I had a close friend who was Cajun and he once took me to a small village in southern Louisiana where he grew up, not too far from the town of St. Martinville, famous for the statue of Evangeline, the High Priestess of myth and poetic legend among the Cajun and a powerful symbol of the Acadian diaspora. (The real person’s name was Emmeline Labiche, and the truth is better than Romeo and Juliet, but that’s a story for the next cookbook.) I had written about the Cajun people in a novel so I was familiar with their culture, food and society. One reason for my passion for Cajun food is that my mother’s side of the family has roots in the French Canadian community of Acadia and thus are the remnants of the Acadian people, who were cast out of their homes and lands by the English army in 1755 to wander unwanted along the Eastern seaboard of America for decades. They finally found a home in the bayous of Louisiana, so it’s completely understandable that traditionally the Cajuns are a people who wanted to be left in peace.
The Cajuns have always been a traditional community, not easy for strangers to dive inside. They have their own unique ways of living, are proud of their French patois and are private in many ways… but full of life. I am French Canadian on my mother’s side of the family and come from their bloodline of Acadia… and proud of it.
When my friend and I finally arrived in town about 9pm we were hungry and he took me driving deeper into the night and the swamps, until we saw lights along a little waterway. His family and friends owned this low slung cafe/roadhouse, which was right on the bayou, with a dock alongside for the shrimp boats and the fishermen that netted crayfish, which the Cajuns call Mud Bugs. It was a family place, strictly for locals, and casually featured a local family that sang songs in their French patois and played the Zydeco. Our friends in Cajun country and New Orleans call crawfish “mudbugs”, which is definitely a term of endearment. Here is their authentic and deeply rich umami bomb they made called Crawfish Etouffee.
(Retold from our new cookbook, Our Wild Savory Kitchen)
2 pounds crawfish tails, already peeled
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups red or green bell peppers, chopped to 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces (we use both colors, it’s more fun, as is the entire Cajun culture)
1 cup celery, chopped to same size pieces as peppers (please use the inside heart of the celery, not the outside large watery stalks, the heart is more intense with flavor and tender in texture)
2 cups sweet onions, chopped to same size pieces as peppers
1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped to same size pieces as peppers
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups crayfish broth, ALREADY reduced, (we boil down crawfish shells from a crawfish boil, or you can use clam or shrimp or seafood broth)
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons flour, (rice flour or wheat flour)
4 ounces butter, (1 stick, 4 oz., or 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
2 teaspoon smoked Spanish sweet paprika
1 teaspoon file’ powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 to 2 teaspoons salt (depending on how much salt is already in the rich broth, and the salt flavor can be be adjusted to taste before baking)
1 teaspoon black pepper, crushed
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon white pepper corns, ground
Dissolve the flour in the warm seafood broth and allow to cool and thicken.
In a 12 to 14 inch saute’ or fry pan melt the butter and when hot but not yet smoking, add the onions. Allow to simmer until fully coated with butter, and then add the celery and bell peppers. Saute on high temperature, stirring often, until the onions are opaque and the bell peppers are softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, garlic and vinegar, sprinkle on the Cajun seasoning and stir well, and saute’ for another 2 minutes.
Now add the seafood broth with the dissolved flour and allow to sizzle and de-glaze the fry pan, and when cooled this will produce a fabulous light roux.
Reduce the heat and add the cream, crawfish and parsley, simmer for 2 minutes until thickened. Serve hot, on rice.
Ca c’est bon! Lagniappe fais do-do!