I can remember when we started school the day after Labor Day and got out of school in early June. Now school starts in August and gets out in May.
School supplies are already filling the stores, and moms and dads are getting kids ready to go back to school. It seems like the kids have no time to really have a real summer of adventure. It’s almost like year-round school with a little longer break in the summer. I miss the longer summer breaks when kids could enjoy the summer.
Seeing all of the bad weather hitting Louisiana reminded me of my Cajun friend from Baton Rouge who really knew his way around the kitchen. Once a year he’d invite a bunch of his friends from the lab over for some wonderful Cajun dishes. Many of these dishes he’d have recipes laying out to share. Of course I’d be sure to take copies so I could try to repeat his cooking later. These are a few of my favorites from his collection.
Jambalaya can be made using a variety of protein. I usually use chicken, sausage and shrimp. You could add crawfish or crab. It’s up to you and what your taste buds like. The spices are what really make the dish.
3 Tbsps. olive oil, divided
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound andouille sausage, thinly sliced in rounds
3 small bell peppers, cored and diced (I use a yellow, red and green bell pepper)
2 ribs of celery, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 white onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3-4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
2 Tbsps. Cajun seasoning or Creole seasoning
1 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1 pound raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup thinly sliced okra
Freshly cracked black pepper
Optional garnishes: chopped fresh parsley, thinly sliced green onions, hot sauce
Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a stock pot (or very deep sauté pan) over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sausage and sauté 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chicken is cooked through and the sausage is lightly browned. Transfer to a clean plate and set aside.
Add the remaining 2 Tbsps. oil to the stock pot. Add bell peppers, celery, jalapeño, onion and garlic. Sauté for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are softened.
Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, rice, Cajun seasoning, thyme, cayenne and bay leaf, and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches a simmer. Then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 25-30 minutes, or until the rice is nearly cooked through, stirring every 5 minutes or so along the way so that the rice does not burn.
Add the shrimp and okra, and stir to combine. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally until the shrimp are cooked through and pink. Stir in the chicken and sausage and remove and discard the bay leaf.
Taste season the jambalaya with salt, pepper, and additional Cajun seasoning, if needed.
A similar dish to jambalaya is gumbo. It is different in that you serve rice on the side. Again it’s your choice on what protein you use to make it. I prefer using shell fish myself.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup canola oil
4 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green peppers
1 cup sliced green onion
4 cups chicken broth
8 cups water
4 cups sliced okra
2 Tbsps. paprika
2 Tbsps. salt
2 tsps. oregano
1 tsp. black pepper, ground
6 cups small shrimp, rinsed and drained or seafood of your choice (I use shrimp and lump crabmeat)
1 cup minced fresh parsley
2 Tbsps. Cajun seasoning
In a heavy Dutch oven, combine flour and oil until smooth, cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium. Cook and stir about 10 minutes more or until mixture is reddish brown. Add the onion, celery, green pepper and green onions; cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, water, okra, paprika, salt, oregano and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add shrimp and seafood along with parsley. Simmer, uncovered about 5 minutes more or until seafood is done. Remove from heat, stir in Cajun seasoning to taste.
Mango salsa is great for dipping chips but it is also a wonderful sauce for fish, especially blackened fish with Cajun seasoning.
1 mango peeled, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 green onion, chopped
2 Tbsps. chopped cilantro
1 fresh jalapeño Chile pepper, finely chopped
2 Tbsps. lime juice
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
In a medium bowl, mix mango, red bell pepper, green onion, cilantro, jalapeño, lime juice and lemon juice. Cover and allow to sit at least 30 minutes before serving.
Another rather versatile Cajun dish is Étouffée. You choose the protein, either chicken and sausage or seafood. I like both combinations and have made it with all three. Today’s recipe will be simply with shrimp.
3/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground thyme
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup diced onions
1/3 cup diced green bell pepper
1/3 cup thinly sliced celery
2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour, or as needed
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, or as needed
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 dash hot sauce, or more to taste
Salt to taste
1/4 cup sliced green onions
2 cups cooked rice or to taste
Whisk paprika, thyme, oregano, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper and black pepper together in a small bowl.
Drain shrimp in a colander for at least 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl lined with paper towels and dry shrimp for about 3 minutes. Remove paper towels from bowl and season shrimp with 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. spice blend. Toss to coat shrimp and spice blend.
Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat until oil is smoking hot. Cook shrimp in the hot oil without stirring for 1 minute; stir and cook 1 minute longer.
Transfer shrimp to a large bowl. Let stand until juice forms in a bowl. Strain shrimp juices into chicken stock 2 cups, adding more chicken stock if necessary.
Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat until butter begins to turn at the edges.
Sauté onion, celery and green pepper in hot butter until softened, about 5 minutes. Pour in remaining spice blend.
Sprinkle flour into vegetable mixture and sauté until combined, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in tomatoes; cook until tomato juices begin to brown on bottom of pan, about 3 minutes.
Whisk stock into vegetable mixture, stirring until smooth.
Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened and reduced to a gravy consistency, 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.
Season with salt to taste. Stir shrimp into Étouffée sauce; let simmer until shrimp are cooked all the way through and no longer translucent, about 1 minute.
Garnish with green onions and a dusting of cayenne pepper. Pour over rice in large, shallow bowls.
Joyce Jacks is a native of Barrow County and a graduate of Winder-Barrow High School, Athens Technical College and the University of Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.