This time of the year, I have a seriously bad case of seasonal eating disorder. I begin to pine for a certain group of foods that come from only one place in the world. At least, one authentic place…..
Two parts of the universe come together for me in later February-early March. My birthday and Mardi Gras. Reading about the Crescent City high-time at the tender age of eight, in a full-color National Geographic magazine and having a birthday fall across this famed New Orleans celebration incited a lifetime of curiosity and affinity in me. When nearly 45, I made my first pilgrimage to the delta, where dear husband and I experienced the mysteries of this decadent old city. Its fabled food, the music, the street hustlers and of course, just this side of hoochie-kootchie non-touristy events. I love the Garden District with Layfette Cemetary #1 and the haunted gravesite of Marie Laveau. I swear she came around the side of her crypt and looked me in the eye!
When Louisiana craving sets in, I painfully need real Creole and Cajun cookery! Mouthfuls of down-home andouille jambalaya, spicy red beans and rice, seductive crawfish etouffee. …..and OMG – melt in your mouth pralines bought first hand in the charming little candy store only two streets over from Magazine Street. Not to mention, of course, morning beignet (no dust of sugar, please) with my bowl of creamy hot cafe au lait.
It is the étouffée that holds a special place in my heart. This particular food resonates with the bawdy earthy essence that is New Orleans. The first time I ate it, I was perched on the rickety front porch of some nameless street kitchen overlooking the barely lightened shadows of the far north end of the Quarter. The night was clothes-ticking tropics steamy, the distant noise of drunken revelers echoed, zydeco and New Orleans jazz spilled out of street corner bars, rolling hotly down the street. When the waitress brought our steaming bowls of gumbo, rice, and etouffee the earth moved and the soul of New Orleans spoke to me. I’ve never entirely recovered from that night infused, viscerally acute food experience.
There are as many recipes for étouffée as there are days in the year; French Creole style, Cajun style, and Bayou MudBug Gumbo. Made with a roux – no roux, tomatoes added – no tomatoes. The campaign for most authentic étouffée recipe will never stop….but it’s good!
Here’s my special baby to help take the edge off, if you’re in a yearning frame of mind.
ITEMS WE USED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE