: NO FAIR GEORGE! I have just started cooking my way through the Acadiana Table cookbook (it arrived Tuesday) and already you have thrown out another must-do recipe on the blog! Can’t wait for the next family cookout for serving your Smoked Sausage Po-boys.
I made the Chicken Leg Fricassee for Wednesday dinner, but used bone-in skin-on thighs because that is what I had, and I didn’t want to go to the grocery store to brave the crowds panic-buying supplies ahead of Matthew. Thighs didn’t make any difference as far as I could tell–delicious and easy to prepare. Another winner courtesy of George Graham.
I must say that I have never had great success in making roux, (I probably burn about one in four batches) but I recently found a microwave method that works perfectly and takes about 10 minutes or less to prepare. I have been making chicken stock for years, but never got the results you described. I will get on with your Dark Chicken Stock next week and let you know the results.
Jack Chew writes: I have been a subscriber to the Acadiana Table blog for some time now and frequently make your recipes. Last night I served the Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf to family and friends and WHAT A HIT!
I made it with all the ingredients as specified but skipped the rice dressing since it wasn’t available at my local Winn Dixie store. The bacon weave was easy, and I never consulted the tutorial. The Red Pepper Jelly glaze was superb and really made the dish. The next time I make this recipe I will probably increase the Cajun Seasoning. I knew it was in there, but the flavor was covered by the savory goodness of the glaze and the crisp flavor of the bacon.
Instead of the dressing, I substituted quartered red skin potatoes rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted around and under the meat. Everything came out done at the same time and the addition of the flavors from the drippings added to the potatoes.
I also served Haricots Verts to which I added Sun Dried Tomatoes in olive oil, which I glazed at serving with Balsamic Drizzle.
If you have the flexible cutting sheets that are for sale in most of the big retailers you can build the weave on one of those (they are about the right size). That makes the transfer to the top of the meatloaf super easy and the weave doesn’t try to come undone when you lift it. Beats using a spatula anyhow.
AND CHECK BACK WEEKLY FOR MORE EPISODES TO COME
About Jack: I came to Ft. Lauderdale in 1957 from Baltimore and took a job as a lifeguard, transferring to the Police Department in 1963. I served 25 years on the Ft. Lauderdale PD, retiring with the rank of Captain in 1987.
Once retired, my late wife and I traveled the U.S. and Canada in an Airstream for the next fifteen years, visiting almost every state but Arkansas and Oklahoma. During these meanderings, I got hooked on Cajun/Creole Cuisine, primarily from a 1988 visit to La Trouvaille in the Houma area and our encounter with Wylma Dusenberry. La Trouvaille was a unique experience, we ate there three times in the space of one week following the 1988 Mardi Gras. Out of curiosity, I looked up La Trouville and discovered that it closed in 2002, a sad loss for those wishing to taste genuine Cajun cooking. The signed and dated first edition cookbook from Wylma holds a place of honor in my collection.
Over the fifteen years we traveled the country, Marylou and I accumulated a collection of about 1000 regional cookbooks, mostly of the Junior League and Church Supper variety. I use about a dozen or so on a regular basis but am looking for a charity or cooking school where they can be donated. If you have one in mind give me an address. I promised my wife that they would never be left out for the trash man or sold for fifty cents at a garage sale.
While Airstreaming, my wife Marylou and I hosted two National Rallies, (4 Orange Bowl, and 5 Follow Me to Paradise [Keys]). Each rally lasted from five to seven days and had from 50 to 80 participating rigs (100 to 160 people). I planned and cooked most of the meals, mostly dinners, with assistance, of course, from other club members.
I found the Acadiana Table blog a couple of years ago and started cooking from it almost from the first day. The recipes are straightforward, easy to scale, and almost universally acceptable to the crowd I cook for. I haven’t received any complaints on any of the dishes. Since I enjoy cooking, smoking, and barbecuing, Acadiana Table fits right into my primarily Southern style of cooking. My primary cooking these days is for family–one son, two grandkids, one daughter and their spouses.
I also host a Monday night “Marching and Chowder Society” consisting of a loose group of retired guys who enjoy good food and conversation, with cold beer and cheap wine. Group size varies from three to six, but they enjoy the product.I have freely included side dishes with the Acadiana Table meals that don’t necessarily come from the book. Collard greens with turnips, onions and Tasso, yellow squash casserole, red potato salad, Hasselback potatoes, just to mention a few
I once heard a comment “A Cajun will eat anything that doesn’t eat him first.” Garfish would probably fall into that category if you were from any other region of the country, but in Cajun Country it tops the menu.