For Catholics, the practice of forgoing the consumption of meat during Lent (Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday) has its roots in the early days of the church and the Black Fast, when the righteous were expected to partake of no more than one meal each day throughout the season. That repast was to be devoid of meat, dairy, oil or wine. Over the ages, church law evolved to view the seasonal avoidance of meat on Fridays-only to be sufficient to fulfill the Lenten obligation for penance.
In Louisiana, the absence of meat is replaced by an abundance of seafood, which starts to hit its annual stride in early spring—right about the time Lent hits. Crawfish season is underway, both brown and white shrimp are available, finfish are plentiful, crabs are just coming in, and oysters are still going strong. Yes, truly, in a region so rich in delicious seafood, this penance seems less a sacrifice and more an indulgence. Regardless of your religious affiliation, which would you rather have, another pot roast or this bright, fresh, and easy Cajun seafood stew over rice with a piece of hot, buttered French bread on the side? Thought so.
Gulf Seafood Couvillion
Shared by Chef Isaac Toups, Toups’ Meatery
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 of a medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 large rib celery, finely diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 bay leaves
7 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 cups fish, crab, or shrimp stock
1 teaspoon picked and minced fresh thyme
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
3 to 4 pounds mixed seafood (see NOTES)
Hot cooked rice for serving
Hot French bread for serving, optional
1. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, salt, and bay leaves, and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and sweat for 1 more minute.
3. Remove the vegetables from the pan and reserve. Take care to get all the vegetables out, but there’s no need to wipe or clean the pan. There is flavor in the leftover fat.
4. In the same Dutch oven over medium heat, make a brick roux. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the flour. When the roux is a blond and begins to smell nutty, about 2 minutes, add the tomato paste. Stir, and let it caramelize until it starts sticking to the bottom. Cook it until it browns a little, about 4 minutes. Smash down the tomato paste evenly across the bottom of the pot to increase the surface area that is caramelized by the heat. This should take about 10 minutes total, and results in a brick red roux with a charred tomato flavor. Do not fear some charred spots.
5. Add the reserved vegetables back to the pot and stir.
6. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon until all the brown bits have come up. Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until fully incorporated after each addition. Add the thyme, paprika, cayenne, and white pepper, and stir.
7. Bring the mixture up to a simmer over medium heat and cook uncovered for 45 minutes.
8. Add the seafood and cook for 15 minutes, until the fish breaks apart easily. (If you are using a whole fish (See NOTES) instead of fish filets, cook the fish for an hour, until it breaks down, and add the rest of the seafood 15 minutes before it is done.)