Houston being so close to the border with Louisiana, my exposure to Creole and Cajun food was as routine as BBQ, Tex Mex, or Southern cuisine on our weekly dinner lineup. The flavors are as intense as any and uniquely American in origin.
Creole/Cajun and the Casket Girls
There is an interesting story about how this cuisine was started in Alabama and later moved to Louisiana. Alabama and Louisiana were both French colonies, as most people know. The first settlers were generally frontiersmen seeking a chance at wealth, independence, and freedom from the old European landowners. Once the area was well established, the then governor, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville (also known as Sieur de Bienville), wanted the colony to grow, so he advertised for unattached French women to join them in the new world. A group of eligible women called Filles à la cassette or (casket girls) were women of modest means who arrived with what little they had in small chests (where the term originates). They were quickly married and settled down. However, after a few weeks in the new colony, the women revolted over their husbands’ cuisine. Being from France, they were familiar with goose, rabbit, chicken, more traditional fare. What they were not used to was blue crab, jumbo shrimp, corn, and okra. Fearing that the girls would head back to France, Governor Sieur de Bienville asked his housekeeper Madame Langlois to teach the women how to cook the indigenous food as she had learned from the native Americans. The “casket girls” learned how to prepare and enjoy the regional cuisine, ending the revolt. She showed them how to mix their French cooking techniques with what was available locally. After a few years, Governor Sieur de Bienville and Madame Langlois in tow founded the city of New Orleans in 1718. Undoubtedly Madame Langlois continued to teach her new cooking techniques until her style became the standard that we all now know as Creole (city) and Cajun (country/rural) cuisine.
Blackened Halibut with Creamy Shrimp Creole
- Heavy iron skillet
- heat resistant spatula
- oven-safe dish with 2-inch rim
- shallow pans for blackening seasoning and clarified butter
- 1/2 lbs Butter, clarified To clarify butter, melt the butter in a saucepan. Then, skim off milk solids and pour off only the clear yellow butter.
- 1/2 cup Blackening Seasoning See the recipe on this blog.
- 2/3 cup Creamy Shrimp Creole Topping See the recipe on this blog.
- 2 6 oz Halibut fillet
- Preheat the oven to (400°F or 190°C) degrees.
- Use two pie pans or two shallow containers. In one pan place the warm clarified butter. In the other, add the dry blackening seasoning mix.
- Take one fillet at a time and dip it into the clarified butter. (In these photos, I'm only dipping one side into the seasoning mix because of the thickness of the halibut fillets. You can, if you wish, dip both sides into the butter and seasoning mix for a more robust seasoning flavor.)
- Turn on the overhead vent for your stove. If you don't have one, you may want to do this outside over a camping stove because it can create a lot of smoke.
- Get a dry heavy cast iron pan super hot until smoking. DO NOT ADD OIL to the pan as it will catch fire!
- Without losing any of the seasonings, add the fish to the hot pan seasoning side down. The combination of the cold fish and the clarified butter will cause the fish to float almost over the high heat of the pan without sticking.
- Cook the fish until the seasoning is slightly charred black in spots. At this point, I gently flip the fish and place it in a cooking dish with a little butter, white wine, and lemon juice.
- Place the fish into the oven at 400 degrees to finish cooking the halibut all the way through...about 8-10 minutes in this case. Check with a meat thermometer until the fish has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees.