Fall Feasts From the Sea

Of all the glorious seafood that comes from the Gulf, shrimp, crabs and oysters are at the very top of my list. As far as I’m concerned, the abundance of those three is reason enough for living in Louisiana. Combine any one of them with our Cajun and Creole culinary sensibilities, and the result is some mighty fine eating. Put two or three of them together in the same dish – well, there’s not much that can top that.

Separately or together, shrimp, crabs and oysters figure prominently in both traditional and contemporary Louisiana cooking. Seafood gumbo, jambalaya, etouffée, bisque and sauce piquante are perhaps the most well-known dishes that feature one or a combination of the three, but a list of all the recipes that incorporate them could fill a good-sized book.

It is often said that when you have first-rate ingredients, the very simplest preparations are best. And that is often true. Boiled or fried shrimp, boiled crabs and oysters on the half-shell are simple and fabulous dishes, to be sure, but there are many other preparations that can do justice to these gifts from the sea.

Most of our classic Louisiana dishes are served with rice, but sometimes it’s a refreshing change to try something different. This month’s recipe for shrimp and lump crabmeat etouffée, for example, is served over crisp cornmeal waffles. We think of waffles as breakfast food, but there’s no reason why their role has to be so limited. Prepared without sugar, waffles make a wonderful base for a variety of savory preparations.

Similarly, grits traditionally were reserved for breakfast, but there’s every reason to extend their reach to the luncheon or dinner table, which some of the South’s leading young chefs have done. Shrimp and grits is probably an import from the South Carolina low country, but it’s one we’ve adopted with gusto. Originally a breakfast dish, shrimp and grits now also makes an appearance at lunch and dinner. This month’s recipe is but one of many variations of the dish.

Given the prominence it occupies in New Orleans gastronomy, one would think that oyster and artichoke soup is a Creole classic with a lineage that goes back for generations. In truth, it is a delicious 20th century creation of the late Warren Leruth, a fabled chef who operated LeRuth’s, a highly rated restaurant in Gretna, across the river from New Orleans. The recipe included here is one version of many. 


Shrimp & Grits
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small bell pepper,
    seeded and finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup white wine
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon paprika
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped green onion tops

Melt butter in large skillet, add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk flour into chicken broth until smooth; add wine, tomato paste, lemon juice, thyme and paprika and whisk to combine. Add mixture to skillet and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp and simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Serve over hot grits, garnished with chopped parsley and green onion tops. Makes 4 servings.

For the grits:
Grits, preferably stone-ground
    or old-fashioned
Coarse salt
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup grated sharp cheddar

Cook grits for 4 servings according to
package instructions, then stir in butter
and grated cheese.

Shrimp & Lump Crabmeat Etouffée
With Cornmeal Waffles
½ cup butter
2 large onions, chopped fine
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1⁄3 cup dry roux
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Coarse salt
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp
1 pound lump crabmeat
¼ cup chopped green onion tops
¼ cup chopped parsley
Cornmeal waffles (recipe follows)
In a heavy pot over medium heat, melt butter and cook onions and celery, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, whisk together cold chicken both and dry roux until smooth. Add to pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes. Add lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Add shrimp and cook until shrimp color, about 5 minutes. Add lump crabmeat and cook only until crabmeat is heated through. Adjust seasonings. Serve over cornmeal waffles; garnish with onion tops and parsley. Makes 6 servings.

Cornmeal Waffles
1 cup cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1¼ cups milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
5 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat waffle iron. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place a rack on a baking sheet and place in oven.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to mix well. Add milk, eggs and melted butter; stir to combine.

Spoon batter on hot waffle iron and cook until crisp and browned. Transfer cooked waffles to baking sheet and keep warm in oven while making the remainder of waffles. Makes 6 or more waffles, depending on size of waffle iron.

Oyster & Artichoke Soup
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
½ cup white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 (9-ounce) package frozen
    artichoke hearts, divided
24 shucked oysters, divided
¼ cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper
Coarse salt
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

In a heavy pot, combine butter, onion, celery, garlic, chicken broth, white wine, lemon juice, thyme, bread crumbs and half of the artichoke hearts. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add 8 oysters and simmer just until their edges curl. In batches, puree soup in blender. Pass through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing with the back of a large spoon to extract solids.

Return pureed soup to pot, slice remainder of artichoke hearts and add to pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until artichoke hearts are tender, about 8-10 minutes. Add cream and season to taste with black pepper and cayenne. Add oysters and heat just until oysters curl around the edges, about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and additional peppers, if desired. Ladle into warmed bowls and garnish with chopped parsley. Makes 4 servings.

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