Archive for the ‘Louisiana’Category

Shopping for signature tastes of New Orleans

Cierrra Briscoe at the Louisiana General Store

The New Orleans School of Cooking (524 St. Louis Street, 504-525-2665, www.nosoc.com) is located in an early 19th century molasses warehouse in the French Quarter. Every day of the week, its hands-on and demonstration classes introduce folks to the fine points of such Louisiana classics as jambalaya, shrimp remoulade, pralines, and bread pudding.

Its Louisiana General Store, located in the same building, is also the most convenient place to peruse a carefully curated selection of food products essential to Creole and Cajun cooking. The shelves are packed with the products preferred by—and in some cases developed by—the school’s instructors.

I stopped in one afternoon and soon found myself engaged in conversation with staff member Cierra Briscoe (above). She is equally fascinated with food and fashion and will soon be studying fashion design in Los Angeles. She knew she would miss her native cuisine.

I asked Briscoe to recommend a half dozen products for my home kitchen. I suspect that she will also tuck them into her suitcase when she heads to LA. Here is her carefully considered list:

supplies for Louisiana General Store

Big Kevin’s Bayou Blend

This spice mixture is neither too hot nor too salty. It was created by Kevin Belton, a long-time instructor at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Briscoe likes to use it to season chicken and fish.

Cajun Trinity

The mix of green pepper, onion, and celery forms the base notes of Cajun cuisine. This is a quick way to add the essential flavor to soups, gumbos, and red beans and rice.

Cajun Power Garlic Sauce

It may not be part of the “trinity,” but Briscoe uses this garlic sauce like a hot sauce. It adds extra flavor to her gumbos and her red beans and rice.

more supplies at Louisiana General Store

Gumbo Filé

One of the ways to thicken gumbo is to add this blend of dried and ground leaves from the sassafras tree.

Crystal Hot Sauce

Tabasco Sauce, created to liven up cuisine after the Civil War, is Louisiana’s most famous hot sauce. Crystal Hot Sauce is a relative newcomer—introduced in 1923. Many New Orleanians, including Briscoe, prefer Crystal’s milder, brighter flavor. “I use it on everything,” Briscoe says.

New Orleans School of Cooking Vanilla Bean Blend

This is the school’s proprietary vanilla. They use it to make pralines like the samples that Briscoe is handing out in the photo at the top of the post. The recipe is on the back of the bottle.

29

12 2016

Mixing it up with authentic New Orleans gumbo

A bowl arrive at the Gumbo Shop in New Orleans
A hearty bowl of gumbo is a powerful argument for open borders. It took four different cultures to create Louisiana’s leading contribution to American cuisine. French settlers contributed the cooking technique, while the Spanish brought bell peppers, onions, and celery—the so-called “trinity” of seasonings. Africans added okra for flavor and as a thickening agent. For variation, some cooks thicken their dish with the filé powder favored by the local Choctaw tribe.

Local choice

Dining room in the Gumbo Shop, New OrleansMade with sausage and either shellfish or poultry, gumbo is a forgiving dish that allows each cook to put a personal stamp on it. I sampled many versions when I was in New Orleans and was never disappointed. But I ate my favorite at the Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter Street, 504-525-1486, www.gumboshop.com). I shouldn’t have been surprised. The restaurant is a perennial winner in the Best of New Orleans readers’ poll conducted by the Gambit.

The Gumbo Shop was established in 1948 and features the traditional New Orleans style of ceiling fans, a large bar, big windows on the street, and decorative murals. It was hopping when I stopped in for a late lunch, but the waiters and waitresses were models of calm, even chatty efficiency. I opted for the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo over the seafood okra gumbo. While I waited for my bowl to arrive, I listened to the waiter at the next table chat with a couple of visitors. To relax, he said, “I’ll get a strong cup of coffee and sit outside and blow through a pack of cigarettes.”

My server Tyler (at top of the post) ceremoniously delivered my bowl, along with a hot loaf of crusty French bread. He also pointed to the array of hot sauces on the table. “Take a taste and then add a little hot sauce if you like.”

My gumbo was rich with okra, tomato, chicken, and sausage and had a pronounced green pepper flavor to the broth. I decided to forego the extra heat. The flavor was deep and satisfying. Initially it seemed a bit mild, but the heat snuck up on me. I was wiping sweat from my brow by the time I sopped up the last bit of broth with my bread.

