On the Bayou

In the week between Christmas and the New Year, I took Mark to New Orleans for a surprise 60th birthday celebration. When I told him, he was so surprised and excited he went from 60 to 16 in 6 seconds - faster than a Ferrari! He was downright giddy.

I told him a week in advance so he would have some time to plan his historic adventures. Not that this adventure would be of historic proportions, just that he would want to plan to see as many historic homes, plantations and museums as humanly possible in three days.

For me - don't be shocked - the trip was all about the food: beignets, gumbos, étouffées, po' boys.... you get the idea.

As it turned out almost all modern New Orleans Cajun and Creole cuisine is off limits to me because of my allergy. I was fascinated to find a few reprints of antique cookbooks with little or no garlic used. Sadly, the restaurants aren't using these cookbooks!

But it didn't stop us from eating well... and often! In general, almost any restaurant can make at least ONE dish without garlic but, in NOLA, that is not the case. I called two in advance and was told, "No way!" (not in those exact terms.)

The person who took our reservation at one well-known restaurant, Cochon, said there would be no problem at all. Upon arrival and reiteration of the garlic allergy, we discovered that whoever answered the phone was dead wrong.

Our server - I wish I could remember her name - was delightful and chatted a bit about this difficult allergy. She tossed her brassy-mohawked head back, saying, "Cher, in Nawlins celery, onions and peppers are the Holy Trinity, and garlic is the Holy Ghost!" WE laughed, and she inquired in the kitchen. We were relieved to find there was something on the menu we could have - a bacon and oyster sandwich with one of its sauces omitted. Fine by us!

We laughed, chatted with people at neighboring tables, and went on to enjoy our dinner, with sides of creamy grits and a really nice bottle of wine. Mark called the sandwich a Po' Boy with bacon, I called it a BLT with oysters.

When we got back from New Orleans, we felt somewhat cheated by being unable to try all that great Cajun and Creole food. So out came the antique cookbooks! The first Cajun meal we made when we got home was a shrimp étouffée. It has a very thick stew-like consistency and can be served as-is, or over rice. We opted for the rice.

While purchasing an armload of cookbooks in A Tisket A Tasket Bookstore, I talked to Ruth, the manager, about local food ways. To my surprise, she explained that gumbo is not a main course; it is served as a soup prior to a full meal (That seems to have been forgotten because restaurants all over town served gumbo like it was a roasted turkey).

Étouffée, on the other hand, IS served as a main course and is thicker than gumbo. I can see why, too - it is incredibly hearty and has that 'stick to your ribs' quality. One of the old cookbooks said it should be "thick enough for a fork, and thin enough for a spoon."

So, grab some shrimp, some Cajun seasoning, a fork, and spoon, and laissez les bons temps roulez!

~ David

Shrimp Étouffée

8 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 of a green bell pepper, diced
1/2 of a red bell pepper, diced
1 cup sliced celery
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more if desired
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning (recipe follows)
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups shrimp stock or 1 cup clam juice and 1 cup water
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 pounds large shrimp peeled and deveined *
Rice, for serving
Chopped fresh chives, for serving, optional


* When we first made this, we used large shrimp but discovered they were sometimes awkward to cut. Lately, we have been using the small salad shrimp - which often come pre-cooked - and they work beautifully! (January 2014)

Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour to form a paste. Continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture turns a caramel color and gives off a nutty aroma, about 15 to 20 minutes (Mark thinks it smells like baking pie crust!).

To the roux, add the onion, green pepper, red pepper and celery, and cook covered over medium-low heat about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are limp.

Add the black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning, parsley, and salt. Cook for 1 minute.

Add the shrimp stock and tomatoes with their juice; stir to blend. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add shrimp and stir. It will take about 5-7 minutes for shrimp to cook, depending on the size of the shrimp; do not overcook.

Remove from heat, transfer the étouffée to a tureen and serve with rice. Garnish with the chopped chives.

Serves 6.

David's Cajun Seasoning Blend

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons cayenne
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons dried shallots
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Place all ingredients in a spice grinder and pulverize.

Makes about 3/4 cup.


  1. What a great birthday surprise! The etouffee looks beautiful. Oh and I love your spice bowl - great color contrast :)

  2. Ahu - I love that bowl, too. It was made by one of the University of Arizona professors. The color and size are just perfect. I hope you get to make the étouffée someday!

  3. Isn't étouffée fun to say?
    This looks so good. I'm making this Tom nite, D!

  4. Culinary trips are the ultimate birthday present. And New Orleans, that´s amazing! Though I´ve never been there, I can imagine. I can also imagine why most dishes had garlic. Good thing people react to the word allergy and tell you the truth. Cajun or creole food is as interesting as indian or any other heavily spiced cuisine. It looks amazing David! Just don´t have it at night, you´ll end up dreaming too much and be restless... that´s an urban kitchen legend!

