Cajun

crawfish, o crawfish, you are so tiny this season

Here’s another “everything in moderation” (read: not-so-healthy) post for you.

If you’re from the deep south, particularly from Louisiana or the surrounding states, you not only know what crawfish is, you love it. Sure, those little mudbugs give some the heebie-jeebies, but not us from nearby Cajun country.

I can’t recall the first time I’d ever had crawfish straight out of its exoskeleton. I was probably in college or a recent graduate. Once I got over the miniature lobster-looking things, all bright red and steaming with their miniature, cute, harmless claws, and once I’d caught a whiff of the spicy garlic Cajun flavor, I was hooked.
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sweet creole corn

I love corn and have to have it every Thanksgiving. It adds a nice crispy texture next to the creamy potatoes and casseroles. Back when I was an amateur cook, I used to serve them straight out of a can with some butter, salt, and pepper. Now I’ve graduated to cutting them off the cob and increasing the number of ingredients used.
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cajun cornish hens

With the end of crawfish season comes a need to find other ways to fulfill our Cajun cravings. In my last post, I tried my hand at making dirty rice. And now here’s how to up the flavor in that rice. Try stuffing it in a Cornish hen. Juicy goodness will drip into the stuffing during cooking, adding an even more savory dimension to the rice.

Cornish hens, despite their names, could be either male or female. They are a hybrid breed of chicken growing no more than five weeks and weighing no more than two pounds. Their meat is sweeter and more tender than regular chicken, and they cook quicker, too, making them choice for entertaining.

Because I’d gotten rid of my roasting pan, we had to MacGyver one out of a tin pan, aluminum cans, and rolled up balls of foil. By placing these cans and foil balls loosely in the pan and setting the hens on top, the juices will trickle between the gaps and collect at the bottom instead of directly underneath the hens, thereby keeping them from getting soggy. Ghetto-rigged brilliance.

I used ready-made Cajun seasoning instead of making my own just because I already had it in my spice drawer. You can try making your own by mixing to taste kosher salt, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.

The Cornish game hens came out not as spicy as I’d hoped (I suggest liberally rubbing on the Cajun seasoning), but it was still a good complement to the dirty rice. I served each person half a Cornish hen with extra dirty rice and a side of roasted Brussels sprouts (recipe coming soon to an entry near you). Pretty simple yet really tasty. Come on, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: Cajun Cornish Hens

Ingredients

  1. 4 Cornish hens
  2. 4 tbsp. butter
  3. 6 to 8 tbsp. Cajun seasoning
  4. 3 c. dirty rice

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Rinse Cornish hens and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Stuff the cavity of each hen with dirty rice. Pack it in real good.
  4. Wedge a tbsp. of butter between the skin and breast meat of each hen. Then liberally rub the hen with Cajun seasoning.
  5. Place in the roasting pan and cover with tented foil. Roast in the oven for 45 to 60 min. Then remove cover and roast for another 10 to 15 min. Let sit for 10 min. before cutting in half lengthwise and serving.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

dirty rice

I was a wee one when I had my first taste of dirty rice, and it was from Popeye’s. Something about the deep savoriness of this mean little concoction made it one of my favorite Cajun dishes. (For a quick lesson on the difference between Cajun and Creole food, visit my entry on crawfish boils.) And then I found out years later that offal is what makes dirty rice taste so damn good. Who knew? A recent food trend is food that used to be considered less palatable, I.e. Food the lower socioeconomic levels partook in. Think the leftover parts of an animal—offal—such as livers, gizzards, oxtail, feet, snout, ears. For vegetables, think collard greens, mustard greens, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and so on. And so with this trend, we see a rise in these sorts of ingredients becoming gourmet. And with the gourmet status comes the hefty price tag. So what can you do? Learn to make it yourself.