CHICKEN AND ANDOUILLE GUMBO


Gumbo at the Gumbo Shop, New OrleansThe Gumbo Shop in New Orleans uses whole chickens in their gumbo, but I like to stick with chicken thighs because they impart an intense chicken flavor. Many cooks also use canned tomatoes, but I think fresh tomatoes make the dish brighter. The only tricky part about making gumbo is having the patience to brown the roux without burning it. Keep keep stirring and watch the color!

Ingredients

4 pounds chicken thighs
2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil plus 1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound fresh or frozen okra in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped celery
3 cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
12 ounces andouille sausage, sliced in 3/4” rounds
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt

Directions

Simmer chicken thighs in water with bay leaf for 45 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside to cool. Remove bay leaf and reserve cooking water as chicken stock. When thighs cool, strip meat from the bones and reserve.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and fry the okra for 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning. Cook until the stringy strands disappear and okra is lightly browned. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven with a heavy bottom, heat 1/2 cup olive oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir and cook until flour browns into a roux. When color reaches dark brown, stir in onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up brown bits from bottom of Dutch oven.

When vegetables are tender, add tomatoes, sausage, and sauteed okra and cook for 15 minutes. Add the spices and mix well. Pour in 8 cups reserved chicken stock, bring to slow boil, and simmer for an hour. Add cooked chicken and additional stock if necessary. Adjust seasoning and serve in large bowls with steamed white rice.

27

12 2016

New Orleans starts morning on the sweet side

Café du Monde in New Orleans
Beignets are the official state donut of Louisiana and perhaps the most famous of foods in New Orleans. (A later post will discuss gumbo, the other signature New Orleans dish.)

Beignets at Café du Monde in New OrleansBut back to beignets. The squares of yeasted pastry dough are vat-fried and then treated to a thick dusting of confectioners’ sugar. They are said to have originated in France and made their way to New Orleans with the Acadians who fled the Canadian maritime provinces when Britain took over in the mid-18th century. I’m not sure that the French would appreciate having their light-as-air pastries dubbed as donuts.

You can try beignets any time of day or night at Café du Monde (800 Decatur Street, 504-525-4544, www.cafedumonde.com). This city institution, established in 1862, is open 24/7 and sits right near the French Market. As you stroll the streets of the French Quarter, you’ll be able to tell who has enjoyed some beignets by the tell-tale dusting of sugar on their clothes.

An African inspired breakfast treat


The Old Coffee Pot in New Orleans

Finding the city’s other fried breakfast dish takes more effort. Callas, a deep-fried ball of rice mixed with sugar and egg, was most likely introduced to New Orleans by enslaved Africans. In fact, slave women often sold them on the streets of the French Quarter on their one day off each week. These days, callas are not as ubiquitous.

The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant (714 St. Peter Street, 504-524-3500, www.theoldcoffeepot.com) is the only place I found in the French Quarter with callas on the breakfast menu. The restaurant opened in 1894 and is a charming place to start the day. It features an open kitchen, long wooden bar, murals of old scenes of the French Quarter, and a wrought iron chandelier with cascading roses.

Callas at the Old Coffee Pot in New OrleansAfter correcting my pronunciation (the accent is on the second syllable, as in “call-OSS”), my waitress Shirley told me that very few people know about callas these days. She remembers them as a treat that children would eat before they made their First Communion. For a filling breakfast, the Old Coffee Pot serves two callas with powdered sugar and optional syrup along with a big helping of grits. Diners need only decide whether they want the cook to mix chopped pecans with the rice. Shirley assured me that both options are equally good. So I went all in. I opted for the extra crunch of the pecans—and added a healthy pour of syrup. It was a satisfying breakfast with a bit of city history on the side.

25

12 2016

Chef Slade Rushing puts zing back in Brennan’s

Brennan's dining room
If you favor a light breakfast, you will have to adjust your thinking in New Orleans. Every meal, it seems, is an excuse for excess. French Quarter stalwart Brennan’s (417 Royal Street, 504-525-9711, www.brennansneworleans.com) epitomizes the local penchant of beginning the day with a celebratory breakfast. The meal might start with a glass of sparkling wine mixed with pear and cinnamon purée and proceed through a couple of courses—and then dessert. After all, Brennan’s is credited with introducing Bananas Foster.

