On the Bayou


Written By: Kim A. Fuqua

Michael, a cooking teacher at the New Orleans School of Cooking, claims that Cajun food is “the only real American cuisine.” Michael is admittedly subjective – he passionately loves his city and its cuisine. One thing is true; N’ Awlins offers some of the freshest produce and seafood around due to its climate and location. That fact, coupled with a culinary history that originates from French-speaking Canadians immigrating to Louisiana, makes this cuisine a true North American foodie favorite.

The term Creole is used to designate several somewhat distinct New Orleans food cultures inspired by the French, Spanish, African, and Italian influences of New Orleans. The development of the Creole cuisine was heavily influenced by local restaurants such as Commander’s Palace and K Paul’s, where distinct “Cajun-Creole fusion” cuisine was created by combining Cajun flavors with Creole ingredients and preparation.

You’ll find alligator bisque, turtle soup, rabbit stew, boiled crawfish, fried frog legs, and an abundance of preparations for oysters, trout, crab, and shrimp all sharing space on menus around the Crescent City. Depending on where you live, some of those items might be difficult to procure. For this menu, it is a Cajun/Creole dish with easy ingredients. Not difficult considering the staple items of the region are corn, rice, bell peppers, celery, onions, garlic, pecans, smoked sausage, shrimp, crab, and oysters.

One of the nice things about this menu is that you can make several of the dished will in advance, making it a perfect dinner party menu. In fact, the Crab and Corn Bisque and the Red Beans and Rice with Andouille Sausage both taste even better when the flavors are allowed a day to commingle in the refrigerator.

Cajun/Creole food is extremely spicy, as is commonly thought. An authentic Cajun dish will not make your eyes water, but will carry a bit of a kick. The most characteristic seasonings used for heat is dried cayenne pepper, with Tabasco sauce served on the side. Some cooks like to use a Creole or Cajun seasoning mix as well, which is easy to find in stores. Experiment and have fun!

“Laissez les Bons  Temps Rouler” (“Let the Good Times Roll”)

Cajun Bloody Mary

You’ll find a special Bloody Mary concoction in just about every establishment in New Orleans, always garnished with a salad of pickled vegetables. Pickled okra, pickled green beans, and green olives. This Cajun version packs some heat, so cut the Tabasco and Creole seasoning in half for a less spicy, but still zingy, cocktail.

Prep time: 5 minutes, Chill time: 3 hours, Servings: 16 cocktails

1            64-ounce container tomato juice
2            tablespoon Creole seasoning
1            tablespoon garlic, minced
1            tablespoon horseradish
1            teaspoon steak sauce
2           tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1            tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1/2       lemon, juiced
24        ounces pepper vodka
            pickled green beans
            pickled okra
            green olives

Mix all ingredients except vodka together in a lidded container and shake until the Creole seasoning is completely dissolved. Chill for a few hours before serving.

For each cocktail, mix 4 ounces chilled mix with 1 1/2 ounces vodka and serve over ice. Garnish with pickled vegetables.

Gracious Hot Tip: Make sure to have extra tomato juice on hand to dilute cocktails to suit your guests’ tastes.

Chef’s Tip: Many cooks tend to discard the white end of the green onion. Why? Old-school training. The white ends used to be rotten due to the high water content in the soil, so they were customarily thrown away. Not true today, so go ahead and use those white ends – they impart great flavor.

Oysters Rockefeller

One of the most sought-after recipes in the world, this version of Oysters Rockefeller is close to the one that came directly from Jules Alciatore, who invented the dish in 1889 at Antoine’s in New Orleans. The sauce of Oysters Rockefeller was so rich and buttery, they felt it should be named after the nation’s richest baron of the day, John D. Rockfeller. Bernard Guste of Antoine’s says the original recipe does not have spinach in it. It’s rumored that the secret of the original is green onions. The other secrets of this dish are tarragon and chervil. Use the freshest herbs you can find, and by no means ever use dried herbs for this dish.

Prep time: 20 minutes, Cook time: 5 minutes, Servings: 4-6

4            sprigs flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely minced
4            green onions, finely minced
              handful of fresh celery leaves, finely minced
6            fresh tarragon leaves, finely minced
6           fresh chervil leaves, finely minced
1/2       cup dried fresh French bread crumbs (preferably homemade)
1 1/2    stick butter, softened
             salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
             Tabasco, to taste
2           tablespoons Herbsaint* or Pernod (optional)
            rock salt or kosher salt
2          dozen fresh oysters on the half shell, oyster liquor reserved

* Herbsaint is an anise-flavored liquor, originally made in New Orleans. It’s used in many local recipes, and makes a refreshing cocktail called an Herbsaint Frappe. Mix 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar in a chilled cocktail shaker and pour into a chilled champagne glass. Add a little sparkling water to taste.

By hand, mix minced herbs together with the bread crumbs and the softened butter until it becomes a smooth paste.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, Tabasco, and Herbsaint.

