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.