  5. Ah that garlic creeps in everywhere doesn't it? I am so glad you were able to come home and try the lovely Cajun and Creole cuisines sans garlic. This dish looks divine and since we don't have much of this cuisine here I am looking forward to trying this out.

  6. Colette - I remember saying the word 'étouffée' before I even knew what it was! Let me know what you two think!

    Paula - well, that might explain a few sleepless nits for me! (But not all...) I wonder if I could trace the root of the garlic increase to one or two chefs, namely Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse....

    Anna - I often wonder if Cajun or Creole food is served anywhere outside of the United States. Or other Maerican foods, for that matter... Maybe its a thesis project for some food-obsessed college student!

  7. I just can't imagine trying to find garlic-free food in NOLA. That was a true challenge!!! I have a number of old cookbooks if you'd like me to send you anything "sans ail."

  8. Creole food is only just trickling into the food scene here in Sydney. Mexican is the big thing at the moment but it's a pity most of isn't done very well. My partner and I will be in the south later this year so I can't wait to try some of the fab food in New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston. Here's hoping I'm influenced by the flavours and start cooking it when we return home.

  9. Kirsten - if you have any favorites, I would love to know about them, and give them a try!

    John - you will be having some great foods when you travel to the South! Each city will have its own cuisine, and you will not be disappointed!

  10. David, made it for dinner tonight and
    fabulous! xx

  11. Colette - I am so glad you and Tom liked it!

  12. this looks so incredibly comforting and delicious!

  13. Thanks, Valentina! We definitely consider this a go-to comfort food!

  14. Oh goodness, how tricky to have an allergy to something so hard to avoid. What a killer to be in NOLA and not able to eat everything on offer! I've never been, but it's definitely on the bucket list... Glad you were able to come and home and make some of your own dishes though - the étouffée looks amazing!

  15. Believe me, we didn't suffer in NOLA! I had plenty of great food - just not Cajun or Creole! Some of the best Italian food I have had in years!

  16. a creamy,super flavorful and yummy dish...we could have it all by itself...with rice a perfect meal,thanks for sharing :-)

    1. Thank you friends! That post is an updated post from 4/4 - I am glad it accidentally was published again so that you could see it! Another post follows tomorrow. :)

  17. Where y'at dawlin! Tres tres bon!! So surely when you made this, you saved it for a night when American Horror Story-Coven was on. Nothin' like watchin witches and voodoo priestesses with a big steamin bowl of Étouffée!

    XO Karin

    1. No horror movies here, unless you are talking about the mess I leave in the kitchen! :)

  18. Your Shrimp Étouffée looks absolutely scrumptious!

    1. Thanks, Shashi! I am so glad you enjoyed the post. Starting on January 18/19, I will be doing a 5-part series on New Orleans! Stay tuned!

  19. Lucky Mark! Happy birthday to him. I remember you mentioning your garlic allergy but it must've slipped my mind, it's got to be so difficult! Harder than gluten free!! The étouffée looks absolutely gorgeous, thick and luscious. I haven't made it in quite a long time, it seems I get stuck in this rut of the same old dinner dishes. It's amazing I have a blog ;) Even though garlic adds a lot of flavour, I think you can definitely omit it from many dishes at home. Like in Indian dishes just add the ginger. Have a great weekend David!

    1. Nazneen - garlic is a very tough allergy, but the only time it gets difficult is out in restaurants - especially in the U.S. And, with Indian food, I know which dishes to pick, and from which regions - so I am pretty safe there, too. As for this étoufée - if you continue on the GF plan - I have successfully used rice flour and it came out very well. I needed more rice flour to make it as thick as I wanted, but it was very tasty.

  20. I had no idea that you had a garlic allergy David. Yikes, I can imagine how difficult it'd be at restaurants, particularly those that tend to downplay customer's allergies (I have a good friend who is allergic to eggs - as in, anaphylaxix - and some restaurants just don't take it seriously. Sadly, in those cases he just doesn't eat at all).

    Your comment from the waitress who stated that "garlic is the Holy Ghost" made me laugh! Ah, it does seem to be a revered addition in many cuisines, however I'm not acquainted with food from New Orleans... I didn't realize that it contained so much garlic! I'm happy that you got to work your garlic-free magic with the Etoufee... it sounds delicious!!

    You're wonderful to have given Mark such a fantastic birthday surprise (though 60 is definitely a year worth celebrating!). Glad that he enjoyed it and that you still got to eat some delicious food despite the reluctance of restaurants to accommodate your allergy! Thanks for sharing this with us David, I do hope that the new year has started wonderfully for you both xx

    1. Thanks, Laura - I read both your comments about this and the wedding cake one right after the other - and ended up addressing the "Dreaded G" in that comment reply. Oops! Anyway, it is easy to cook without garlic - people manage all the time. In fact, once I was unable to eat it (the allergy came on around age 30), I suddenly realized it was masking a lot of other flavors. I actually taste much more now than before! Go figure.

      Hope you have a great week!


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