Preheat your boiler. Lower the top rack to the middle of the oven. Spread the rock salt over a large baking sheet; this will keep the oysters level under the broiler so that they won’t top over. Moisten the salt very slightly. Plant the shells in the salt, making sure they’re level. Place one oyster  in each shell, plus a little bit of oyster liquor. Spoon an equal amount of the prepared paste over each oyster.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack and broil until the edges of the oysters have curled and the herb butter is bubbling, about five minutes. Watch carefully to make sure you don’t overcook. Serve immediately.

Crab and Corn Bisque

This recipe is adapted from the New Orleans School of Cooking. Clay meat is preferable, but the milder jumbo lump crabmeat will work just fine. Bottled Crab Boil can be found in your grocer’s fresh seafood section. It adds an interesting depth of spice. Cajuns make a roux for everything; it’s crucial to the flavor and texture of the soup.

Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 30 minutes, Servings: 8

2            quarts half-and-half
1             cup chicken stock
1/4        cup flour
1/4        cup butter
1             24-ounce can whole corn with liquid
1            pound crabmeat (claw or jumbo lump)
2           cups green onion, chopped
1/2       teaspoon salt
1/2       teaspoon cayenne pepper
1           teaspoon garlic salt
1           teaspoon paprika
1-2       teaspoons crab boil (optional)
1           tablespoon parsley, chopped (garnish)

Combine half-and-half and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.

Make a roux with the flour and butter (use your nose to perfect your roux. Right after mixing the flour and butter together, take a good sniff and establish the scent of raw flour. Stir slowly over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Do not let any color appear. Once you get it to the scent of cooked pie crust, it’s ready. And remember that good roux-making takes practice).

When roux is ready, add to your simmering pot. Stir in corn with liquid and crabmeat, and simmer another 5 minutes. Gradually add 1 cup chopped green onions and all the seasonings and simmer another 5 minutes.

Garnish individual bowls of soup with chopped green onions and chopped parsley.

Shrimp Creole

The combination of chopped onions, celery, and green pepper appear in numerous Cajun recipes and are together referred to as the “Holy Trinity” of Louisiana cooking. Garlic is considered the Pope.

Prep time: 20 minutes, Cook time: 40 minutes, Servings: 8

3            pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1            stick butter
8           tablespoons flour
2           cups onion, chopped
1            cup celery, chopped
1            cup green pepper, chopped
1            tablespoon garlic, chopped
3           cups chicken stock
1           8-ounce can tomato sauce
1           16-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1          tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2      teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
3          bay leaves
1          tablespoon brown sugar
4         thin lemon slices
1          teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1          teaspoon salt
1          teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
            Tabasco sauce, to taste
1          cup green onion, chopped
1          cup parsley, chopped
            cooked rice

Saute the shrimp in butter in a large skillet for 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from pan. Add the flour to pan and stir over medium heat until lightly browned. Add onions, celery, green pepper, and garlic and saute until they begin to turn transparent. Add the stock, tomato sauce, tomatoes, thyme, basil, bay leaves, brown sugar, lemon slices, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Simmer for at least 15 minutes.

Add green onions, parsley, and shrimp during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Serve over rice.

Red Beans with Rice and Andouille Sausage

The best cooks are those with good palates. Test yours with this smoky, spicy Cajun staple. It tastes even better the next day.

Soak time: 6 hours, Prep time: 15 minutes, Cook time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, Servings: 6-8

1            pound dried red kidney beans
1            ham bone or ham hock
1            large onion, finely chopped
1/2       cup celery with tops, finely chopped
1           large garlic clove, minced
2           tablespoons parsley, minced
1           large bay leaf
6          drops Tabasco
             salt to taste
8-10    cups water
1           pound Andouille sausage, slice about 1/4-inch think (or any smoked sausage)
3          cups cooked rice

Soak beans for 6 hours in enough water to cover. Drain and discard water. Place all ingredients except sausage and rice in 12-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat about 20 minutes or until boiling. Cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours until beans are soft. Remove about 1/4 cup beans and mash them; return them to the pot and allow to cook another 15 minutes, uncovered. Add sausage and cook until done, about 10 minutes. Remove ham bone and bay leaf. Mix with hot rice right before serving.

Bread Pudding

Because New Orleans is below sea level, the bread there is different from anywhere else in the world. They serve it everywhere, with everything. They even make one of their most popular desserts out of it. Chef Michael says, “Comfort food is in the making of the food, the sensory experience.” Bread pudding is a true comfort food, both in the making and in the eating.

Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 1 hour, 15 minutes, Servings: 16

 1           10-ounceloaf stale French bread, crumbled
4           cups milk
2           cups sugar
1            stick butter, melted
3           eggs
2           tablespoons vanilla
1           cup raisins
1           cup coconut
1           cup pecans, chopped
1           teaspoon cinnamon
1           teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all ingredients. Mixture should be very moist but not soupy. Pour into buttered 9″x12″ or larger baking dish. Place into non-preheated oven. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, until top is golden brown. Serve warm with Hard Sauce.

Hard Sauce

1           stick butter
1 1/2    cups powdered sugar
2          egg yolks
1/2      cup bourbon

Cream butter and sugar over medium heat until all butter is absorbed. Remove from heat and blend in egg yolk. Pour in bourbon gradually, stirring occasionally. Sauce will thicken as it cools. Serve warm over warm bread pudding.