When you grow up in New Orleans, a city surrounded by and practically floating on water, you cut your teeth on fresh seafood. I’m talking succulent shrimp, briny oysters, meaty blue crabs and subtle, sweet crawfish (not to mention a huge variety of fish, turtle, alligator and frog legs). And when your dad’s a shrimper, like mine was, at a very young age you become intimately acquainted with the vast waterways that house those creatures … whether you like it or not!
I actually liked the whole boating, shrimping thing. During the summer months, I’d occasionally join my dad on a night trawl in The Rigolets, Chef Pass or Lake Borgne. Those evenings were full of excitement, pride and fear. My job was to help sort the seafood once it hit the picking box. And let me tell you, there was no better feeling than lifting a bulging wing net pocket out of the water and releasing the catch into the box. It was like Halloween night when you emptied your treat bag on the floor to see what kind of candy you got! I could get through a load pretty quickly as long as the bycatch didn’t include a lot of “predators” (like pinching crabs and stinging catfish). But it wasn’t all fun. There were a couple of unsettling incidents. Like the time one of the wing nets got caught in the prop and I had to steer the boat in the dead of night while my dad jumped overboard to untangle it. Or when the weather forecast was totally off and a big storm blew up over Lake Borgne within a matter of minutes. Scary. Very scary–especially in a cabinless Lafitte skiff! Such is the life of a Louisiana shrimper (and his family).
Those years stretch far behind me now. And I have to admit, I took it all for granted. I didn’t think much about seafood beyond the fact that my dad caught it, my mom worked hard selling it and my family loved eating it. I didn’t realize there was an entire industry dependent on our State’s natural resource and that my own identity and the New Orleans food culture were immersed in it. All that changed when I got married and moved away. Then and only then did I totally get it! That’s one of the reasons for starting this blog. I wanted to preserve my place in that culture and share that uniqueness with others. So last week when the good people at the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board asked me if I’d be interested in trying one of their recipes and sharing it with my readers, I jumped at the chance. I’ll take every opportunity I can get to cook, eat and post a recipe highlighting Louisiana seafood and brag on an organization that was created to educate people on as well as support and promote the Louisiana fishing industry!
The Louisiana Seafood Board sent me a handful of recipes that all sounded delicious. But the one that stuck out and the one I wanted to try first was their Zydeco Sweet Potato Crab Chowder. The ingredient list reads like my Top 10 favorite foods. Besides the star of the show, plump and sweet Louisiana lump crabmeat, there’s a supporting cast that also has Louisiana ties: smoky andouille sausage, creamy corn, Creole seasoning and sweet potatoes (Louisiana sweet potatoes are commonly referred to as “yams”). The chowder is rich, hearty and perfectly balanced. It’s absolutely delicious and would blend in nicely with any traditional Thanksgiving spread!
If you’re looking for some wonderful seafood recipes to add to your collection, are interested in catching up on the latest industry news or want to buy fresh seafood from a reliable source, check out the Louisiana Seafood Board’s website by clicking on the link above. It’s full of helpful information including a Seafood Finder which identifies a long list of fishermen (fisherwomen and fishing families) just like my dad who are working hard to support their families and protect their livelihood. They’d all love to have you as a customer.
Zydeco Sweet Potato Crab Chowder Recipe
2 pieces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ounces andouille, ground or chopped (approximately two 4-inch links of andouille)
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno, seeded
1 15-ounce can cream-style sweet corn
2 15-ounce cans low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 cups, drained and diced Princella Cut Sweet Potatoes in Light Syrup
1 cup whole milk
8 ounces cooked Louisiana lump crabmeat
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley, in all
Cook the bacon in a large stockpot over medium heat until it begins to crisp. Remove bacon. Add the andouille to the bacon drippings. Sauté for about 3 minutes or until the andouille is crispy. Remove 2 tablespoons of the andouille and set aside for garnish. Add the bacon along with the red bell pepper, shallots, celery, and jalapeno. Saute for about 5 minutes or until fragrant and vegetables are tender. Add the cream corn, chicken broth, Creole seasoning, and black pepper. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Next add in the sweet potatoes, stir to incorporate and let simmer 5 minutes, then add the milk and all but 2 tablespoons of the crabmeat, let simmer another 5 minutes or until mixture is heated through. Stir in 1 tablespoon of parsley. Adjust seasoning if necessary. In a small bowl toss the remaining parsley, crab, and andouille together and use as garnish. Ladle into bread bowl, individuals bowls, or a soup tureen. Garnish with the reserved andouille/crab mixture. Allow guests to use hot sauce as desired.
Recipe courtesy of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board.