I’m just back from what has become an annual trip to southwestern Louisiana, a.k.a. Acadiana or Cajun Country. This time, we didn’t stay at Lafayette’s Blue Moon Saloon, a music venue cum guesthouse. Instead, we were in Eunice, a small town 30 minutes away, at Black Pot Camp, a three-day event with Cajun music and dance workshops. Sessions dealt with traditional songs and singing and individual classes for fiddles, accordions and guitars, as well as for combined bands. During breaks, small groups gathered to play and sing, scattered around the campground or in the big ancient barn.
Of course there was food. Lindzay Young, leader of the one of Acadiana’s best known bands, the Redstick Ramblers, is as good a cook as a musician. “I just love feeding people,” he said. Young’s cooking class was loosely organized; we students acting as prep cooks, slicing and dicing mounds of peppers, onions, tomatoes, sausage and chicken for Piquant, a classic Cajun spicy-hot stew served over rice for the campers’ dinner. Another supper featured Young’s fantastic grilled chicken with oniony BBQ sauce. Curtis, a Eunice native now living in Alaska, made hearty breakfasts (eggs, bacon, grits, and biscuits with peppery gravy) as well as Cajun specialties with Alaskan ingredients: halibut, reindeer sausage and moose pot roast.
Non-natives usually think of Cajun, Creole and New Orleans cuisine as a single category, but locals see things differently. Sure, there are common threads, even common dishes, but there are definite regional differences. Prairie Cajun cookery (the north part of Acadiana) is distinct from that closer to the Gulf.
And individual cooks have their own takes. Should boudin (a ubiquitous rice and pork sausage) contain liver? How much? Mutiple locally-made spice mixtures each have their fans. Some cooks make their own.
The biggest culinary divide is between New Orleans and rural Cajun country. Cajuns may wholeheartedly root for the football Saints, but they view New Orleans “fancy” restaurants and cookery as distinctly apart from theirs. Perhaps it’s that New Orleans’ elegant Creole dishes have roots in Spanish as well as French and African – although not all Creole dishes are fancy. I’m just glad we outsiders can enjoy – and cook – both.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This luscious flamed dessert from New Orleans is about as far from down-home Cajun as you can get and still be in Louisiana. In fact, it’s become such a staple in restaurants that offer tableside preparation that its connection to the Crescent City is often forgotten. But it was invented more than 60 years ago at Brennan’s, a New Orleans landmark, for a regular patron, Richard Foster. Though a restaurant creation, it’s easily made at home, and always a crowd pleaser if you have guests.
- 3 large firm but ripe bananas, sliced on a slight diagonal
- 1/2 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 c. unsalted butter
- 1/2 c. dark rum
- 1/4 c. orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec
- 1 1/2 pints vanilla ice cream
If possible, scoop the ice cream into 6 balls, put on a tray, and freeze for at least an hour before serving. That way, they won’t melt as quickly when the warm sauce is put over them.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until a smooth syrup forms.
Add the rum and orange liqueur and ignite. If you have a gas stove or burner, all you need to do is gently tip the skillet until it catches on fire.
When the flames have died down, stir the mixture well, then add the bananas and stir until they are softened and slightly caramelized, but not mushy. Spoon over the scoops of ice cream in individual dishes and serve immediately. Serves 6.
Artichokes stuffed with shrimp and/or crabmeat
Seafood-stuffed artichokes are a New Orleans classic that can be found in restaurants ranging from humble to elegant. It’s a beautiful dish, the stuffed artichoke leaves splaying out like some exotic flower. But these artichokes aren’t just for looks. They’re absolutely delicious and, hands down, my favorite artichoke preparation.
- 4 large artichokes
- 1 lemon, halved
- 2 bay leaves
- Kosher or sea salt
- 1 c. plus 2 T. unsalted butter
- 6 c. fresh breadcrumbs from homemade type white bread, or French or Italian bread
- 1 c. finely diced onions
- 1 1/2 T. minced garlic
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 lb. cooked shrimp or crabmeat, or a combination
- 2 c. freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano or aged Asiago cheese
- 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley, preferably flat-leafed, plus additional for garnish
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Throw in a small handful of salt (about 2 tablespoons) and the bay leaves. Squeeze the remaining juice from the lemon into the pot and drop in the halves. Add the trimmed artichokes and simmer until the bases of the artichokes can be pierced easily with a knife, 15-20 minutes.
Drain upside down in a colander. When cool enough to handle, gently pull open the leaves in the center of the artichokes and scoop the inedible choke (the hairy thistles) out with a spoon or melon baller.
Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing. In a large skillet, melt the 1 c. butter over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs, and stir to coat them evenly. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the crumbs are crisp and golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer the crumbs to a large bowl and reserve.
Add the remaining butter to the same skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened but not browned. Stir in the lemon juice. Add to the bowl with the breadcrumbs. Mix in the cheese and parsley thoroughly.
If you are using shrimp, reserve 4 for garnish, and coarsely chop the rest. Add the chopped shrimp and/or crabmeat to the breadcrumb mixture. If you’re using crabmeat, stir in very gently to keep the pieces of crab as large as possible. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Lay each artichoke on a large square of heavy duty aluminum foil. Divide the stuffing into fourths. Starting with the bottom leaves, pull back the outer leaves and stuff a spoonful of the breadcrumb/crab mixture into the openings. Continue until you get to the paler inner leaves, then fill the center cavity with the remaining mixture. Bring up the ends of the foil and crimp to seal.
Place a steamer basket or Chinese bamboo steamer large enough to hold the artichokes over boiling water. You may need to use two, or do this in a couple of batches. Cover and steam the artichokes for 20 minutes. Remove with tongs. If you’ve had to do this in batches, put the steamed artichokes into an oven set to its lowest temperature while the others steam.
Carefully tear away the foil and, using a wide spatula, place each artichoke on a large plate or bowl. Sprinkle with a little additional parsley and put a whole shrimp in the center, if using. Serve immediately. Serves 4 as a main course, 8-12 as an appetizer.