~ Creole Crawfish Beignets w/French Remoulade ~
Crawfish, crayfish, crawdads or mudbugs: The last time I saw these small, freshwater, lobster-esque crustaceans here in Central Pennsylvania, fresh or flash frozen, was -- never. The only time I've ever encountered crawfish was in Louisiana, Commander's Palace to be exact, and, "crawfish beignets" was an appetizer choice. I ordered it because I was surprised to find the word "beignet" used in a new-to-me savory seafood application rather than a sweet dessert way. Had I been up on my Big Easy history at the time, I wouldn't have been surprised by it at all.
Now owned by the Brennan Family, Richard Brennan Sr., was one of the best restauranteurs in NOLA, with Commander's Palace regarded as the best upscale restaurant in the city -- Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse are two alumni. That said, Richard Brennan was the brother of Owen Brennan, also a restauranteur and founder of his own equally-famous eatery, Brennan's, located in the French Quarter -- where I'd eaten beignets at breakfast that same morning.
Brotherly love? I assumed so until I started reading. These two factions of the Brennan family were, almost always, embroiled in a cut-throat competition with each other. From recipe oneupmanship to legal disputes, there was no love lost between these two Brennan Brothers.
French? Cajun? Creole? Somewhere in between?
Louisiana's cuisine, particularly New Orleans, is brimming with French influence. Cajun cooking is a simple, rustic, country-style of cooking born out of the necessity of peasants and represents a combination of French and Southen fare. Creole cooking is a more refined, sophisticated-style of city dwellers, born out of restaurant chefs, continuously supplied by the commerce of the ports, accessing the best ingredients of French, Spanish and African cuisines. When it comes to spice, one cuisine is not spicier than the other. They both use the same spices, in quantities determined by how spicy the food is supposed to be or they want it to be. It boils down to this:
"Cajuns eat in the kitchen and Creoles eat in the dining room!" ~ Chef John D. Folse
In France, "beignet", meaning "bump", is simply a deep-fried square or spoonful of sticky dough (either choux or yeast dough), and, they're sold in cafes, restaurants and on the streets of New Orleans. When sweet sugar is added to the dough, it's typically cut into squares, deep-fried, and, the beignet is served like a doughnut with coffee. When savory seasonings and chopped meat, seafood or vegetables are added to the dough, spoonfuls are dropped into the fryer, and, the beignet is served as an appetizer with French remoulade sauce (similar to tartar sauce).
A bit about Classic French, Cajun and Creole remoulade sauce: French remoulade (ray-muh-LAHD) is a creamy to yellowish-colored condiment-sauce, containing lemon- or vinegar-laced homemade mayonnaise, mustard, shallots, capers, gherkins, herbs and sometimes anchovies. Cajun remoulade, which is mayonnaise-based too, differs from the French original in that it has pink hues and a piquant flavor due to the addition of ketchup, cayenne pepper and/or paprika. Creole remoulade, is a slightly-chunkier, reddish-hued oil-based condiment-sauce containing ketchup, finely-chopped vegetables (usually green onion, celery and parsley), stone-ground or Creole mustard, cayenne pepper, paprika, and, sometimes horseradish.
Remoulade is similar to cocktail sauce in that it is served chilled to accompany or dress cold meats, poultry, fish, shellfish and egg dishes.
Today I'm making my version of classic French remoulade -- or Creole tartar sauce as I've heard several NOLA chefs, including Emeril Lagasse, refer to it. Whatever French remoulade recipe you are making, you'll almost always find a fresh herb added to it. Fresh dill is my favorite as it pairs so well with fish or seafood dishes. That said, fresh tarragon is a nice addition too.
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely-diced sweet gherkins or sweet pickle relish or a cominbation of both, to taste
1/4 cup very-finely diced yellow or sweet onion, to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice, preferably fresh
3/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
~ Step 1. In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients as listed. Transfer to a food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours or overnight prior to serving chilled. Overnight is truly best, and, remoulade can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for about a week.
Excuse my crawfish beignets -- they're made w/shrimp.
Crawfish are impossible to find in my neck of the woods -- landlocked Central Pennsylvania. That said, they are so abundant in the southern reaches of Louisiana known as the Bayou, they've become a staple in the diets of the Cajuns and Creoles who live there. Once I heard Emeril say it was ok to use shrimp as a substitute, I got over my guilt complex in a hurry. Note: Unlike the fluffy pillow-shaped sugar-dusted beignets sold with coffee in the French Quarter, these round, rustic and bumpy-shaped beignets are a cross between a hush puppy and a fritter.
14-16 ounces coarsely-chopped crawfish tails or extra-large shrimp meat (2-2 1/4 cups)
1/4 cup finely-diced onion
1/4 cup finely-diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely-diced parsley
1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup milk or buttermilk
corn or peanut oil, for deep-frying
~ Step 1. Prep crawfish or shrimp, onion, bell pepper and parsley as directed and set aside. Stir dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, sugar and Creole seasoning) together in a medium bowl. Heat oil in deep-fryer to 360 degrees. Place a wire cooling rack atop 2-3 layers of paper towels.
Note: Don't add wet ingredients to flour mixture until fryer is heated. It's important the batter gets stirred together just prior to frying to insure the beignets rise properly.
Using a spoon, stir until a thick batter has formed.
~Step 4. Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, and, holding it close to the surface of the oil in the fryer, gently roll "balls" of beignets, 4 at a time, into the hot oil. Don't overcrowd the fryer basket. Close the lid and fry for 3/1/2-4 minutes. Remove from fryer, place on wire cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with a sea salt. Repeat until all beignets are deep-fried.