Time to celebrate Spring, Mardi Gras, and perhaps a Birthday!
I celebrate the seasons along with the meteorologists. Spring begins on March 1 in my book, and no one usually argues the point. Of course, in Vermont, March, and even April for that matter, often looks more like winter than spring, but some years we get lucky and it comes early. This is not one of those years, but I can dream.
Once in a big blue moon, Mardi Gras lands right on my birthday. So, this year, I’ll be celebrating triple time, even though the middle of the week in the middle of the pandemic means that celebration will definitely fall on the milder rather than wilder side.
So, Mardi Gras, my birthday, and the first day of spring, all reasons to cook up something special in the kitchen, and I’m looking toward the south.
Move over chicken pot pie
One of my favorite dishes is a pot pie complete with flakey crust, and if it’s loaded with seafood rather than scraps from another meal, even better. This is a splurge dish, and right about now, we all need and extra treat or two!
Flavor, flair, and fun
When I lived in the south, we ventured into New Orleans and I fell in love with Cajun and Creole dishes served up (within our limited budget) filled with flavor, flair, and fun. A crawfish boil sticks in my mind, as does a simple crawfish pie we ate at a tiny diner. I still love those spices, and adding them to an old-fashioned Yankee pot pie makes me happy on all counts. I learned to love heat in my food back then, and never looked back.
No crawfish, lobster will do
Now, if I were still in the south, I’d make this with not only the Gulf shrimp, but crawfish as well. I can get crawfish meat in the freezer at my fish market, but not the whole creature. If you have access to these tiny lobster wannabes, use the meat in the pie and the shells for the stock. However, if you are a New Englander, Maine lobster fills in nicely. Alternately, you can use frozen lobster tails as well.
Use the pastry you love
Use your favorite pastry, or even puff pastry. I’m not a fan of biscuit-topped pot pies, but if that is your thing, go for it!
Splurge or not, I needed to make this a little more heart healthy for my husband, so I experimented with some vegan butters for the pastry. I had one dismal failure, but also a delightful success with Miyokos cultured vegan butter. The pastry turned out beautifully flaky and flavorful. My sister commented that it was one of the best she’s had! Yes, there’s white flour in the crust, so I definitely won’t call this health food. But I used only a top crust (sigh) and kept the saturated fat to a minimum and didn’t sacrifice flavor. Please, make this with a bottom crust too if you are not watching your saturated fat.
Put on some lively Zydeco, invite your friends over, toss a few beads, and enjoy some of the flavor of Mardi Gras.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Cajun Seafood Pot Pie
For each deep-dish crust:
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
- ½ cup vegan butter (Miyokos), chilled
- 2 tbsp. vodka
- ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. iced water
- Shells of one lobster
- Shells of one pound shrimp
- Muscle trimmings from ½ lb. sea scallops
- 1 large onion
- Other vegetable scraps from your prep
- 1 tsp. Cajun seasoning
- 1 tsp. tomato paste
- 10 cups filtered water
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1 tbsp. Cajun seasoning, below
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup dry sherry
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 quart seafood stock, above
- 1 lb. wild shrimp
- ½ lb. dry sea scallops, quartered
- Meat of 1 ½ lb. Main or other local lobster, or 1 lb. thawed frozen crawfish meat
- 1 cup thawed frozen peas
- Hot sauce to taste, optional but recommended
- ¼ cup finely minced parsley
Make the stock: First steam the lobster for 5 to 6 minutes, just until it starts to turn red. It should not be totally cooked, you want it that way. Remove the meat from the lobster and place the shells in a stock pot with a drizzle of olive oil. Peel and devein the shrimp and place those shells into the pot as well. Trim the scallops of their muscles and add the muscles to the pot. Season and place the seafood in the refrigerator. To the stock pot, add the onion, seasoning, and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes, then add the water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer for a half hour. Set aside and strain when you need to use it.
While the stock is simmering, make the crust: Place flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the processor. Pulse until it is broken up with just a few larger chunks. This happens quickly. Slowly drizzle in the vodka and water while pulsing. The dough will start to clump, but still be shaggy. Carefully reach in (watch out for the blade!) and pick up a bit of the dough and squeeze. If it holds together, you have enough water. If not, add another teaspoon or so and pulse a couple more times.
Turn out to a sheet of plastic wrap and pull the sides together to form a rough disc. Refrigerate for a half hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Make the filling: Add the olive oil, onion, celery, pepper, and Cajun seasoning to a large skillet (12-inch) over medium high heat and sauté until soft. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, then deglaze with the sherry, scraping up any glaze from the bottom of the pan.
Sprinkle with the flour, stir it in well and cook for at least a minute, then add the stock and continue stirring until thick.
Add the shrimp, scallops, and lobster and mix well. You want the seafood to just start to warm. Add the peas, hot sauce, and parsley, mix again, and taste for seasoning.
Two crust pie: Let cool a few minutes and place in pie plate filled with bottom crust. Add the top crust, crimp the edges.
One crust pie: Place in a greased pie plate and let cool a bit. Roll out the dough and top the pie.
For both: Make an egg wash with one egg thinned with a teaspoon of water and brush the top, then cut little slits to let the steam escape. I used my large Pyrex pie dish.
Place on a baking sheet to catch any boil over, and bake for about an hour to an hour ten minutes. Check at 45 minutes and turn the pie around so it will brown evenly. Let cool 20 minutes and serve.
- 1 tablespoon each paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano
- 1 teaspoon each thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne
- Pinch each of crushed red pepper flakes and cumin
Other dishes to enjoy on Mardi Gras:
A lighter take on a classic dish, but packed with flavor and color.
Start with a dark roux you make in the oven, then load it with all kinds of flavor!
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