Everybody knows about gumbo. It’s the quintessential Louisiana dish. And for all kinds of good reasons. It’s served in homes and restaurants all over the Bayou State (and in many other states – which tend to muck it up with unorthodox methods so as not to scare away their loyal customers). Gumbo is what most often comes to mind when outsiders think of Louisiana food. But for me, there’s nothing – NOTHING – like a fricassee (“free-cah-say” not “frick-a-see” like the Yanks call it). Outside of Louisiana, way fewer people know about Cajun fricassee. I’ve only ever seen it on the menu at cafes in small-town Louisiana. Never on the menus of big-city restaurants. And that’s a shame, really.
Fricassee is similar to gumbo in that it starts with a dark roux, and can be made with chicken and sausage. But then it moves into a richer, more satisfying realm of the truly divine. Of course, like gumbo, the roux has a lot to do with the first note you taste – a rich, smoky, buttery-ossity that makes your eyes roll back in your head with pleasure. But then, you also get hit with the familiar comfort of classic stew ingredients – carrots and potatoes. Throw in the additional decadence of a boiled egg to break up into the sauce, and you’ve reached culinary nirvana. Without question, THIS is my favorite dish. EVER. In ANY cuisine. From ANY place on Earth. THIS is the dish I want on my deathbed. I exaggerate not. Make it and find out for yourself why I’d write such a thing!
For the Meatballs
1 cup diced onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil for sautéeing the onion and garlic
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 cup seasoned bread-cube stuffing (or seasoned bread crumbs)
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning*
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil for browning the meatballs
For the Meatballs
In a full-sized skillet, sauté the onion and garlic in one tablespoon of olive oil, until the onions are translucent – about five minutes. Set aside to cool down.
In a big mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, ground beef, seasoned bread-cube stuffing (or bread crumbs), Cajun seasoning, and the cooled-down sautéed onions and garlic until it’s all well-mixed.
In the same skillet you sautéed the onions and garlic in, add two tablespoons of olive oil, and heat to medium-high. Form meatballs from the meat mixture – just slightly larger than the size of a ping-pong ball. Place six to eight meatballs in the hot skillet – leaving plenty of room around each of them so you can turn them without touching the other meatballs. Sear each meatball on all sides – this will not fully cook them. Remove them to a plate and continue with another batch until you’ve browned all of the meatballs. The recipe makes about 22 meatballs, depending on the size you make them. Cover the plate of meatballs with foil so they can retain their moisture while you prepare the fricassee.
For the Fricassee
3 cups diced onion
1 large head of minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil for sautéeing the onion and garlic
1 pound of andouille sausage (kielbasa works if you can’t get andouille), cut into cubes
2 cups of roux (you prepared yourself)
10 cups of low-salt chicken stock (or water)
½ teaspoon celery seeds
2 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning*
2 bay leaves
2 cups of peeled, cubed potatoes (russet or white)
2 cups of peeled, cubed carrots
2 cups bell pepper (I prefer red, but you can use green or yellow), diced
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
5 shallots, chopped
6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
*Cajun Seasoning – In a bowl, mix 1 tablespoon of onion powder, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon of white pepper. Once mixed, you can use in whatever quantity your recipe calls for. You can also use commercial Cajun seasonings, such as Slap Ya Mama or Tony Chachere’s.
For the Fricassee
Make your roux. The recipe is here.
After you’ve got your roux to that beautiful chocolate brown color: In a large stockpot add the onions and garlic to a little cooking oil (about two tablespoons) and begin sautéeing them on medium heat. About 5 minutes. Add the chopped sausage. Cook for another five minutes.
Add the roux to the pot, then begin adding the chicken stock or water, a cup at a time, stirring as you go to fully blend the roux until it’s all smooth. Add the cubed potatoes and carrots, celery seeds, Cajun seasoning, and the bay leaves.
Turn the heat to high until it all comes to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium and add the meatballs, one at a time. Loosely cover the pot (leaving a little crack to avoid overflow). Keep an eye on the fricassee, stirring occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot so things don’t stick. Be careful not to break the meatballs. Reduce the heat if it looks like it is going to boil over. Cook for about 30 minutes, then turn off the heat completely. The potatoes and carrots should be al dente. You don’t want them to be mushy – they will continue to cook in the lingering heat of the pot. Remove the bay leaves then add the chopped bell pepper, parsley and shallots, then stir gently to incorporate it all.
Serve in bowls over white rice, garnished with the boiled egg halves. Serves 10-12. You can freeze the leftovers for up to three months (although this might be only a fairy tale – meatball fricassee in our house never goes uneaten for that long). Unfrozen, it will keep in the refrigerator about a week.
Note: instead of meatballs, this fricassee can be made with chicken, pork, or a combo of chicken and shrimp. Cook the chicken or pork the same amount of time you’d cook meatballs – about 30 minutes on medium, after browning each piece. Cooking time for shrimp is greatly reduced – to no more than 5 minutes before serving.
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