Crawfish Corn Chowder

crawfish

 

The weather here in Alabama has been unusually cold lately, with temps in the low teens and snow and ice. You may have experienced it, or seen on the national news, how the people in the south can’t deal with the winter weather, because we usually have temps in the 60’s on Christmas day. I’ve also been working a lot lately, especially with catered events, so it was extremely welcoming to come home after a long weekend of catering, on a cold night and find a pot of this delicious chowder cooking on the stove. If you love crawfish you should give this a try. Crawfish tails can be purchased at most supermarkets in the South. Around here, Publix carries them in the freezer section of their seafood department for about $12 a pound. It’s also a little spicy with the poblano pepper, so if you prefer your food a little less “warm” you may want to substitute a jalapeno for the poblano. The recipe has a list of ingredients, but it’s extremely easy to put together.

  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups diced onion, preferably a sweet onion like a Vidalia
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped poblano pepper, seeded and ribs removed
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or sherry
  • 1 quart seafood stock (can be bought at your grocery store)
  • 1-16oz bag of frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 small potatoes, diced into small cubes
  • 1-15oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1-8oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 pound crawfish tails, thawed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt or sea salt
  • 2 tsp Cajun seasoning (a blend sold on the spice aisle)
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the oil and the butter, letting the butter melt. Add the onion, celery, pepper and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions and celery are tender. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Add the wine and stock, whisking to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and let simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the corn, potatoes, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, crawfish, bay leaves, thyme, salt, Cajun seasoning and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in the cream and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; discard the bay leaves and add the fresh chopped parsley.

Serve with a good crusty bread and a nice glass of wine. Makes about 10 servings.

 

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Bloody Mary Tomato Salad with Pickled Shrimp

bloody-mary-tomato-salad-pickled-shrimp-sl-x

 

The heirloom tomatoes are coming in at Pepper Place and I’m a huge fan. We buy them every chance we can get. Personally, I can eat them like an apple, but this recipe is the perfect marriage of those tomatoes with some fresh Gulf shrimp!

  • 3# assorted tomatoes, sliced (heirlooms are best, such as Cherokee Purple, Beefsteak, Brandywine, etc but any good southern ripe tomato will do)
  • 1/3 cup celery sliced thin on the bias (diagonal)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed celery leaves (celery leaves are great for seasoning dishes and for garnishes, so don’t automatically toss them like many people do

Using a chilled serving platter, arrange the sliced tomatoes and celery. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste. Drizzle with the Bloody Mary Vinaigrette (recipe below) and spoon the pickled shrimp over the top (also below). Top with the celery leaves and garnish with pickled okra or pickled green beans. You can even add some crumbled Feta if you’d like!

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup spicy Bloody Mary mix (like Zing Zang)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp prepared horseradish
  • 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 3/4 tsp celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine ingredients in a bottle with a lid, shake and chill.

To make pickled shrimp:

In a zip top freezer bag (gallon size), add 1 pound of medium-sized peeled fresh shrimp. To the bag, add the following ingredients, then place the bag in your refrigerator for at least 2 hours but the longer you leave it in, the better. After 6 hours the shrimp will get rubbery, so 2-6 hours is the processing time.

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp each chopped fresh dill and flat leaf parsley
  • 1 1/4 tsp Creole seasoning (I use Old Bay)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

California Swiss Casserole

 

At work, I feed about 400 people each day and I try to have as little repetition as possible in my vegetables during the week, so I have to get creative and come up with different, less common recipes. The inspiration for this casserole came from one of my grandmothers, who always made her broccoli casserole with Swiss cheese. This is more of a “mixed vegetable” casserole. If you don’t have the fresh vegetables on hand, you can substitute 2 bags of California Blend mixed vegetables, available frozen at most supermarkets. That’s where the name of this recipe comes from.

California blend is a common foodservice vegetable blend of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots that I’m sure you’ve had, or seen, at catered dinners, luncheons, etc. Usually, the vegetable blended bags contain “less than superior” cuts of vegetables with a lot of stalk and stem, so I try to make this with fresh vegetables whenever I have time to plan ahead.

