O Canada

Setting the table for a Tricentennial celebration
Meat pies graced French Canadian holiday tables|!!| always with pork and sometimes a second meat|!!| such as chicken or rabbit. The mixture was cradled into a typical piecrust or one made with yeast-dough. Louisiana meat pies taste similar|!!| but meat is tucked inside a smaller turnover-style crust.

When Paul Prudhomme put Cajun cooking on the world-wide map, he told food writers beating down his door, “Go to the country.” Or, in other words, New Iberia, St. Martinville, Lafayette, his home-town of Opelousas and other southwest Louisiana towns where French-Canadians settled in the mid-1700s.

In one week, recalled Cajun chef Alex Patout of New Iberia, he had reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times on his doorstep. “It was pretty wonderful,” he said, reminiscing about the 1982 onslaught of food writers seeking out the scoop on Cajun cooking.

Prudhomme picked Patout to help spread the word about the country fare with French similarities to the fancier Creole cuisine of New Orleans. Stirred into the melting pot were American Indian, African and other influences which made it similar yet different. Cajuns cooked white beans, Creoles red. Both made pots of gumbo and jambalaya, but tomatoes were found only in the Creole versions. Cajuns always ate crawfish, but it wasn’t until the 1970s when New Orleanians found a taste for them.  

For the Louisiana version, usually called a fricasee, serve over rice. A common addition in Louisiana is mushrooms. For the Acadian version, add 1 cup of cubed potatoes, about ½ inch square, in the last 20 minutes of cooking. Or add dumplings in the final 7 minutes of cooking. Some cooks add both. Summer savory is a popular seasoning in Canada but hard to find here. Thyme makes a good substitute.

Prudhomme reached stardom at Commander’s Palace and later at his own K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. Like Patout, he descended from French settlers who first colonized in Nova Scotia and nearby parts of Canada. The Seven Years War between France and England left England in charge, and the disgruntled French were ousted. Many landed in Louisiana, bringing their skills of hunting, fishing, trapping and cooking with a French twist.

I once asked Prudhomme what his favorite food was, and he said pork. Growing up in the land of the boucherie, where hogs were slaughtered in the fall and preserved for the winter, the chef was raised on cracklins, sausages, hogshead cheese and a sausage-stuffed pigs’ stomach called chaudin. His father, a sharecropper, would bring in a haul of softshell crawfish at dawn for the family breakfast. Living off the land, the Cajuns followed the life they had known in Acadia where they fished, farmed, hunted, and raised pigs and chickens.     

Award-winning chef Donald Link, who has brought Cajun cookbooks and New Orleans restaurants Herbsaint and Cochon to the forefront, says he grew up with simple roast meats and gravy and nothing spicy. “None was hot before Paul Prudhomme,” he said. Boudin, he said, “is a true Cajun invention” that combines rice from the Louisiana land, sausage-making skills from German settlers and liver from hogs. When he was a kid, fricasees or stews, usually with chicken, were the most popular dishes as well as “anything with a roux.”

White beans and rice reign in Cajun country just as red beans and rice are preferred in New Orleans. French Canadians grew beans of all kinds, and breakfast, usually the main meal of the day and called déjeuner, might consist of pork and beans, homemade bread and tea.

Before the late 20th century, Patout said, Cajun and Creole were “two distinct cultures living 60 miles apart. We had our own language, food, music and customs. (Cajun) is truly a home-style cuisine.”

Patout believes the test of a Cajun cook is his chicken stew. His grandmother raised chickens and served it every Sunday. “Anyone who really wants to have a Cajun repertoire has to master Cajun chicken stew,” he said. French-Canadian dishes popular still popular in Canada are poutine (French fries with cheese curds and gravy), fricot (stew) and tourtiere (meat pie). Versions still live in Cajun cooking, and poutine has been brought back by a few local restaurants.

“It’s been on our menu since we opened in 2010,” says Matt Alleman, owner of Capdeville Restaurant downtown. “It’s a popular bar fare in Canada.”

Cajuns love to cook with seafood, a nod to their ties to coastal Nova Scotia and surrounding area. An old story goes that Acadians brought their lobsters with them, but the long journey caused them to lose weight, giving Louisiana its beloved crawfish. Thus we have the star of all stews, crawfish etouffee, along with crawfish boudin and the backyard bash known as the crawfish boil.


French Canadian Tourtiere (Meat Pie)

Chicken Stew (Fricot)

Crawfish Étoufée


Cajun White Beans and Rice

Cheese curds are solid pieces of curdled milk when separated from the whey. The most authentic cheese curds for Canadian-style poutine are white cheddar, but these are hard to find. They are sometimes available at St. James Cheese Company Uptown and can be ordered on-line. Substitutes are yellow cheddar cheese curds, available at some stores including Whole Foods, and pizza-style soft mozzarella (not fresh), cut into chunks. Fresh mozzarella melts too readily, according to some Canadian recipes.

If peeling your own crawfish, boil the shells, covered in water, for 30 minutes, strain and use instead of water. Freeze remaining stock for another use.

