Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Snacking State-by-State Mashup 5: Haddock Étouffée in Bourbon, Yogurt and Ground Sunflower Seeds

How to wed together the disparate ingredients and cooking techniques of Cajun Country, Down East, Appalachia and the Great Plains? Make an étouffée, of course. You can throw many things in there, and it's all smothered in butter (yup - ran out of crawfish fat).

The mashup recipe:
Haddock Étouffée in Bourbon, Yogurt and Ground Sunflower Seeds

I used the basic outline of the étouffée recipe from Terri Pischoff Wuerthner's In a Cajun Kitchen, using one of the main ingredients - haddock - from Linda and Martha Greenlaw's haddock & lobster casserole from their Recipes from a Very Small Island cookbook. Added to this: mint julep ingredients, the Cajun Holy Trinity, and some of Kansas' official foods. I even got some additional use out of those Icicle Pickles from Judith M. Fertig's Prairie Home Cooking.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients (state flag indicates State-by-State post where ingredient was featured. Ingredients with no flag were not specifically used for any one post. Since the flags of Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maine look so much alike from a distance, the state abbreviation will be included):

(Maine) 1 lb haddock

(Louisiana) 1 small yellow onion, 1 whole stalk celery & 1 green bell pepper, all chopped

(Kentucky) 1 bunch fresh mint, stripped from stems

(Louisiana & Maine) 1/4 cup flour & 1/3 stick butter (for roux)

(Kansas) 1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

(Louisiana) 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

(Kentucky & Louisiana) 1/4 cup Maker's Mark or other Kentucky bourbon

(Louisiana) 1/2 cup unsalted butter

(Maine) 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt (plain)

(Maine) 1/4 cup Dijon mustard

(Kansas) 1/4 cup honey

(Louisiana) 1 cup long grain white rice

(Kansas) 1/4 cup pickle chips, chopped (optional)

1 scallion, chopped (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil (to stir-fry the chopped pickle chips and chopped scallion, if you do add these to the dish)

kosher salt to taste

First, poach the haddock until no longer translucent. Do not overcook, and remove from heat when done. You will need to cut the haddock into pieces before adding it to the other ingredients.

While poaching the haddock, make a roux from the flour - likely ground from good old Kansas wheat - and the smaller amount of butter. Stir constantly until dark. Don't burn it.

You should have just enough time between stirs of your roux to put your sunflower seeds, cayenne pepper and salt in a spice or coffee grinder, and ground until fine.

Wait - you can do that to sunflower seeds?

Set aside the sunflower seed mixture.

When the roux is a dark golden brown, start adding your ingredients. First add your onion, celery and green bell pepper. Stir over medium heat for five minutes.

Next, add the yogurt and larger amount of butter...

...the sunflower seed mixture...

...the Kentucky bourbon...

...the mint, honey and Dijon mustard...

...and finally, the haddock. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. Start your rice about now - I put mine in my rice cooker, which took about 25 minutes.

While the étouffée cooks, take your chopped up scallions and/or pickles and quickly stir-fry in a little olive oil until the onions are slightly browned to your liking.

When the étouffée is done, feel free to add a little more of the honey, the bourbon and the Dijon as desired. Serve over white rice, top with stir-fried scallions and pickles and garnish with more fresh mint.

I dare say this has been both my most successful and my biggest failure of a mashup of them all. That depends on when you eat it: it was quite good when I first made it, but as it aged (over a period of just a few days), it just got less and less appetizing. This is mostly in its texture and appearance than its flavor.

I have made a few of these so far that did not look quite appetizing while cooking, but tasted and even looked impressive at the end. This is one of those recipes. While a bit scary in the pot, it turned out beautifully fresh on the plate. An étouffée does not have to have lots of complicated ingredients - the best ones often don't. However, I liked the different flavors of this dish coming together. Out of the pot, the étouffée smells faintly but distinctly of bourbon, and the flavors of the bourbon, the honey, the Dijon, the butter and (if you are looking for it) the sunflower seeds all jump out at you, but you do have to add them to your liking so feel free to put a little in here or there at the end. The ground sunflower seeds also serve a dual purpose with the roux of thickening the étouffée.

And yet, as I used it as leftovers, and the tastes blended together, the look and texture became less and less appetizing: it went from firm and buttery to grainy and thick, while the étouffée turned into one large beige-ish blob in my Corningware vessel. Haddock in this form seems to break down into a mush-like consistency that I just couldn't finish. At first, I was not sure how haddock would work in an étouffée. So in the end, would I recommend that you made this haddock étouffée? Yes, but only if you plan to eat or serve the whole thing in one sitting. As leftovers, they seem slightly more pleasant than an MRE.

I will say this, though: I now know that raw sunflower seeds, when ground to a powder, can be a useful thickening agent.