We’re rooting hard in Baton Rouge for our own Jay Ducote to take top honors on The Next Food Network Star, and one of his recipes on the show inspired dinner at my house this week. Jay is a friend and fellow blogger/food writer (among other talents), and it’s been fun to watch him soar on a national level on both Cutthroat Kitchen and now possibly as Food Network’s next big thing. A few episodes into the annual series, he’s showing his natural ability to gab and connect, and he’s playing to his strengths as a chef who favors big Southern flavors. The Cajun tasso macque choux he prepared for a large crowd during the first episode earned kudos – and it prompted me to make my own version.
Mock Shoe Rocks
Macque or maque choux has evolved considerably since its early days as a corn & cabbage vegetable stew made in rural South Louisiana – further evidence of the region’s propensity for culinary thrift. The cabbage was dropped somewhere along the way, and today, it’s generally thought of as doozied-up smothered corn, in which fresh kernels are cooked down with aromatic veggies and some type of pork. Some cooks add tomatoes, and some add cream. Chef John Folse credits the Cajun communities along the River Road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans for incorporating shrimp.
Jay’s version uses tasso, and he also includes chopped jalapeño with his aromatics. He uses wine, cream and butter to enrich the dish, and he grills the shrimp over charcoal.
I use a little pancetta in mine, although bacon is an easy choice as well. My recipe calls for searing the shrimp in a cast iron skillet to speed things along (good for weeknights). What I love most about making macque choux this time of year is that its ingredients are at their peak: fresh corn, Gulf shrimp, tomatoes (if you choose to use them) and bell peppers.
My Macque Choux
For the corn:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped pancetta or bacon
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cups fresh corn kernels shaved from cobs
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup diced bell pepper (I like red, but any color will do)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add pancetta. Cook 2 minutes and add onions and corn. Cook for 3 minutes. Add garlic and bell pepper and cook 2 more minutes. Add cream and simmer 2 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For the shrimp:
1 pound large, head-on Gulf shrimp*
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Zest from one lemon or lime
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Chopped fresh chives for garnish
Peel and devein shrimp and place them in a bowl. Coat evenly with 2 tablespoons olive oil, zest, oregano and salt and pepper. To sear, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. When pan is hot, add shrimp in a single layer. Cook for about 1 minute and turn over. Cook another minute or until cooked through.
To serve, place a spoonful of macque choux on each plate and top with a few shrimp. Top with chopped fresh chives.
*I prefer head-on shrimp because they’ve been handled less and usually taste fresher.
Enjoy! ….And good luck Jay!