A handful of friends from my Creative Writing Program at UH recently graduated. And while they were becoming Masters of Fine Arts, I was off trying to become a MasterChef. Alas, I am sad to see some of my bestest writer buds move away on to bigger and better things, but I cherish the past four years we’ve had together. There were many discussions about literature, the writing craft, existentialism, and just about any possible subject under the sun and even beyond. (Because, you know, us writers are just so deep.) So as a farewell/graduation/appreciation celebration, I wanted to share myself and cook a meal for them. After all, they spent the last four painful years reading pages and pages of my manuscripts; the least I could do is finally give them something good to ingest.

I know the basic gist of dirty rice involves poultry offal—namely livers and gizzards—the trinity (two parts onion to one part celery and one part bell pepper); and rice. My next door neighbor, who makes a bad-ass dirty rice every year for our day-after-Thanksgiving leftovers potluck, promised to cook it with me one day, but I figured I’d try on my own first before I learn his secrets and then meld all of it together into one superpower dirty rice.

So here you have my first run at dirty rice. Yeah, I was brave to experiment on my friends, but I know they love me enough to still be my friend even if the food tasted bad. Luckily, the dirty rice was pretty darn good. And it tastes even better if you let the flavors melt together overnight. I used this to stuff some slutty chickens (as Chef Ramsay calls them)—more on that next time. Till then, make a vat and share; it’s an easy recipe for a crowd. If the Blind can Cook it, you can too.


Dirty Rice

Ingredients

  1. 1 lb. chicken gizzards, washed & rinsed
  2. 1 lb. chicken livers, washed, rinsed & trimmed
  3. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 1 c. chopped onion
  5. 1/2 c. chopped celery
  6. 1/2 c. chopped green bell pepper
  7. 4 c. chicken broth
  8. 4 c. uncooked Minute rice
  9. 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley leaves
  10. cayenne pepper to taste
  11. salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook the minute rice according to package directions using chicken broth instead of water.
  2. Pulse the gizzards in a food processor until crumb-sized. Set aside. Then pulse liver until almost liquified.
  3. In a lg. Skillet, sauté the garlic until fragrant. Cook the meats until browned.
  4. Add the vegetables and salt & pepper, and cook until tender. If the mixture is too wet, let it reduce.
  5. Gently fold in the rice. Season with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Garnish with parsley.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 25 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 12

cajun crawfish boil

Since we are in the throes of crawfish season (which lasts from January to June), I decided to do this post. Crawfish (or crayfish or crawdaddy, as they’re known in other parts of the country) are little shellfish that resemble tiny lobsters. Here in the dirty South, we call them crawfish. They are little “mudbugs” that live in the swamps, and yes, while this sounds disgusting, they are actually delicious when cooked Cajun-style.

First, let’s define Cajun cuisine. Often, it’s confused with Creole cuisine, but there is, in fact, a difference per se. The Creoles were wealthy planters who settled in southern Louisiana with their European chefs, thus it is a food of aristocracy. Using Old World techniques on indigenous ingredients, Creole cuisine was born. Bouillabaisse, native to Provence, gave way to gumbo; the Spanish paella was the basis for jambalaya; and so on.

The Cajuns, on the other hand, descended from the Acadian refugees. They were less aristocratic and more agrarian; they cooked simple “one pot” dishes for mere sustenance. Cajun food is usually characterized by such ingredients as wild game, seafoods, wild vegetables and herbs. Ingredients from nearby swamps, woods, and bayous are typical things found in the Cajun black iron pot.

Today, many Creole and Cajun foods have blended into a melting pot, if you will, of southern Louisiana. One things’ for sure, though: it’s an American cuisine from the South like no other.

A crawfish boil is an event native to Louisiana but over the years has spread to most of the deep South (like my native Houston), and now, it can even be found in California, Colorado, and D.C. But because I’m a Southern girl, I don’t trust eatin’ crawfish nowhere but down he’e. What’s unique and fun about a crawfish boil is the atmosphere. Not only are you grubbin’ on good food, but you do it outside on a picnic table covered with newspaper or butcher paper. You do it over beer. You do it with your bare hands. (Or if you’re prissy like me, with plastic or latex gloves.) Most importantly, you do it with good company–it is NOT to be eaten alone. The crawfish and all the fixin’s are poured straight from the pot onto the middle of the table, and everyone grabs from the steaming pile of awesome goodness.