French Canadian Tourtiere (Meat Pie)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound lean ground pork
1 pound lean ground beef
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup beef stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 9-inch pie crusts, refrigerated pie crust dough or homemade
1 egg
2 tablespoons water

1. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet or medium pot. Saute white onions until transparent and add bell pepper and celery, cooking over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook a minute more. Add pork and beef and cook, stirring often, until meat is brown.

2. Stir flour into the mixture and mix well. Add beef stock, seasonings and Worcestershire, mix well, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. As meat cooks, skim fat off the top with a spoon and discard. When most fat is removed, the liquid should look like gravy. Stir in green part of onions and parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings.

3. Heat oven to 375. Place one crust into the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Fill with meat mixture and place other crust on top. Pinch the crusts together into decorative edges. Use a sharp knife to make several (about 6) 3-inch cuts in the crust for ventilation. Beat egg in a small bowl, add water and paint the crust with some of the eggwash.
4. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is brown. Serves 6 to 8.

Chicken Stew (Fricot)

1 chicken, cut into pieces
Salt, freshly ground pepper and Creole seasoning
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil, divided
½ cup flour
1 large onion, chopped
½ bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock
Pinch cayenne
1/4 teaspoon dried summer savory or thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. If chicken is large, cut breasts into 2 or 3 pieces. Sprinkle chicken pieces with seasonings. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, and brown chicken over high heat on both sides. This should be done in batches. Remove to paper towels.

2. Heat ½ cup oil in a large pot. Add flour and stir constantly to make a medium to dark roux, first over high heat and reducing heat to medium as roux darkens. Add chopped onion and cook over medium-low heat for several minutes. Add remaining vegetables except garlic and continue cooking for about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook a minute more.

3. When vegetables are sautéed, gradually add chicken stock, stirring constantly. Simmer for 2 minutes and add cayenne, bay leaf and savory or thyme. Add chicken pieces, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes until chicken is tender and gravy is thickened.

Adjust seasonings and stir in parsley. Remove bay leaf. Serves 6 to 8.

Crawfish Etoufee

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon butter, divided
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
3  cups water or stock*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 pounds Louisiana crawfish tails with fat
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Cooked long-grain white rice

1. Melt 1 stick butter in a heavy pot. Add flour and stir over medium-high heat to make light brown roux, about 5 minutes. Add white onions, bell pepper and celery and saute over medium heat for several minutes until wilted. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add seasonings, tomato paste, lemon juice and crawfish, cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in remaining tablespoon butter, green onion tops and parsley. Serve over rice. Serves 8.


2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus oil for frying
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup chopped onions
1 cup beef or chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
4 Idaho potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, cut like French fries
½ cup cheddar cheese curds, preferably white*

1. For the best gravy, deglaze a pan in which you have browned seasoned beef or chicken. For example, if you have pan-fried 2 steaks in a small amount of oil or butter, you will have a skillet of some remaining oil and brown bits and seasonings at the bottom of the pan after steaks are cooked. Add a half cup of water to this and heat over medium heat, stirring. When there is nothing left sticking to the skillet, strain out the liquid into a measuring cup. Use this as part of your 1 cup of stock. Used canned stock or base for the remainder.

2. In a clean skillet, mix 2 tablespoons oil and flour to make a roux over high heat, stirring constantly. When the roux begins to brown, lower heat to medium. Stir until dark brown and add onions. Reduce heat to low and cook onions until wilted. Gradually add stock, then seasonings, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened.

3. In a pot, fry potatoes in 2 inches of peanut or vegetable oil heated to 370 degrees until brown. Remove to paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

4. To compose the dish, place fries on a platter or individual plates. Sprinkle with cheese curds. Pour very hot gravy over all. The hot gravy will partially melt the cheese curds. Serves 4 as an appetizer or side.

Cajun White Beans and Rice

1 pound Great Northern white beans
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ pound andouille sausage, cut into ½-inches pieces and/or 1 ham hock or ham bone
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 pound smoked pork sausage
1 ½ cups  long-grain rice

1. Rinse beans in a strainer and place in a medium bowl. Cover with water 2 inches above the beans, and soak overnight or for 6 hours. Drain.

2. In a large, heavy pot, heat oil, add andouille and cook, turning, until beginning to brown. Add white onions and cook until transparent. Add bell pepper and celery, and saute a few minutes more. Add garlic for one minute more. Add 4 cups of water, beans, salt, pepper, bay leaves and thyme. If using ham hock or ham bone, add it now. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until beans are done. Remove bay leaves.

3. While the beans are cooking, prepare the smoked sausage. If you prefer the sausage cooked in the beans, cut sausage into ¼-inch slices and brown in a skillet on both sides. Add to the beans in the last half hour of cooking. If you want to serve the sausage on the side, cut into 3-inch pieces, brown in a skillet, cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes, adding a small amount of water if needed.

4. When beans are done, use a large spoon to mash some of the beans on the side of the pot to make a creamy gravy. Stir in chopped green onions and parsley.

5. To make the rice, heat 3 cups of water to boiling in a medium sauce pan. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and rice. Reduce heat to very low. Cover and cook until no water is left in the pan, about 15 minutes. Serve beans over rice with sausage on plates or in bowls with hot sauce on the side. Serves 8.