In 1946, family patriarch Owen Brennan opened the restaurant that launched a dining dynasty. Brennan’s has been housed in an instantly recognizable bright pink building since the 1950s. It had fallen on hard times before Ralph Brennan and partner Terry White purchased it in 2013. “I played here as a child and worked here in high school and college,” Brennan recalled when he stopped at my table in the Chanteclair Room to chat. “I was afraid it was going to leave the family.”

The restaurant closed for an 18-month renovation. The new owners refurbished the bar and relocated the kitchen to create a dining room with windows on Royal Street. They painted the walls of the Chanteclair Room with murals depicting 1895 Mardi Gras scenes of the Proteus parade.

A gastronomic leader once again

Chef Slade Rushing of Brennan's Of even more interest to diners, Brennan’s hired Slade Rushing (right) as executive chef. (Ralph Brennan’s son Patrick is sous chef.)

“I’ve always wanted to take over an institution in the French Quarter,” said Mississippi-born Rushing. “Here in the South, food is a way of life, a reason to celebrate.” Rushing has tweaked a few classic dishes and introduced some new ones that are probably destined to become classics themselves.

For the traditional New Orleans dish of Eggs Sardou, Rushing replaced English muffins with breaded and fried artichoke bottoms as the base for poached eggs. His sauce features tomato, chervil, and champagne vinegar.

Edd Yolk Carpaccio at Brennan'sRushing’s additions to the menu include Egg Yolk Carpaccio, his restaurant-elegant version of a Spanish bar food classic (left). It features grilled shrimp dabbed with an andouille vinaigrette and swimming in a brilliant yellow puddle of egg yolk. (The warm plate half cooks the yolk.) On top is a vertical tangle of crisp shoestring sweet potato fries. He also put a Southern spin on North Atlantic lobster by serving shelled barbecued lobster tail and claw with spiced butter, lemon confit, and thyme.

He is most excited about Rabbit Rushing, a dish that speaks of his Southern roots. “That’s my background on a plate,” Rushing says of the fried Mississippi rabbit served with creamed collards, eggs over easy, and pickled pork jus. “My dad would wake me up at 3 a.m. I’d get my shotgun and we’d shoot a rabbit in the collard patch. The meat was so fresh it was jumping in the pan.”

The dish has proven immensely popular. “It’s elevated soul food,” says Rushing of the dish he is holding in the photo above. “Taste memories are the most important thing that chefs can bring to the kitchen.”

23

12 2016

Commander’s Palace lives up to the legend

Dining room at Commander's Palace in New Orleans
Enjoying a leisurely four-course Reveillon dinner (see previous post) is probably the best way to revel in the holiday spirit in New Orleans. But a fine meal is by no means limited to dinner—or to the historic French Quarter.

St. Charles streetcar in New OrleansFor office parties and ladies who lunch, many restaurants also offer midday holiday menus. Among them is Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221, commanderspalace.com). This dining institution is housed in a bright blue building in the Garden District, where American interlopers shunned by French Creole society built their own grand mansions in the 19th century. The St. Charles streetcar carries passengers from the edge of the French Quarter to the Garden District in trolleys decked with garlands.

Emile Commander opened Commander’s Palace in the 1880s. It was already a landmark when the Brennan family acquired it in 1969. In truth, it’s nearly impossible not to eat in a Brennan restaurant in New Orleans. The extended family has bred great restaurateurs the way the Bourbon family bred kings and queens. I’ll admit, though, that trying to decipher the family tree and follow the twists and turns of family disagreements could give anyone dyspepsia.

“This is a holiday lunch at Commander’s Palace,” the maitre d’ told me as he led me through a maze of dining rooms. “We can’t guarantee what’s going to happen.”

Dining at a grande dame


servers at Commander's Palace in New Orleans

Actually, they can guarantee a fine meal, which should start with a glass of Commander’s Palace Cuvée Brut Blanc de Noir. It’s made for the restaurant by Iron Horse Vineyard, a sparkling wine specialist in Sonoma’s Green Valley. The Christmas Celebration lunch starts with turtle soup, followed by Sugarcane Lacquered South Texas Quail. I opted instead for the soup of the day. I figured that roasted pumpkin soup with whiskey and toasted pumpkin seeds seemed like a pot I could try to recreate back home in New England.

Some of New Orleans’ most famous chefs have honed their skills in Commander’s kitchen. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both served as executive chef during the 1970s and 1980s. Prudhomme created the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle that remains the restaurant’s signature dessert (available à la carte or with the Christmas Celebration Lunch). For a dramatic end, it’s finished tableside with warm whiskey cream.