This recipe is based on one I got from a former coworker who has French roots from southern Louisiana. Whether she’s Creole or Cajun, I have yet to determine, but either way, this recipe is pretty tasty. She and her family do a crawfish boil every year for about a hundred friends and family. I, of course, scaled down the servings and tweaked it a little, but remember that you need to do this with a group. Also, it’s like a half day affair, so make sure you have lots of energy. I haven’t held a crawfish boil myself since 2008 because the purging, cooking, and especially the cleaning up have been too much for this tired soul. But when the best restaurants around town sell crawfish for $7+ per pound, a little DIY is something to consider.

Crawfish

Crazy Cajun crawfish

Recipe: Cajun Crawfish Boil

Summary: From the Melancons of southern Louisiana

Ingredients

  • 30-40 lbs. live crawfish
  • 3 lemons, halved
  • 2.5 tbsp. cayenne pepper
  • 6 med. onions, halved
  • 9 unpeeled garlic heads
  • 1.5 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2.5 tbsp. Louisiana brand hot sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 lg. pkg. Louisiana brand crab/seafood boil powder
  • 12 oz. cans pineapple slices
  • 10 med. red potatoes
  • 1 lg. pkg. button mushrooms
  • 2 lbs. sausage links
  • 30 sm. frozen corn on the cob
  • 1/2 canister of salt

Instructions

  1. Crawfish must be purged before cooking to rid the shellfish of dirt and impurities: an hour before cooking, dump live crawfish into a lg. bin and rinse with water. Dump water and repeat. Refill bin with enough water to cover crawfish. Add half the salt canister and stir.
  2. Fill the pot’s basket with crawfish. Place the basket inside the pot and fill pot with water to cover crawfish. Remove basket and note the water level. Dump water and refill pot to the noted water level.
  3. Heat water to rolling boil. Add Louisiana powder, squeezed lemons plus their rinds, minced garlic, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, and pineapple slices plus juice.
  4. Dump crawfish into bin. Rinse 2 more times.
  5. Dump crawfish, potatoes, onion halves, and garlic heads into basket. Hose down.
  6. When water reaches rolling boil, carefully lower basket into pot. Bring back to rolling boil, and then time for 4 min.
  7. After 4 min., turn off fire. Add corn, sausages, and mushrooms. Let stand for at least 20 min. The longer it soaks, the spicier the batch.

Quick Notes

Cook the crawfish outdoors using the same pot, basket, and propane burner used for deep-fried turkey.

Many people say the larger the better, but I like medium-sized crawfish best because: (1) they’re easier to peel, and (2) they soak up the spices better.

Use andouille or boudin sausage for an authentic Cajun boil.

Avoid eating the crawfish with straight tails: they went into the pot already dead and could contain harmful bacteria. Stick with the curled tails.

Dipping sauces: I like to eat my crawfish straight up without any dipping sauces as I prefer to taste the essence of the spices. But many people enjoy it with various condiments. The ones I often see are: (1) salt and pepper with fresh lemon juice; (2) mayo mixed with Sriracha (or rooster) hot sauce; and (3) Creole seasoning mixed with fresh lemon juice.

This recipe should serve approx. 10.

Variations

The longer the crawfish soak after turning off the fire, the spicier they will be. Soak for a minimum of 20 min.

My favorite crawfish restaurant in Houston is The Boiling Crab. They seem to use a ton of minced garlic on their crawfish, which I may try to emulate next time by upping my minced garlic by ten or something. If you get to this before I do, let me know how it is.

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

deep-fried turkey

Fried turkey

Frying the turkey



For nine years and counting, it’s been my little tradition to fry a turkey for Thanksgiving. In 2001 when I started my first job out of college, my Louisianan coworker, Brandi, informed me her family deep-fries a turkey every year for Thanksgiving. I pictured a spicy flour battered turkey–just like Popeye’s chicken but in whole bird form and five times larger. I was surprised to learn that fried turkey wasn’t battered at all–simply rubbed down with Cajun spice and then thrown (very carefully) into a vat of hot peanut oil. I was a little disappointed since fried chicken skin is always the best part but since everyone and their mama claimed fried turkey is so good, I decided to give the turkey frying a try anyway.

