Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cajun Cousins

“When the taste changes with every bite and the last bite is as good as the first, that's Cajun.”

Paul Prudhomme
'Quotable Feast' by Sarah E. Parvis (2001)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN : June Shaw lives along a lazy bayou in south Louisiana. (Sigh. Isn't that a wonderful vision?) She became a young widow with five children, completed a college degree, and started teaching junior high students. Then--finally--she followed her dream of becoming a mystery writer.

Louisiana...exotic, weather-ravaged, home of fantastic movies and deep south sensibilities and amazing authors and its own way of life. And oh yes, food. Amazing food! Creole. And Cajun. (MWA-U is comng to New Orleans October 1--and I can't wait! Still time to sign up!)

Anyway. June knows all about Cajun food—but she doesn’t like to cook it! That’s okay—we figured—cooking is one thing. Telling us the secrets of Cajun cuisine is another. And today June's agreed to do just that.

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.

Of course sometimes we save a few crayfish to put in stews and omelets or fry them for our sandwiches like po-boys. People from other places seem most familiar with oyster po-boys.

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.

HANK: And so…

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 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, 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:


  1. It's about 6 a.m. and we are waiting for a hurricane and you are making me want to run out and get stuff to start cooking. I can't wait to read these books! Dee

  2. Love the idea of traveling all over and having a lovestruck hunk following to create wonderful food.

    A friend moved to NOLA just after Katrina, and she has embraced the region wholeheartedly, a "born-again" New Orleanean. Her first attempt at roux ended badly, three times in a row. Fourth time was the charm. It doesn't seem that hard, until you try it!

  3. Dee, stay safe.

    Run out and get stuff to start cooking after the hurricane passes. Down in south La., we don't like `em.

    And sure hope you'll enjoy the books.

  4. Karen, you can also make a roux in the microwave! My kind of cooking. Stir the oil and flour in a 4 cup glass measuring cup. I cook it two min. at a time at medium, then stir, repeat once or twice. Just don't let it burn in the middle (or anywhere else:)

  5. Roux in a microwave... really???
    I have been cooking up storm before the storm here in New England. This is inspirational.

  6. Oh, yes, Hallie. My squeeze Bob does the cooking that takes hours. I know about microwaves: )

    Take care. Stay safe.

  7. Roux in a MICROWAVE??? How can that be?

    The hurricane approaches--I'm ignoring it. IS this a chicken Little story? OH, wait, what story do I mean?

  8. June,

    Thanks for the great recipes! Congrats on the great reviews your new novel has received. I look forward to reading it.


    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE TRUTH SLEUTH--check it out at your local library!

  9. Yes, Hank, you can make roux in a microwave. And what an awful time to be asking people to check out an interview. You stay safe!

  10. Thanks, Jacqueline. It feels great to have readers and reviewers say such nice things about your work.

  11. YESTERDAY'S WINNER! And the winner of Tammy's book is: Jacqueline Seewald! JAcqueline, contact me via myu website, tell me your address, and Tammys book will be on the way!

    Lovely to see you here..

    Now. Who's cooking ahead for the hurricane?

  12. The secret to roux is a cast iron pot/dutch oven and patience. Stand there and stir it. I have to admit that no trip to New Orleans is complete without a trip to the Cafe Du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. Legend has it if you sit there long enough, the whole world will pass by.

    My last trip there, I also did something I've wanted to forever--I rode the St. Charles trolley from beginning to end. So. Much. Fun!

    June, I've never tried a fried oyster po'boy--just shrimp po'boys. Definitely adding that to the list! Along with your book!

    Eastcoasters, stay safe! Those of us still in drought mode would be happy to take some of that rain off your hands... Just sayin'....

  13. Mmmm. I love Cajun cooking. I've made my share of roux's (how do you pluralize roux??), and jambalayas and gumbos. I love okra. I love seafood in thick sauces. But I've never been to Louisiana! Hard to believe.

    I look forward to reading your books, June.


  14. "Roux" is already plural according to

  15. Edith? Anything you'd like to tell us???

    June, did you always live in LA?

  16. I used to live in New Orleans. Loved the food. Didn't cook it, but had good friends whose moms cooked it. I had never tasted oyster dressing. I might have learned to like it, but didn't have it often. The barbecue shrimp was made with butter (the real stuff), oil, cayenne pepper, old bay seasoning, garlic...probably something else I forgot...oh, it was scrumptious. I did learn to make the barbecue shrimp!

  17. What's in Old Bay seasoning, anyway? I thought it was a New England thing...

  18. Hank, in New Orleans go to Deanie's Seafood. I used to go to the Bucktown restaurant, but they have since opened one in the French Quarter at 841 Iberville. Have the barbecue shrimp, but be prepared to peel the shrimp. It's not fancy, but oh is it good!

    I was mistaken, it wasn't old bay, it was Creole seasoning. Here"s a link to a very similar recipe...

  19. Thanks, Silver!

    And yes, a black cast iron pot works wonders with a roux-but no, I'm not using mine. I'm sticking to my microwave mesuring cup.

  20. Oh, Edith, thank you. I sure hope you enjoy my books.

    Are you sure you're not from Louisiana! If you cook all of that, you must be at least part Cajun.

  21. J.P., thanks for looking up the plural of roux for me. Today I had a booksigning and then a Red Hat function, so glad you took up my slack:)

  22. Yes, Hank, I've always lived down here. My mom and her parents could speak Fench. Not me or my dad, so I guess I'm part Cajun--my mom's part.

  23. June, I'm pretty much 50% Scottish and 50% Irish. Something really draws me to that cuisine, though. And the dancing. And the attitude!

    (Hank - sent ya some email...)


  24. Hank, I thought Old Bay seasoning was a Chesapeake Bay thing! (It is available in SE PA.) I must admit the closest I've come to a roux is white sauce that stays white, and the only okra I've ever seen was in a cross word puzzle. ;)

    June, do you have Cajun cooking on the boat to Alaska? (In the book, I mean.) Guess I'll have to read it to find out, right? Well, I'll really be reading it to travel vicariously to Alaska (again).

  25. Nancy, yes, the barbecue shrimp is fantastic. And you even know the new address! You must enjoy it.

  26. Oh, How can I be hungry at 11 at night?

    Edith..checking now..xox

  27. Norma,

    Yes, there's Cajun cuisine on the cruise ship in Alaska. I needed to find out if that could really happen--so of course I had to take a cruise out there and ask the Executive Chef. And the doctor gave me great advice. And lots of other staff members. And a coupple of them had so much fun answering my research questions that they sent champagne to my stateroom. Gosh, research is really tough.

  28. And I STILL can't figure out how you'd make a roux in a microwave...

  29. Thank June and Hank to share the lovely discussion .. I love to eat Crawfish and Shrimps..