Mardi Gras Feast in a Jiffy: Cajun Shrimp & Chicken Chowder

Ask Chef Phyllis:

Lent is early this year, and since my family has Cajun roots, we do celebrate Mardi Gras. After, we will fast forty days or at least give up some favorite food during Lent. We usually make a kind of gumbo (Cajun Shrimp Chowder or Cajun Gumbo) that is unique to our area of Louisiana and I think is gluten free. No roux made with flour, no okra, and no filé gumbo powder either. I make it with fresh corn, diced potatoes, and sometimes baby peas. Is your blog the right place to share my familys recipe? I saw another post of yours that was the real deal of New Orleans gumbo in all its glory. This recipe is easy, breezy, and done in thirty minutes.
—Lucille B. from Lafayette, Louisiana

Hello Lucille, from what I researched, Lafayette is the heart of Cajun country—only a short drive from New Orleans, but a world away in so many ways!

I did write a post on New Orleans gumbo, and it is indeed a feast, if you have the time. Everyone is short on time these days, so I was curious to try your thirty-minute recipe.

And you’re correct, Creole expert Emeril Lagasse’s gumbo calls for a heaping cup of flour for the roux and filé gumbo powder (sassafras thickener) as well. His recipe is delicious but laborious because it takes so many steps to make it. Lucille’s recipe is, in her words, “easy, breezy,” and it requires no roux to thicken it.

Chefs tip: Lucille’s original Cajun recipe is easy and takes as little as half an hour if you have everything prepped. The sauce is amazingly flavorful, not too thick, and really creamy (the potatoes and cream cheese thicken it perfectly). Personally, it had the taste I crave from Creole cookery.

My hat’s off to you, Lucille.

Cajun Shrimp & Chicken Chowder

Lucille writes that this recipe goes back to her great-great-grandmother, who came from Quebec or Nova Scotia, Canada. This recipe yields 8 to 10 generous servings.

Ingredients
Optional: 4 large potatoes (about 2 lbs.), peeled and cut into ¼-inch cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large sweet onion (about 1 cup), diced
1 large green or red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1–2 teaspoons crushed red peppers flakes (adjust to your taste)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed between your fingers
1½ teaspoons sea salt
4 ears fresh corn, cut off the cob (or 1 package organic frozen corn kernels)
1 (15 oz.) can organic fire-roasted petite diced tomatoes
1 pint (2 cups) half and half or whole milk
1 (8 oz.) block cream cheese, brought to room temperature and broken up into chunks
1½–2 lbs. large (cleaned and deveined no tail) shrimp
½–¾ lbs. raw chicken (white and dark meat), cut into 1-inch pieces (no bigger)

Optional garnishes:
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (placed in a bowl to pass around at the table)
Green and black olives
Chopped flat-leaf parsley
Frank’s hot sauce or Sriracha sauce

Instructions

  1. If using potatoes, place in a kettle and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender (about 10 minutes). Cover the pot and set aside.
  2. In a Dutch oven set over medium heat, heat olive oil and butter. Add onion, pepper, and garlic. Cook until just transparent (not brown).
  3. Stir in chili powder, paprika, crushed red peppers flakes, oregano, and salt. Cook 1–2 minutes.
  4. If using, drain potatoes, then add them to the Dutch oven. Stir well, coating completely with the spices. Add corn and tomatoes. Cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Add half and half or milk and bring to a simmer.
  6. Carefully ladle out half of the tomato mixture into a food processor. Add softened cream cheese a little at a time. Blend well and return to Dutch oven.
  7. Add shrimp and chicken. Simmer (do not boil) until the shrimp and chicken are cooked. (This will only take 5 minutes. Time it, and don’t overcook the shrimp. The chicken will be perfectly cooked too.) Turn heat off, cover the Dutch oven, and let it rest.
  8. Place desired garnishes on the table. Serve Gumbo in wide soup bowls with your choice of rice on the side or in the bowl. Lucille recommends serving with yellow, dirty, or saffron rice for the full experience.

Image from iStock/travellinglight

Phyllis Quinn

Phyllis Quinn is a chef, food writer, and founder of Udderly Cultured, a class that teaches how to make homemade fresh mozzarella, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cultured products. Private lessons are available. For a reservation, call Phyllis at 970-221-5556 or email her at [email protected] Rediscover nearly lost cooking methods and get one-of-a-kind recipes in her books The Slow Cook Gourmet and Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation.

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