This seafood/sausage chowder will keep you warm all over
Carolina winters feature some cold days, but mostly, there are only a few at a time, with more moderate and occasionally downright warm days separating them. Still, it’s nice to come inside for lunch or dinner and have a meal that is tasty, filling and warms you to the soles of your feet.
This cajun spice dish is one of those meals, and putting it together with seafood makes it even better. After trying it once, many folks prepare this often. It tastes good, is filling and warms you to the core, so why not?
This is excellent anytime, but it is guaranteed to hit the spot on those days when you break for lunch after a morning of hunting small game. While the savory taste of the shrimp and fish still lingers in your mouth, the warmth is already on its way to chilly toes and fingers. It does the same for fishermen too; it tastes good when you return.
You’ll have to pull shrimp out of your freezer or visit your favorite fishmonger, but you can add the fish from a fresh catch. This particular version uses king mackerel, as a friend dropped off some fresh fillets only a day earlier. However, striper, wahoo or any fish with firm meat will work well.
Just the right amount of spice
The consummate sportsman will also have some smoked venison or feral pig sausage to use. But I didn’t have that — or friends willing to contribute a link for this batch. This recipe uses Bright Leaf smoked sausage from Carolina Packers in Smithfield, N.C., and it does the job well, with a good smoke flavor without being too spicy. This is an iconic North Carolina brand and isn’t available everywhere. Folks in other locations can substitute their favorite brands.
While not a Cajun by birth, I really enjoy many of the spices and combinations used by Louisiana cooks. The best salute to this was a few years back when a waitress in Des Allemands, La., told me I talked funny but ate like a local. With February being Mardi Gras time, I thought this would be a good time to offer a salute to the many Cajun cooks whose wonderful food I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy. I really think you’ll like this. It has a little Cajun spice, but isn’t hot and combines several good tastes.
Cajun seafood/sausage chowder
Fat Tuesday is Feb. 25 this year. I wanted to cook something that was a warm, filling dish, but with a salute to Mardi Gras and my favorite Cajun cooking. You can find gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice and étouffée on February specials at many restaurants, so I decided to go a little deeper. This Cajun spice dish is a seafood chowder that uses Cajun seasoning to get it going. But it isn’t too spicy for those with milder palates.
Many sportsmen will be able to find all the meat ingredients in their freezers. But if you can’t, your favorite local fishmonger will be able to supply the shrimp and fish. The best preparation is with homemade venison or feral pig smoked sausage, but that may be the most difficult ingredient to find in your freezer. Any smoked sausage should work, but as the television commercial likes to point out, “Sometimes OK isn’t OK.”
There are a couple of tips for keeping this in the excellent category, not just very good. First is cutting the sausage into bite-size pieces before cooking it. The Bright Leaf sausage I suggest is already fully cooked, so you’re really just warming it to get some drippings to sauté the shrimp, fish and onions. However, by cutting the sausage first, you can get slightly crunchy edges on the pieces. I like this and you may also, but it isn’t required. Because it is already fully cooked, the sausage doesn’t have a lot of drippings, so you’ll have to augment it with a spoon of grease, butter or non-stick cooking spray.
Go easy on the spices
Don’t overly season the shrimp and fish unless you like it spicy. You want to be able to see the Cajun spice seasoning on the pieces, but don’t coat them heavily if this will be eaten by anyone with a mild palate. I sprinkle in a little more Cajun seasoning when I add the onions and garlic. If you want more kick, use more seasoning or make this using blackened seasoning instead of Cajun and coat the shrimp and fish well.
Be careful when adding the flour and don’t overcook it. This isn’t quite a roux, but if it gets scorched, the only thing to do is make it over.
Golden potatoes are creamier than white potatoes and add to this chowder. If you can’t find mini golden potatoes, use the larger ones and cube them down to about thumb-size or slightly larger. They really do taste better than other potatoes in this.
This cooks best in a well-seasoned, cast-iron pot. My largest isn’t quite large enough, so I use it for the browning and sautéing, then switch to a stock pot.
Laissez les bons temps rouler, and enjoy a bowl or three of Cajun seafood and sausage chowder!
6 ounces smoked sausage
1/2 pound medium shrimp (26 to 30 count)
1/2 pound firm fish
1 medium sweet onion
1 pound baby yellow potatoes
4 cups chicken broth
3 cups frozen corn kernels
1 bundle green onions
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsp Cajun seasoning
1 tsp ground thyme,
1 tsp smoked paprika
Freshly ground black pepper and pink salt to taste
Optional: Bacon bits, cheese, cayenne pepper and blackened seasoning
Clean and devein shrimp, cut into 2 or 3 pieces depending on size. Cut fish into roughly thumb-size pieces. Cut smoked sausage into bite-size pieces. Chop onions into medium-size pieces. Cut potatoes into halves. Slice green onions.
Season shrimp and fish lightly all over with Cajun spice seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat a large, deep, cast-iron pot to medium and lightly brown sausage. Remove sausage and leave enough drippings to cover the bottom of the pot. If your sausage doesn’t leave enough drippings, add a little butter or buttery non-stick cooking spray. Sauté fish, then shrimp, just to the point of turning opaque and remove.
Melt butter in pot and sauté onions until they turn opaque. Stir in the garlic and flour, being very careful not to scorch the flour. This should only take about 30 seconds to a minute at most. Add the broth, potatoes, a couple of chopped green onions, thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender — approximately 8 minutes.
Time to stir
Stir in the corn and cream and simmer another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the shrimp, fish, sausage and paprika and simmer another 4 minutes, stirring often. Turn off heat and allow to sit off burner for another 2 minutes, stirring once or twice. Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of paprika and green onions.
Some of my friends like to also garnish with a sprinkling of bacon bits and/or cheese. For a spicier chowder, add more Cajun seasoning, a little cayenne pepper or use blackened seasoning instead of Cajun seasoning. Serve this with several hot sauces on the table.
This almost begs for a slice of warm hearty bread to sop up the bowl. I like to begin with a lettuce wedge or green salad and warm bread pudding is the perfect dessert for those wanting to add something sweet.
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