Monday, May 31, 2010

A crawfishy tale

I suppose my grandmother (Mimi to me) had always been a rebel. At 5'9" she betrayed her Cajun heritage by growing taller than almost everyone in her family. Her shoulders and hands were tiny, though--very French. After her first husband left her, she married a non-Catholic--very scandalous in her family. She loved life and had a wicked sense of humor. She once told the lady at the Lancome counter that for what they charged for a facial cleanser, "it ought to clean your butt for that price!" I would have been horrified but for the look on the sales lady's face--like she was painfully waiting for the punchline, while Mimi gingerly adjusted her purse on her arm and walked away. Because of her diabetes, she was well-known by the pharmacists at her local Wal-Mart, and she made a "better-than-sex" cake for a young man there who was particularly kind to her. She made him eat it--with his hands--in front of her and all the customers waiting patiently for their prescriptions. While he was mid-bite into the cake, she shouted, "Isn't that better than sex!?" and laughed her sweet, diabolical laugh. Poor guy.
Mimi taught me all of the Cajun-French I know. But I cannot tell you about it. Not only because true Cajun-French is a spoken language, never written, but also because all she taught me were curse words. I do not remember her cursing much in English, though--I guess that, and her many pairs of delicate dinner gloves, were the indication that her rebellious spirit had some familiarity with decorum. She gave me a pair of those dinner gloves, creamy velvet with rhinestone cuffs. I loved those gloves, but they were not my favorite of the things she passed on to me--that gift would be her love for cooking. When she cooked crawfish etouffee (AY TOO FAY), her kitchen seduced me with fragrance and held me there while I watched her serve up big bowls of this earthy stew over steaming white rice.

In the spirit of both Paul and Willow--whose posts are always filled with juicy information, I will tell you that etouffee means to stew, smother, or braise and is considered primarily a Creole dish--rather than Cajun. According to Chef John Folse in his Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine, Creoles--first named for the children born on Louisiana soil--were once considered the cultural aristocracy of Louisiana. They were well acquainted with fine wines and superb cooking. Creole cuisine was inventive, refined and generously seasoned. A sophisticated, aristocratic cuisine based on European techniques, Creole cooking used wine- or liquor-based sauces to enhance its subtle delicate flavors. Cajun cooking, on the other hand, was more rustic and dependent almost entirely upon home gardens and local wildlife for its ingredients. Cajuns were the homestyle cooks, while Creoles were the chefs. Another piece of information to note is that both Cajun and Creole dishes rely heavily on "the Trinity" (onion, celery, and bell pepper) and "the Pope" (garlic). With terms like these, it is easy to see that these Louisiana cooks take their cuisine very seriously.

Which brings me to the real reason behind this post. I will not bog you down with details, but I will tell you that I recently read a comment from Mark--a merchant seaman and friend of Melinda and Diahn who commented about Melinda's etouffee having cream of mushroom soup in it. Cream of mushroom soup? Are you kidding me? Clearly this is dangerously close to sacrilege. All I know of Mark is that he is a vegetarian, has excellent taste in show tunes and books, and is married to a very pretty wife (I've seen her picture). So, he seems to be a pretty together guy. However, I fear that if Mimi (or any other crazy Cajun) read Mark's comment, she would introduce him to some Cajun-French. So, for the sake of sparing Mark a possible good Cajun cussing in his future, and to provide you with a taste of some fantastic cuisine, here is a recipe for crawfish etouffee (without cream of mushroom soup):

1/4 C. butter
1 C. diced onion
1/2 C. diced celery
1/2 C. diced green bell pepper
1/2 C. diced red bell pepper
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 large shallot, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground red pepper
14 oz. chicken broth (or crawfish stock)
1 oz. white wine
1/4 C. fresh parsley
1/2 C. fresh green onions
2 pounds cooked, peeled crawfish tails (you can use frozen--defrosted and drained)
Hot cooked rice

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and next five ingredients; saute until tender.

Add flour, salt, and red pepper; cook, stirring constantly until caramel colored (about 10 minutes). Add next four ingredients; cook, stirring constantly about 5 minutes or until thick and bubbly.

Stir in crawfish and cook until thoroughly heated (about 5 minutes). Serve over rice.


