Meet the two ladies who shared their cajun cooking heritage with us.
Alison Bernard, Broussard
My mom knew how to cook stuffed cow tongue and she taught me. We had cows and after we had one slaughtered, my parents would come home with the bouee, toungue, liver and insides. She’d cook the tongue in a separate pot to cook it longer. I’ll never forget my cousins were visiting and my mom cooked tongue and told my 10-year-old cousin that it was fish! She ate it and wanted another serving!
Vivian Begnaud, Lafayette
“I was a young bride when I first learned to cook from my mother-in-law. The great cooks like her didn’t use measurements. I remember asking how many measuring spoons of flour it would take for the fricassee or gumbo roux and she’d say, 'about two tablespoons.' I think I threw away three batches of roux before I watched her one day making a roux, measuring the flour with a “gumbo” spoon instead of a measuring spoon! I have many recipes to pass down to my children and grandchildren.”
We’re talking about the dishes of our great and great, great grandmothers and grandfathers, who eye-balled measurements and, unfortunately, wrote down very few recipes. It’s a cuisine of another level – and some might think of another country - forgotten dishes like poule d’eau gumbo (waterhen or swamp chicken), stuffed cow tongue, hogshead cheese, gumbo z’herbes (vegetable gumbo) stuffed cow hooves and ponce (pork stomach.)
Here are some of those forgotten recipes that you might actually enjoy cooking and eating - and with ingredients that are a little more accessible.
Let us stand for the Cajun anthem: the firm hit of a gumbo spoon two times against the rim of a Magnolite, returning every last fatty, salty dripping to its pot.
Couche Couche (Cush Cush)
This crusty, popcorn-looking cereal can be eaten for breakfast or dinner. Food historians say the recipe originated from Africa.
2 cups white cornmeal (not yellow)
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup water
Vegetable or canola oil
Mix corn meal, salt and a little of the water at a time. You want to get the cornmeal damp – not too dry or too wet. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with a thin coat of oil – preferably a black-iron skillet or pot – on medium high heat. (The oil has to be hot before you start.) Pour cornmeal mixture into skillet, cover and let steam. When cornmeal starts to get a little crusty lift the lid and start breaking it up into about quarter-size pieces with a spoon. Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring until lightly golden. Keep a close eye so it doesn’t burn. Serve as a cereal with milk or dry with Steen’s syrup drizzled on top.
Back in the day, this started off with a fresh chicken. This dish was – and still is – inexpensive to make and tastes even better the next day.
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup plus 2 tbs. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion tops and parsley (optional)
6-7 bone-in chicken thighs
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder (to taste)
1 ½ cups rice, cooked
In a skillet or pot heat 2 tbs. oil on medium heat until hot. Add chicken thighs and brown on all sides. Remove chicken and set aside. (You’ll cook them more later.) In the same pot, mix flour and 1 cup oil until roux forms a deep brown paste. Add onion, bell pepper, and celery and sauté until vegetables are wilted. Add 2 ½ cups water and cook about 1 hour so flavors can incorporate. Add the chicken and cook 45 min. to 1 hour more on medium-low. Season to taste with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Serve over rice.
Those green, pear-shaped vegetables – also known as vegetable pears - usually near the eggplants in the produce section were popularly grown in backyards. The old Cajun gardeners knew to plant a male and female vine next to one another to produce the vegetable. Seriously.
1 lb. ground beef
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 tsp. garlic, finely minced
Pepper and salt to taste
Plain bread crumbs
Parboil mirlitons in boiling water until slightly softened - you’ll cook them more later. Remove and let cool. When cooled, cut in half lengthwise and carefully scoop out the insides, leaving a little along the shell to use later. (Like you would for stuffed potatoes) Mash mirliton pulp with a fork. Heat oil in skillet and brown meat. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic and seasoning. Cook until vegetables are softened. Add mashed mirliton to beef mixture and cook until water has evaporated. Add seasoning, if necessary. Scoop mixture into mirliton shells, top with bread crumbs and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. NOTE: Can substitute beef with shrimp.
Tarte a la Bouillie (Custard Pie)
3 eggs, room temperature and beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg white
2½ cups milk, scalded (when a slight film forms on the surface)
1 pie shell, premade (modernizing the recipe)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Slowly whisk in a stream of the scalded milk (so that you don’t end up with scrambled eggs). Brush the inside of the pie shell with the egg white, to prevent the shell from getting soggy. Pour filling into the crust and sprinkle the ground nutmeg over the top. Bake for 40–50 minutes until set. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving. Optional: Top with fresh berries.
Oreille des Cochon (Pig Ears)
This culinary cousin of the beignet is a good example of a treat made from simple ingredients. Making it with your children is a great way to pass down a piece of culinary heritage.
1 large egg
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup whole milk (or more as needed)
Mix ingredients into a soft dough. Roll onto a lightly floured surface about1/4” thick and cut 2” or 2 1/4” squares. Cut squares halfway down center. Fry in vegetable oil “about three fingers deep” until golden brown – doesn’t take long. Dust with powdered sugar.