Mardi Gras Madness

It’s Mardis Gras season again and this year Fat Tuesday falls on February 28. So we’re going to talk a bit about making a true Cajun roux (pronounced roo) and then use it to make an amazingly rich, brown authentic Shrimp Etouffee.

When I was growing up, my Mom taught me to make what she called a cream sauce, which was made with 3 tablespoons butter, 3 (heaping) tablespoons flour, and 2 cups of milk. (Always 3/3/2) What she was actually teaching us to make was the French version of a roux, called a béchamel sauce. It’s the sauce base for mac ’n cheese, Alfredo sauce and lots of other dishes. A Cajun roux is similar, only it’s equal parts oil and flour cooked low and slow until it takes on a dark caramel color with a slightly nutty scent. It requires a small commitment of time to gently stir for up to an hour to get the perfect brown, caramel color, but for those of you who like to cook, you really should try this. It’s worth every minute you’ll spend and adds a depth of flavor to your Cajun dishes that you can only get with a dark roux. Make a big batch, and freeze half for another meal.

I’ve paired my shrimp etouffee with a cool crabmeat salad made with fresh lump crabmeat, mayo, onion, celery, tabasco and some paprika for color. Serve this on top of a perfect green leaf of butter lettuce and you’ve got a light and pretty side dish to accompany to your Cajun meal.

For dessert, my Pecan Pralines, (pronounced prah’ leens in New Orleans, and pray’ leens by everyone else) will finish off your meal in two sweet sugary bites.

As they say in the Big Easy, let the good times roll!

Shrimp Etouffee

Serves 4

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup all-purpose flour

1½ cups diced onion

½ cup diced green bell pepper

½ cup diced celery

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 8-ounce jar clam juice

1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1½ teaspoons Tony Chachere Creole Seasoning

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on or off (I use frozen, pre-peeled, tails on)

green onions, sliced for garnish

cooked white rice for serving

To make the roux: in a cast iron skillet or heavy saucepan, whisk together the oil and flour on low heat. Whisk continuously for 30-45 minutes on low heat until roux takes on a brown caramel color. It will begin white in color, and then brown very slowly as you stir. Low and slow is the key. You don’t want to burn your roux.

When the roux has reached a rich brown caramel color, add the onion, green pepper, celery and garlic. Cook on low for about 10-15 minutes until vegetables become tender. Add clam juice, tomatoes, creole seasoning, Worcestershire, black and cayenne pepper, salt, thyme and tabasco and simmer for 15 minutes. Add shrimp and cook for 3-5 minutes until fully cooked. Serve over cooked white rice and top with green onion for garnish.

Crabmeat Salad

16 ounces jumbo lump crab meat, don’t drain (imitation can be used if you prefer)

2 Tbsp. mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. very finely diced onion

2 Tbsp. very finely diced celery

2 – 3 drops Tabasco sauce (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

4 large pieces of butter lettuce (to use as a cup)

Paprika, as garnish

Combine first 6 ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for an hour, or overnight if possible, to meld flavors together. Place ½ cup crabmeat salad atop the butter lettuce. Garnish with celery leaves (or parsley) and paprika. Serves 2.

Pecan Pralines

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

4 Tbsp. butter

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Pinch of sea salt

1 ½ cups pecan pieces

Place both sugars, butter, cream and salt in non-stick pot and bring to a boil, stirring regularly about 4 minutes. Add pecans and boil for about another minute. Remove from heat and let cool in the pot until mixture just begins to thicken as it cools slightly. Spoon onto parchment paper and cool completely. Makes about a dozen pralines.

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