  1. Hurray! My own recipe to print out for myself! I'm so glad you set Mark straight...mushroom soup, indeed...


    ;) Your Mimi sounds like a fabulous woman, by the way...

  2. I cannot stop laughing. Wow, I really stirred up the old hornets nest with my "recipe."
    I'm getting a good old fashion southern beat down from all parts of the internet. (Diahn)
    Without going back to check, I do believe I had part of the "Trinity" in mine, I think peppers and celery were mentioned.There was no mention of the Pope, but for sure the devil was present in the mushroom soup.
    That was funny!

  3. very nice. spent some time in louisiana and ate quite a few mudbugs...stuff them in gator tail and we are talking. smiles.

    cajun french sounds nice...

  4. Diahn, she was a wonderful woman indeed. I still laugh out loud just thinking about some of the things she has said to me. I hope you enjoy your etouffee.

    Mark, I am so happy you came by for a visit, and even happier you can smile at yourself--thanks for stirring up some sweet memories for me.

    Brian, That is an absolute YES on the gator (although I prefer mine fried.) And Cajun-French is so sweet you can smile through a complete toungue lashing :)

  5. Thanks for sharing the recipe and the memories of your grandmother. I'm glad we never got our grandmother in the same Walmart at the same time....I don't think I would have survived the laughter. I too read about the cream of mushroom soup in Melinda's blog; I went around the house and turned on all the lights out of sheer horror.

  6. mimi sounds like a hoot. she sounds like a real woman from another generation and time. maybe instead of real woman, i ought to say a real person, telling it like it is, living out loud. i'm first generation italian american, and i only know curse words too:)

  7. Thank you, Lisa...throwing in the peppers next time! Wish I had the honor of meeting your Mimi. I think we would have been instant friends...

    Good one, Mark...the devil WAS present in the mushroom soup! Sorry you got the triple southern beat down, but hey, we southern women do stick together.

  8. Lisa.....I have just finished reading all of your!
    I always knew the genetics would kick in one day, you know the ones from my side of the family. Here is a poem that I have written just for you:
    Roses are red
    Sometimes your blue
    You will always be my little girl and
    I will always love you!
    From one creative person to another

  9. Troy, we would be the ones in Depends if ever Learon and Mimi got together, no question.

    Ed, She was indeed a true joy--and living out loud is something I bet you know well--something that probably runs through your Italian blood :)

    Melinda, Poor Mark--what a great sport to endure the bloggy wrath of us southern women. And yes, you and Mimi would have been instant friends.

    Dad--Wow is right. Quite a poem you left. Clearly the writing gene comes from you--who could argue that? And while your poem is so sweet, after I read it, a feeling came over me which is very similar to when you used to take me to the mall when I was a teen and sing, "You Picked a Fine Time to Leave me, Lucille" as we strolled through the courtyard. Love you! ;)

  10. i have had the best time ever reading through many of your older posts, all the way back to your 10 questions! i had to laugh when you said that your least favorite smell was feet...and to think that all your three year old smells when drinking out of a sipper is, again, feet :)
    i love the recipes, the family stories, the dream of being in places that bring you so much pleasure...mind if i tag along with you? being with you feels so much like being home except i have a sneaking suspicion that you've got it together, more than you imagine ;)

  11. Your grandmother was quite a character and served up some mean dishes of spicy foods. Entertaining reading and thanks for the link.

  12. I really enjoyed this post -- your grandmother was a riot. Mine, too -- she was so sassy!

    Thanks for visiting my blog...and it's so nice to meet you here. Love your mosaic photo.

  13. Shari, I would love to have you along for the ride. I have read several of your posts and comments that make me feel like we could be living the same life :)

    Paul, Thanks you for your kind comments. It is my pleasure to link to your blog--I visit it almost daily and would love for others to get the joy from it that I do :)

    Graceful, Thanks for coming over--it is great to be among your blog friends--I look forward to reading more :)

  14. Mimi. What a woman. This recipe sounds delicious. Delightful post, Lisa! (and thanks for your kind mention) xx

  15. Thank you, Willow. She was spirited to say the least--and how could I not mention your blog? It is one of my greatest finds this year :)