A Creole Casserole to Tame the July 4 Masses

I trust everyone had a pleasant July 4. It was a bit of an odd duck, being it fell on a Tuesday. It just felt bizarro going from the weekend, to working Monday, to off Tuesday, and then back at it come Wednesday. Weather was an issue in Central Kentucky. It was overcast and rained through the morning before giving way to clearing skies in the early evening.

My crew headed to a family gathering in Simpsonville. About 20 of us drove over from Frankfort and Louisville for a pool party of sorts and barbecue. What you had to keep in mind is that it could storm the whole time and the outside patio and pool would not be available to spread out the herd. That’s a lot of folks, a lot of kids, and a bunch of cats & dogs all cooped up indoors for the day.

My thinking was this situation called for a stronger beverage than beer or wine. An alcohol infused punch could work, something sweet and fuzzy – with as much liquor as the mixers could hide.

Being I reside in Kentucky, I find it best to stick to bourbon-based beverages whenever possible. Maker’s Mark, out of Loretto, KY, has a sunset cocktail that will knock your socks off.

Take a tall glass and fill with ice. If it’s slightly crushed or comes in small pieces that’s even better.

Pour 2 ounces of Maker’s Mark Kentucky bourbon over the ice.

Take plain orange juice, no extra calcium or pulp, preferably Tropicana or Minute Maid, and add 4 ounces juice to the glass.

Top with an ounce or two of club soda. Canada Dry or Schweppes is preferred.

Finish it with a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters. If you don’t make Old Fashioned or Manhattan cocktails, bitters might not be in your everyday arsenal. They are easy to get, any Kroger or similar supermarket stocks this item for like $7.

Pour assembled ingredients into a cocktail shaker and deliver it back to its original glass.

There you have a Maker’s Sunset. But wait, this was the Fourth of July. Shouldn’t there be some rockets red glare? I tasted my concoction and thought on this day it could use a little something extra, so I added a capful of Rose’s red grenadine.

Now my glass was all kinds of festive with its orange and red colors. To make a potent pitcher of this calming elixir dispense 10 ounces of Maker’s Mark; 20 ounces of orange juice; 10 ounces of soda; a good 10 or so dashes of bitters; and 1-2 ounces of Rose’s Grenadine Syrup (red).

This sufficed in getting my patriotic juices flowing. Next was to do some cooking. We were grilling dogs and brats with the usual side dishes, so I wanted something heavy as a co-main course.

I pulled the base for this Crawfish Creole Casserole recipe off the back of a Boudreaux’s Crawfish Tail Meat package. Walmart sells 12 ounce frozen packages for $7.98. I thought it made a solid base to cook from, that sounded tasty and required a bit less chopping and prep work.

I needed to do some shopping beforehand:

12 Ounces Crawfish Tail Meat (thawed); 1 1/2 Cups Instant Rice (uncooked); 1 Sweet Onion (chopped); 1/2 Green Pepper (chopped); One 10.5 Ounce Can Tomato Soup; One 8 Ounce Can Tomatoes (diced); 2 Tbsp Cooking Oil; 1 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce; 1 Tsp Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.

Combine all ingredients and place in a casserole dish. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes. Serves four.

Wham-Bam that was the recipe. I understood the gist but was unclear how some of this would turn out yet…

First, I got the crawfish tails from Walmart. I grabbed Uncle Ben’s rice. I prefer a Vidalia onion when available, which July is a great time to find them at the grocery. Use a sweet onion otherwise. One green pepper. One standard can of Campbell’s condensed soup. Have olive oil if possible instead of vegetable oil. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. I like using Frank’s Red Hot Original sauce to add heat to this kind of dish, but Tabasco, Crystal, Louisiana or Texas Pete will get the job done. Lastly I snagged a 14.5 ounce can of Hunt’s Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes.

Part of what I love about Creole and Cajun cooking, aside from the deliciousness, is the latitude within the recipes to tweak measurements and personalize a dish to individual preferences, or accommodate, say a 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes instead of 8 ounces.

The more flavor that can be added the better, because it will need to stand up against all the rice and be able to project satisfaction into each mouthful. With this idea in mind I made a few other modifications that I think took this dish to the next level.

