Cajun

Small-town culinary greatness: Patty Queen’s Cottage

Small-town culinary greatness: Patty Queen’s Cottage

One of the pleasures of touring rural France, Italy, or Spain is discovering amazing country restaurants far from population centers. The U.S. has some places like that, too. But few of them can match the Cottage Restaurant & Cafe (427 Farmington Ave, Plainville, Conn.; 860-793-8888, cottagerestaurantandcafe.com) for staying power and consistently terrific food. Located at a nondescript crossroads in Plainville, Connecticut, a little southwest of Hartford, the Cottage should be celebrated as a Nutmeg State treasure. Full disclosure: We met Patty Queen at a 1996 book party celebrating the publication of Julie Stillman's Great Women Chefs (https://goo.gl/Rxutaq). Queen was among the youngest chefs featured. Ever since, we've been driving more than 100 miles to eat at the Cottage three or four times a year. We're...Read More

Shopping for signature tastes of New Orleans

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...Read More

What to buy in a Cajun grocery store

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. The ingredients immediately above are even more local. Dried shrimp might be...Read More

Peeling Louisiana crawfish

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. 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...Read More

What to eat at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival

When it comes to the food vendors at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the food isn't all crawfish, but to quote a good friend's catch phrase, it's all good. Well, most of it. I'd been given a big buildup from a couple of locals about Cajun pistols or pistolettes, which are buns stuffed with seafood and cheese and then deep-fried. As someone said, “they musta changed the recipe.” Cindy Harris from Houston, Texas (above) opted for Giant Shrimp on a Stick from the same vendor selling Gator on a Stick (“tender and delicious”). In fairness, I tried the alligator on a stick and found it more tender than most alligator I've tried. And, no, it doesn't taste like chicken. It tastes like alligator. Food on...Read More

Trapping deepwater crawfish in the Atchafalaya

Jody Meche is a third or fourth generation fisherman who maintains about 1,000 crawfish traps in the Atchafalaya Basin. He also happens to be a member of the Henderson Town Council and a board member of the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion & Research Board. So even if he can clown around with a grimace as he shows off a prize crawfish (above), he has the bona fides to be taken seriously on the subject of crawfish. And he's not modest -- not even a little bit. “My crawfish are the best tasting crawfish in the world,” he proclaims. He spent a half day on the Atchafalaya showing some of us in Crawfish College just how deepwater wild fishing is done. Meche fishes a much larger trap...Read More

Growing crawfish in ponds produces them by the ton

To begin understanding crawfish, it's worth starting with the culture and harvest. A lot of the Cajun country crawfish business involves growing them in ''ponds'' – really flooded depressions fed with bayou water and held in place with an earthen levee. We went to visit Mike Clay's pond, where he's been growing and (after a fashion) breeding crawfish since 1985. Shown above is Mike's pond, with crawfisherman Robbie Guidry getting ready to make a harvest. Incidentally, Mike, shown here, is also the 2013 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival king. Crawfish from his pond have also won the festival's crawfish races for the last dozen years or so. From every haul, Mike selects a few fast movers for training, which is why he has crawfish crawling around...Read More

Off to Crawfish College in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana's annual Crawfish Festival pretty much celebrates everything that is great about Acadian culture, from the mud bugs to the music to the Cajun proclivity for a darned good party. The heart of the festival, of course, is the mass consumption of crawfish farmed and wild-caught in St. Martin's Parish. This year the organizers put a little twist on the festivities by offering a crash course for those of us who did not grow up on intimate terms with the Bayou Teche and the Atchafalaya Basin. They call it Crawfish College -- a little introduction to the world of Cajun country's signature crustacean. Over the next few days HungryTravelers will be hitting some of the course highlights. The photo above, taken last night...Read More