To try this at home, I recommend acquiring the following items:

  • 1 40-qt. stockpot with basket (these are usually sold together for turkey and crawfish cooking purposes–both Southern/Louisianan dishes)
  • 1 propane burner for outdoor cooking
  • 1 propane tank
  • 1 lg. pc. cardboard to lay under burner so oil splatters won’t stain your concrete

You can find the turkey fryer at Academy; I personally found mine at Tuesday Morning for about $50 if I remember correctly. The propane burner and tank is from Wal-Mart. I imagine you could probably make one stop at a Home Depot or Lowe’s and find all these things.

The advantages of frying a turkey are:

  1. It’s delicious. Once I went fried, I never went back. Even the breast meat is juicy.
  2. It’s quick. Roasting a turkey takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per pound depending on if it’s stuffed or not, and you have to tend to it frequently for basting. Frying, on the other hand, takes 3.5 minutes per pound, just a fraction of the time it takes to roast the bird. And once you get it in the fryer, you don’t have to touch it till it’s finished.

The disadvantage? Obviously, it’s not as healthy. But when you’re stuffing yourself with mashed potatoes and casseroles and pies for the holidays anyway, who cares? That’s the Southern motto.

This turkey has received rave reviews from every mouth it’s touched for the last nine years. So why not do it yourself this year? John and I like to sit in our garage and driveway, pop open a beer, and relax while taking in the wonderful smells of deep-fried turkey.

Note: This photo of the turkey was actually taken in 2006 because the one we took of the turkey this year was half carved and not a good picture.



Fried turkey 2

The tasty end result



Recipe: Deep-Fried Turkey

Summary: Call it Cajun, call it Southern. I just call it damn delish.

Ingredients

  • 3 ga. peanut oil for frying
  • 1 whole turkey, no more than 14 lbs.
  • 1/4 c. cajun or creole seasoning
  • 1 jar cajun or creole marinade with syringe for injecting

Instructions

  1. The day before cooking, remove giblets and rinse turkey. Pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Inject turkey with marinade: 1 syringe-ful in ea. leg, 1 in ea. thigh, 1 in ea. wing, and 2 in ea. breast. During injection, pull syringe out slowly while pushing down plunger to spread marinade evenly throughout meat.
  3. Rub inside and outside liberally with seasoning. Marinate in refrigerator overnight.
  4. When ready to cook, fill 40-qt. pot with 3 gal. peanut oil. (This should fill about half the pot.) Heat oil on high heat to 400 degrees or until oil has lines in it, indicating high heat.
  5. Make sure skin at turkey neck has at least a 2″ opening so oil doesn’t get trapped inside the bird later. Place turkey in basket neck side down.
  6. Slowly lower basket into pot. Cook 3.5 min./lb. or until internal temperature of thigh is 180 degrees.
  7. Remove turkey and let it sit for 20 min. before carving.

Quick Notes

Note that it takes 24 hours to thaw five lbs. of turkey. I.e. a 14-lb. turkey will take 72 hours. And remember that it needs to be fully thawed before the marinade can be injected, which means if I had a 14-lb. turkey I wanted to fry on Thanksgiving Thursday, I need to move it from the freezer into the fridge Sunday morning (thawed by Wednesday so it can marinate a full 24 hours before going into the fyer.

For the marinade, we always use Tony Chachere‘s Creole butter flavor. As for the rub, we used both Rudy’s turkey rub and Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning.

Peanut oil is ideal for deep-frying because it has a high smoking point.

Birds 14 lbs. or less are ideal for this method of cooking–any larger, and the bird’s skin could be overexposed to the hot oil, resulting in a charred skin. And we can’t have that considering skin is the best part!

Be extremely careful when frying the turkey. They say you should cook this completely outdoors in case a grease fire shoots up to the sky, but we always cook ours in the garage and have yet to have a black hole on our ceiling. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

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