ROASTED PUMPKIN WHISKEY SOUP

roasted pumpkin soupThis isn’t the restaurant’s recipe, but it tastes very much the same. Any of the winter squashes can be substituted for pumpkin, though a nice sugar pie pumpkin makes a sweet, rich soup. Butternut squash also works well, and tends to be available all winter. I’ve given the directions here to make your own roasted pumpkin seeds, but snack jar pepitas are a lot less trouble.

Serves 8 as a soup course

Ingredients

3 pound pumpkin or butternut squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
2 leeks, washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin rounds
1 onion, roughly chopped
8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 cup buttermilk
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced parsley

Directions

Set oven at 375°F.

Trim off the stem and base of the squash or pumpkin. Cut top to bottom into six pieces. Remove seeds and reserve. Paint the flesh with olive oil and place on a roasting pan. Roast in oven 15-20 minutes or until flesh is tender and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 300°F.

To prepare pumpkin seeds, rinse thoroughly to remove all pulp, then place in pan with water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Toss with remaining olive oil and spread in single layer on a baking sheet. Salt generously. Roast in about 45 minutes until crisp and brown. Reserve.

In large soup pot, melt half the butter. Add leeks and onion and sprinkle with pinch of salt. Cover pot and sweat leeks and onion over low heat about 20 minutes. Add a little water if needed to keep them from sticking to pan.

Scoop roasted pumpkin flesh away from skin and add to leeks and onion. Pour in the stock, season and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then let the soup cool. Add whiskey, buttermilk, and remaining butter and stir to dissolve. Purée in a blender and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper. Reheat for serving.

Serve sprinkled with a few roasted pumpkin seeds and minced parsley.

Panna cotta Christmas style

Peppermint panna cotta
As I mentioned in the last post, Broussard’s served a dynamite version of panna cotta tweaked for the holiday season. Not only was it an intense pink and redolent of peppermint, it also had a luscious chocolate topping. While my homemade attempt doesn’t indulge in some stray raspberries as a garnish, it does boast that winning combination of peppermint and chocolate.

Many restaurant chefs offer panna cotta as a dessert option because making it doesn’t require a pastry chef’s skill set. In fact, it is about as easy as making Jell-O. Still, it’s rich and satisfying and can be made to look fabulous. This recipe is a simple adaptation of the restaurant classic, but scaled down to dinner-party volume. To make it even easier, the chocolate layer is a commercial ganache in a jar. It’s just the right texture.

PEPPERMINT PANNA COTTA

serves 6

Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream
3/8 cup (75 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6-8 drops red food coloring
Hershey’s Spreads chocolate
whipped cream
crushed Starlight mints or candy canes for garnish

Directions

Pour the cream into a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin on top of the cream. Let it dissolve on the surface for at least 10 minutes.

Move pan to burner over medium heat. Begin stirring with a small whisk. When cream is warm, add the sugar and the two extracts. Continue stirring until the lumpy gelatin is completely dissolved and cream is smooth. Stir in food coloring and stir to distribute evenly. At no time should the mixture boil.

Remove pan from heat and pour warm cream into six juice glasses or clear tulip cups. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate six hours to overnight to fully set the panna cotta.

Warm the Hershey’s Spreads chocolate in a pan to liquefy. Pour a thin layer atop each glass of panna cotta and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with crushed peppermint candy.

Eat, drink, and be merry in New Orleans at the holidays

New Orleans is always ready for the holidays
As a New Englander, I always secretly pitied people who had to celebrate Christmas in a warm climate. But after one day in New Orleans, I realized the error of my ways. Even in December, potted trees and ferns flourish on wrought iron balconies and poinsettias and camellias bloom profusely. All it takes are a few red bows and some twinkling white lights to deck the city for the holidays.

With decorating out of the way, New Orleanians can spend more time at the table. Great food is a city birthright and I can’t think of another place where you can eat better—or at a more reasonable price—than New Orleans at Christmas.

Until the Civil War, Creole families enjoyed lavish feasts after Mass on Christmas Eve and again on New Year’s Eve. Today’s chefs have improved on that tradition. Now more than 50 restaurants—including many of the city’s best—offer four-course, fixed-price Reveillon menus throughout the holiday season. (See holiday.neworleansonline.com for a full list.) The term “Reveillon” refers to a late night meal. But today’s diners don’t have to wait until after midnight to feast. Moreover, they can choose between contemporary cooking or the city’s signature Creole cuisine, which blends French technique, African tradition, and Spanish spices. Reveillon menus are almost evenly divided between the two.

Tujague's is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans

Celebrate at venerable Tujague’s

For tradition, it’s hard to beat Tujague’s (823 Decatur Street, 504-525-8676, www.tujaguesrestaurant.com). Founded in 1856 by immigrants from Bordeaux, Tujague’s is the second oldest restaurant in the city. The long wooden bar in the front room was brought from France that same year. The bar is a lively place for a drink, but the dining room with historic photos on the walls is a better choice for a leisurely meal. The Reveillon menu hits on many of the city’s classics. Fresh local seafood finds its way into bacon-wrapped oysters en brochette or crawfish and goat cheese crepes. One of the entree choices is Chicken Pontalba, a city favorite featuring a chicken breast on a bed of crunchy fried potato cubes, ham, and mushrooms—all topped with Béarnaise sauce, that piquant daughter of Hollandaise.

Making Café Brûlot at Arnaud's

Drink to the season at Arnaud’s

Tujague’s was into its seventh decade when Arnaud’s (813 Bienville Street, 504-523-5433, www.arnaudsrestaurant.com) was founded in 1918 by a French wine salesman. An attention to fine libations has always been part of the Arnaud’s experience. The best way to start a Reveillon dinner is with a French 75 cocktail: cognac and lemon juice topped with champagne. Menu choices usually include a version of Arnaud’s signature dish of shrimp in remoulade sauce. (Made with mayonnaise, Creole mustard, paprika, chopped pickle, and a slew of spices, Arnaud’s remoulade is the standard by which all Creole versions of the French sauce are measured.) The most satisfying and dramatic way to end a meal is with a cup of Café Brûlot. The mix of black coffee, lemon and orange rinds, cinnamon sticks, and orange Curaçao is prepared tableside and flamed with brandy (above).

Filet Wellington at Broussard's

Broussard’s strikes French pose

Broussard’s (819 Conti Street, 504-581-3866, broussards.com) was founded in 1920 by chef Joseph Broussard, who merged his classical Parisian training with the flavors and flair of Creole cuisine. Still located in a mansion owned by his wife’s family, Broussard’s is formal enough to make a meal feel special and casual enough to make diners relax. The Reveillon menu includes such classics as Creole Turtle Soup—a rich, almost gumbo-like soup always topped with sherry—and such celebratory dishes as Filet Wellington accompanied by blue cheese puff pastry and wild mushrooms. Broussard’s also served my favorite dessert of my Reveillon dining: peppermint stick panna cotta topped with chocolate ganache, a few raspberries and a dab of whipped cream. (Next post will have a recipe!)

appetizer sampler at Tableau

Tableau makes holiday stage set

The latest venture from Dickie Brennan (a scion of New Orleans’ dominant restaurant family) is Tableau (616 St. Peter Street, 504-934-3463, www.tableaufrenchquarter.com). Brennan purchased part of the Jackson Square property of the historic Le Petit Theatre (www.lepetittheatre.com), renovated the building and created a contemporary restaurant with an open kitchen in the main dining room. The renovated theater space presents all manner of performing events. Tableau is a great spot for a pre-theater dinner or for dining on a balcony overlooking Jackson Square on a warm evening. It’s also a perfect place to enjoy a contemporary interpretation of time-honored Creole cuisine.

Chef John Martin makes the most of local products. His rich Gulf Oyster Stew, which gets a sassy anise hit from Pernod, comes topped with a Southern black pepper biscuit. His mixed grill of Gulf pompano and Gulf shrimp (with a side of roasted root vegetables) pops to life on a base of citrus gastrique and satsuma gazpacho.

The inventive pairings certainly give diners a lot to talk about. In fact, wherever you choose to eat, expect to be drawn into conversation with diners at neighboring tables. The holiday season only enhances New Orleanians’ gregarious nature and the Reveillon menus are such a good deal that many locals dine out as often as possible in December.

What to buy in a Cajun grocery store

grocery2 Usually Pat and I write about buying specialty foods in overseas grocery stores, but Cajun cooking stands so far apart from most other American regional food that the grocers have developed lines of goods we can rarely find anywhere else.

