“When the taste changes with every bite and the last bite is as good as the first, that's Cajun.”
'Quotable Feast' by Sarah E. Parvis (2001)
JUNE SHAW: If you like good food, come on down! But I should admit this right up front—I will not be the person who’ll prepare it. I live in south Louisiana and am accustomed to scrumptious Cajun food. Many of you probably know we have stews and gumbos and jambalayas and crayfish pies and boiled shrimp and crabs and crayfish (my absolute favorite—you have to slap me to get me to stop eating them, but darn, the season’s over and won’t start again until early spring—Can’t wait!)
HANK: Okay, I admit. I’ve never tried crayfish. There was a big scandal recently when someone said the lobster salad at Zabar’s in New York was selling was actually crayfish salad. Does it taste like lobster? And what’s the deal with the heads?
JUNE: Crayfish are much better than lobsters. They are much more flavorful, and the meat is more compact. I’ve never heard of anyone having crayfish in salad. Nobody wants to wait long enough; we eat it as soon as it’s boiled. I don’t suck the heads, but my squeeze Bob does. So do lots of others down here. They say there’s lots of flavor inside. I get enough flavor in the rest of the body.
HANK: Oh, sure. Oyster po-boys. Why are they called that? And why don’t you set your series down south near all that great food?
JUNE: Po-boys were originally sandwiches with various things thrown inside them for poor boys who needed a cheap meal.
I’ve considered setting my series down here. Sure, we have interesting characters, a unique culture, and fabulous meals. But my protagonist Cealie Gunther wants to travel—just like me! We like to visit various locations while we still eat great meals. That’s why her hunky lover Gil Thurman owns a chain of Cajun Delights restaurants.
HANK: Of course spunky widowed Cealie is trying to avoid him so she can rediscover herself. But he opens some of his restaurants wherever she travels—and she is horrible at avoiding tempting dishes and men, but—can you teach us a bit about Cajun cooking? Like—we need know how to make a roux, right?
JUNE: Many people joke and say every Cajun dish begins with a roux, which is a mixture of almost equal parts oil and flour stirred over a low fire until it turns golden brown. It’s what thickens and darkens our gumbos and stews and many other dishes. And a roux is not actually used for everything--not cake, anyway.
JUNE: You might start with a small roux, maybe 4 T. flour and 4 T oil, although some people make them much larger, maybe 1/4 C. of each. If you have any extra, roux can be saved in the fridge for quite a long time. You’d cook a roux in a heavy pot (keep stirring and watching so it doesn’t burn), and once it’s uniformly brown, add onions and other desired seasonings, stirring until transparent, and then add needed liquid.
HANK: So now that we’re armed with our lovely smooth (and unburned) roux, tell us a real Cajun recipe where we can use it!
JUNE: How about making Stuffed Crabs!
HANK: First get some crabs...
JUNE: I'm ignoring you! :-) Easy to get crabs in LA--and I'm sure crab meat is everywhere!
SO take: 1 C. crab meat, 1 large onion, 2 T. flour, 2 T. cooking oil, 1 C. stale bread broken into pieces, ¼ C. chopped bell pepper, ¼ C. chopped celery, 2 T. parsley, ½ C. water, salt and pepper to taste. Make a golden brown roux with oil and flour. Add bell pepper, celery, and onion; cook five minute. Add water and cook until thick. Add crab meat and cook about 15 minutes. Add bread and chopped parsley. This will stuff about four crab shells. Sprinkle them with bread crumbs and brown for a few minutes in the oven. Terrific!
HANK: That would work with shrimp too, I bet. I’m so hungry now.. what else is in your Cajun cook book?
JUNE: Hank, you do remember I write humorous mysteries, right?
HANK: Laughing. But they all have recipes!
JUNE: So here’s one for Chicken Stew: 1 large hen, 3 onions, 1 bell pepper, 1 large T. cooking oil, ½ cup flour, green onions and parsley, salt and red pepper to taste. Cut up the chicken, chop bell pepper and onions very fine. Brown the chicken in hot oil. Remove the chicken and add flour. Stir until the mixture is light brown. Add onions and pepper and cook about five minutes. Add the chicken and one quart or more of boiling water. Season with salt and pepper and when almost done, add green onions and parsley. Stir the stew as it thickens to prevent burning. If you like mushrooms, add a can toward the end. Serve dish over rice. Yummy!
HANK : But now you say...you don’t love to cook?
JUNE: Nope. I love to eat but keep busy and like faster dishes. That’s why I offer Oven Dressing, one of my family’s favorites, on my Web site, www.juneshaw.com. Many people down here spend half the day preparing dressing, but my recipe lets you throw everything raw in a casserole dish and stick it in the oven. I hope you’ll check it out.
My squeeze Bob is a terrific Cajun cook. When I want some of his best recipes to include in my books, I ask and he jots them down. That’s why he’s a great help for my books. Also, he stays out of my office. (If I mention problems with my mouse, he’s ready to kill it.)
You can find some of Bob’s recipes in the first two books in my series, RELATIVE DANGER and KILLER COUSINS, available now on Kindle and Smashwords. He’s given me more great dishes for DEADLY REUNION, just released in hardcover. This book has a class reunion taking place on a cruise ship in Alaska. Bob and I sure enjoyed doing the research.
HANK: Thanks, June! So, Reds: Have you ever eaten Cajun dishes? If so, what are your favorites? Have you tried to prepare any?
(And who has suggestions for MWA-U outings in New Orleans?)
And continuing Jungle Reds win-a-book-a -day week--one lucky commenter will win June's new book!
Here’s a link to DEADLY REUNION in case you’d like to take a look: http://tinyurl.com/3w8bezn