  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 1# bag of baby carrots
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 can Cream of Celery soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/4 cup minced onions
  • 1/2 tsp salt and pepper
  • 1 cup French Fried Onion pieces (like you put on a green bean casserole)

Cook broccoli, cauliflower and carrots in a pot of lightly salted simmering water for 10 minutes or until tender but still colorful. Drain. Add the onions and Swiss cheese to the vegetables.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, flour, soup, milk, melted butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and mix well. Fold in the vegetables.

Spoon mixture into a lightly greased (I spray with PAM) 9″x13″ pyrex baking dish.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, then sprinkle with the French fried onions and bake 10 minutes more, until casserole is bubbly and onions are browned.

 

Fancy Chicken Salad

I grew up eating chicken salad. Not “Fancy” chicken salad, just good old chicken salad made with chicken, celery, egg, dill pickles and mayo and to this day, that’s the way I prefer mine. Over the years, I’ve made different versions of chicken salad for my customers and all have been a hit, but nothing like the response I get from this version of fruity chicken salad that I began calling “Fancy” chicken salad on our menu at work.

I owned a catering business in Birmingham and this was a most requested recipe. At the Birmingham News, I’d make Fancy Chicken Salad, usually at least 20 pounds, and be sold out within 45 minutes of opening our doors for lunch. Customers would order it by the pound to pick up on Fridays and take home for the weekend. They liked the recipe so much, it was published in The News’ food section once. After leaving The News, I’ve worked in several corporate accounts (that’s what I am, a corporate chef) and at every account, customers line up for this recipe. I can never make enough; it sells out long before lunch ends. Every time my company moves me to a new account, the customers at the old one email talking about “missing my chicken salad”. So I’m posted this recipe for all my faithful customers, friends and readers. Like every recipe I prepare at work, this one is easy. Once you’ve chopped up the ingredients, that’s it. There is no “special ingredient”, nothing out of the ordinary that I do. The only 4 things I can say that make my recipe different from other’s chicken salad are these:

  1. Never put the chicken in a food processor, instead, tear it with your hands. We aren’t making cat food so it should resemble something from a can, which leads to the second note.
  2. Don’t use canned chicken. Take the time to boil some chicken. If you take a shortcut, it won’t taste the same. As for the chicken I use, any cut. But at work, because of what’s in inventory, it’s 95% of the time boneless, skinless breasts.
  3. If you’ve had my chicken salad before and you want yours to taste the same, use KRAFT mayonnaise. I’m not knocking Duke’s, or whatever you like, and if you’ve never had mine personally, use whatever you like, but there is a difference in mayo. I’ve made mine at work and home with KRAFT because I grew up eating KRAFT. The few times I’ve made it with Hellman’s, in my opinion, it wasn’t as good, and I don’t normally buy Duke’s because I can’t afford to pay $5 for a jar of mayo when I can get KRAFT for $2.50
  4. NEVER under any circumstances, load the chicken salad with mayo. You want just enough to hold it together. How much is that? You’ll just have to see. I don’t put a measurement because it’s hard to say. It depends on the chicken, the size pieces your chicken is, the size you cut up the ingredients, etc. You can always add more mayo but you can’t take it out. That’s a good rule of thumb for any cooking!

So now that I’ve told you my “secrets”, here’s the recipe for Fancy Chicken Salad:

  • Cooked, pulled apart chicken (about 4 cups total)
  • 1 Red Delicious Apple & 1 Granny Smith Apple
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped (I prefer to use the tops also, so don’t discard those. They have the celery flavor and the leaves add color to the chicken salad)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried, sweetened cranberries (I usually just use a whole bag from Oceanspray and don’t even measure)
  • Mayo (amount needed will depend, but will be at least 1 cup)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans or candied walnuts (optional)

That’s it! Cook chicken and shred/dice in a large bowl. Cut apples into a small dice (leaving skins on) and add to the chicken. Add the celery and dried cranberries. Mix in mayo, just enough to hold all ingredients together. You don’t want it “swimming in mayo”. Toss in some nuts if you like (I do sometimes, don’t others. Depends on my mood and who I’m serving. A lot of people have nut allergies). Season with salt and pepper (this too is up to you and your taste buds.. add some, taste it, add more if you think it needs it).

It’s great to eat on top of a green salad, made into a sandwich or wrap, or splurge and enjoy it on a buttery croissant!