We have two legs of the Holy Trinity already included, onions and green peppers, might as well add 2 stalks of fresh celery (chopped).

What goes great with crawfish? Sausage! Find 1 pound of Cajun sausage. I used Conecuh. They do a Cajun and a smoked sausage, either will work. PicPac in S. Frankfort stocks this brand. Andouille sausage from behind Kroger’s meat counter would be a solid alternative. Johnsonville and Aidells do a Cajun-style andouille that is acceptable and can be found near the hot dogs in Kroger.

You will need 3 Tbls of a good Creole Seasoning, something not too salty. I make my own with the following: 5 Tbls Smoked Paprika; 1 Tbls Ground Black Pepper; 1 Tbls White Pepper; 1 Tbls Cayenne Pepper; 1 Tbls Dried Thyme; 2 Tbls Garlic Powder; 1 Tbls Dried Oregano; 1 Tsp Salt; 1 Tsp Chile Powder; and 1 Tsp Onion Powder.

Butter makes everything better, so let’s drop in half a stick; 2 1/2 Cups Chicken Basics Chicken Stock; and 2-3 Tbls Holland House Cooking Sherry.

My questions as I pulled this together were whether there would be sufficient liquid to bring the instant rice to life? Do I add the condensed soup straight out of the can or turn it into soup first by mixing in water?

I found out after this was in the oven that there was NOT enough liquid involved to make this all go. I triaged that by adding stock to the pan after it was assembled in the oven. By cranking up the temp and cooking it longer I managed to produce a finished product that was outstanding, but there was anxiety for a moment when the rice and vegetables were a tad crunchy to serve.

From here on out I will give the steps necessary to make this dish successfully.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. You are going to need a large mixing bowl to combine the ingredients together and a big baking pan, like a lasagne dish or Dutch oven to fold the casserole into from the bowl.

Several folks helped chop vegetables, as I was making a double batch of this casserole to feed my crew. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to a cast iron skillet or other large, deep sided pan, and half a stick of butter; get that melted and hot; slice and quarter the sausage, then sautée in a skillet till browned (this will expose all the juices from the meat); spoon out the cooked sausage with a slotted spoon, leaving in the skillet the oil, butter & debris (those charred bits of critter are intense flavor crystals).

Place the chopped onions, green peppers and celery into the skillet with a 1/4 cup of chicken stock; let that simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or so until the vegetables begin to soften and the liquid mostly evaporates; dump sausage back in skillet with vegetables, stirring together and simmer for a couple minutes, then remove from heat.

Open the crawfish and thoroughly rinse the tail meat in a colander (can’t emphasize this enough). Get all the packing liquid gone and rinse the tails extensively to be sure they are free of debris.

Now combine everything. In a large bowl, put 1 tbls of olive oil in the bowl so that it lightly covers the bottom; measure out the rice and line the bottom of the bowl with it; crack open the soup and pour over the rice (do not add water); drain the tomatoes and spoon into the bowl; dump the 12 ounces of thawed and rinsed crawfish tails on top; take your skillet and with a mixing spoon or soft spatula, fold the sautéed sausage, onions, green peppers, and celery, along with all the juices, into the bowl; sprinkle 3 tbls of Creole seasoning evenly over the mixture; next 1-2 tsp Worcestershire sauce; and the desired amount of Frank’s Red Hot sauce, I use 2-3 tbls.

Mix this all together in the bowl so the rice is integrated with all the other ingredients; spoon into a baking pan; measure 1 3/4 cups of chicken stock and stir into the ingredients in the baking dish; cover with aluminum foil and place into the oven.

Bake at least 35 mins; make sure the liquid is boiling, turn the heat up if it’s not; add the Sherry after 10 minutes and give a quick stir; at 20 minutes give it another stir; if the rice still seems dry, it will not hurt to add additional chicken stock in 1/4 cup increments; extend the cooking time to allow any additional liquid added to be absorbed.

That’s it. Congratulations you have cooked up one rich and flavorful Crawfish & Andouille Sausage Creole Casserole. It goes wonderfully with beer, sweet tea, or a crisp chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Bon Appetit!

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