The pickled tabasco peppers, gumbo file powder, and various hot pepper sauces shown above are cases in point. In fact, I was once told by a northern grocer that file powder was illegal. (Not true, but it is allegedly mildly carcinogenic. If you eat three pounds at a time, you might develop a tumor in 20 years.) Needless to say, file powder can be hard to find up here in the chilly north.

grocery1 The ingredients immediately above are even more local. Dried shrimp might be a worldwide commodity, but Louisiana dried shrimp has a distinctive flavor of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s great in a shrimp cream sauce or a soup. The garlic sauce from Poche’s is an essential ingredient in some quarters for dousing boiled crawfish tails. The instant roux mix, while not so different from Wondra flour, makes a great tan roux.

grocery3 The last item is a latecomer, at least to legitimate grocery stores. At 100 proof, this colored corn likker has the requisite kick to be called moonshine — minus the chemicals to make you go blind.

Making crawfish étouffée

Spoonful of etouffeeThere are as many recipes for crawfish étouffée as there are cooks in Louisiana, but that’s probably because the basic recipe is so simple that everyone wants to add something to give it a personal touch.

As part of my instruction at Crawfish College in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, I had the good fortune of meeting chef Dustie Latiolais of the hugely popular restaurant Crawfish Town USA (2815 Grand Point Highway, Breaux Bridge, LA 70517, 337-667-6148, www.crawfishtownusa.com). Crawfish dustie He showed my class how to prepare a classic crawfish étouffée at home. The key elements are the so-called “Cajun Trinity” of chopped onion, celery, and green pepper, and (of course) the crawfish. Latiolais thickens his with a red roux, which includes paprika as well as flour kneaded into the butter. The idea is to make a strongly flavored stock which is thickened with a roux so that it envelops the crawfish tails nicely.

CRAWFISH ÉTOUFFÉE

Ingredients

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
3 tablespoons chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped green pepper
1 1/2 cups seafood stock (can be saved from boiling shrimp or lobster)
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons white flour
1 tablespoon paprika
6 ounces crawfish tails

Directions

1. In heavy-bottomed saucepan melt 6 ounces butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and green pepper and cook until onion softens and begins to become translucent. Be careful not to brown butter.

2. Add seafood stock and bring to a simmer.

3. In small bowl combine soft butter, flour, and paprika. Knead together until uniform. This is your red roux.

4. Whisk roux into simmering stock, stirring vigorously to keep from lumping. Continue stirring until mixture begins to thicken (about 5 minutes).

5. Reduce heat and stir in crawfish tails. Heat until tails are hot. Serve over rice.

Peeling Louisiana crawfish

01-Breaking a crawfish apart Crawfish might look like little lobsters, but getting to the meat takes a whole different approach. For starters, a meal of lobster is one lobster. A meal of crawfish contains several dozen. Because they are smaller, the meat in the claws – let alone the legs – is of little consequence. The tail’s the thing. But crawfish, unlike lobster, don’t have a carapace anywhere near big enough to poke your finger through.

02-Crawfish fat When I attended Crawfish College and the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the first thing I had to learn about crawfish was how to get at those tails so I didn’t go hungry. Fortunately, there’s a time-honored technique that also yields a nice clean tail without the animal’s alimentary tract.

Start by grasping the crawfish with both hands – one on the tail, the other on the main body (as above). Now twist to separate the two sections. This brings you to the existential choice: To suck the heads or to throw them away and move on to the tails. Even some Cajuns think sucking the heads is disgusting. Others enjoy inhaling the briny essence of crawfish. Still others suggest that it depends on how much beer you’ve been drinking.

03-Pulling vein from crawfishThe separated tail will be dabbed with a murky yellow-green mess traditionally called “crawfish fat.” (See the image above on the left.) In fact, it is the liver and has an intense crawfish flavor. It is universally enjoyed. All fans of crawfish agree that when peeling the tails, you need to pinch at the base. As you draw the tail out of the shell, the pressure will capture the digestive tract and pull it out separately from the meat so it can be discarded. (See image on right)

Although the directions sound complicated, they become second nature when you sit down to a special crawfish eating table (below), with a deep well in the middle for boiled crawfish and a funnel to toss down the shells to the garbage can strategically situated below. The whole business goes much faster when accompanied by the spicy Saison d’écrévisses ale from the local Bayou Teche brewery.
04-Peeling table with beer

08

05 2013