Thanksgiving week, y’all!
I don’t love Thanksgiving turkey so much, but I love the side dishes. This side is my second fave (after Rice Dressing) and I like to use a recipe I developed from a childhood memory of my Aunt Versie’s version. In hers, the corn was more crumbly than other recipes I’ve tried, which end up a bit wet. Aunt Versie’s was crumbly and sweeter because she caramelized the corn.
My Aunt Versie was also my nanan, or godmother. We all called her “T-tante,” which is Cajun slang for Tante, or Auntie in English. My earliest memory of spending time alone with her has me sitting in a high-chair she kept in her kitchen. I was too old for a high-chair, but not old enough to understand all of the English language.
As she spoon-fed me maque choux, she’d ask me, “You through? You through?” I didn’t know what “through” meant in that context, so I said yes. But when I kept eating, she looked at me like I was a child in a highchair and asked again, more emphatically, “YOU THROUGH?” not clear if I was finished. We went round and round. Until one of us gave up. It probably was her who gave up first because I wasn’t about to stop eating her maque choux until it was gone from my bowl.
According to our culinary historians at Wikipedia, maque choux (pronounced “mock shoe”) derives from the fusion of Native American and Cajun cuisines way back when the new arrivals to Louisiana from Canada first landed in the Bayou State. At that time, there was still a good strong population of Native Americans of various tribes (evident in many place-names in Louisiana, such as Opelousas, Tangipahoa, Atchafalaya, Mamou, Calcasieu, Natchitoches, Houma, etc.). I think the culinary note that I respond to most in this dish is the caramelization of the corn kernels, which happens after all the flavoring ingredients have been sautéed into the mix – and the cook pours on the patience to get a good chewy result. This dish is most often a side dish, but can definitely be the main event with some shrimp, chicken, or sausage, tossed into the mix (which I would recommend only after the luscious kernels have had their time to caramelize a bit). This recipe serves six.
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large green or red bell pepper, diced (I prefer red)
4 cups of fresh, canned, or frozen corn (fresh is best)
1 cup of braising liquid, such as chicken or vegetable stock
In a large covered pot such as a Dutch oven on medium-high heat, sauté the onions and garlic, then the bell pepper; about 10 minutes.
Add the corn and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, before adding the braising liquid.
Simmer on medium heat uncovered until the liquid cooks off completely, then allow the corn kernels to dry out a bit further to bring on the caramelization, about 5-7 minutes more.
Variation: To make this a main dish, add seasoned, sautéed meat or shrimp to the maque choux after the corn has had time to caramelize a bit. (Adding your protein too early will overcook/toughen it and we don’t want that, so cook it separately beforehand.)
Morris Ardoin’s book, STONE MOTEL – MEMOIRS of a CAJUN BOY can be purchased through the publisher, on the independent bookseller website Indibound, or on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers, and is also available as an audiobook on Audible.