24 September 2012

Real Cajun

We have been on a bit of New Orleans kick as of late.  No that that is a bad thing.  (Actually, it can be a bad thing. Spending just under one year in New Orleans, I managed to gain 40 pounds.  I had to leave while I could still fit in the car, but I digress...)

Reading Donald Link's Real Cajun:Rustic Home Cooking for Donald Link's Louisiana, it is not hard to fathom gaining 40 pounds!  Unlike some chefs who end up in a place, or move to an area, of like the climate and choose to open a restaurant, Donal Link grew up in Louisiana.

"My two sets of grandparents lived a quarter mile from one another, and we settled about a mile from them. Between my mother and father , I have thirty-four aunts and uncles. That's ten brothers and sisters on Mom's side and seven on Dad's."
A truly inconceivable fact to grasp for an only child!

During a particularly popular wave of Cajun cooking, fish got blackened to the point of extinction, and over-bearing spices removed and distinction between flavors.  That was not the food Donald Link grew up eating.  It is no surprise that he titled his book "real" Cajun.  Link wanted to convey the joy and flavors and love he tasted from his family who truly lived off the land.

When that land was devastated by Katrina, Donald Link lied, snuck, and cajoled his way back into the city that he loved.  Nothing, not floods, National Guard, nor walk-in freezers full of rotting food was going to keep him from cooking.   All he wanted was to get his restaurant, Herbsaint, open for those people who were determined to re-build.  Re-build they did, as Link knew they would.  Heck, in the midst of the turmoil he opened another restaurant, Cochon, and he still had time to write a cookbook!

Recently, I was craving fried shrimp, but alas, the only shrimp I could find in West Virginia had been frozen for about a decade, maybe less, but i am guessing at least a decade.  Since I couldn't make my own fried shrimp, the next best thing was read Donald Link and live vicariously.

Southern-Fried Shrimp 

2 dozen large shrimp, peeled
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/4 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
Peanut oil, for frying
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 teaspoons Creole (or whole-grain) mustard (optional–if you want your shrimp tangier)

Place the shrimp in a medium bowl and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour with the remaining salt, pepper, and the cayenne.

Heat 3-4 inches of oil in a large pot until very hot, about 350 degrees F.

Pour the buttermilk (and mustard, if using) over the seasoned shrimp and combine. Working in batches, use a slotted spoon to remove the shrimp from the buttermilk and transfer to the seasoned flour. Using a separate dry spoon or your fingers, toss to evenly coat. Carefully slip the battered shrimp into the fryer and fry until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes; drain on paper towels. (Don’t overcrowd the fryer with too many shrimp, as this will lower the temperature of the oil and the shrimp won’t crisp up as quickly or nicely as they should.)

When I was a kid, fried shrimp were my go-to restaurant food.  I refused to eat cocktail sauce and demanded French dressing for dunking.  Not, perhaps, real Cajun, but a memory just the same.

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