Chicken Étouffée à la Dad

photo 2 (3)Once upon a time, we were in Wisconsin at my parents’ house. In Wisconsin, the days are book-ended by coffee at the beginning and amazing dinner at the end. Recently, my dad has been on a Cajun kick and I’ve tasted two different kinds of Étouffée and a Gumbo. These culinary excursions have reminded me of something: I LOVE CAJUN FOOD. I had forgotten, somehow … though I don’t understand how, since that’s what we served at our wedding, for Pete’s sake.

Anyway, Cajun and I are getting along just great again. We reignited our feelings for one another through this recipe, courtesy of this awesome food blog, via my dad, and now I’m passing it along to you.

If someone served this to me at a restaurant, I would be happy. That’s how good it is. It has a nice low burn to it, but it’s not too spicy–in fact, my husband denies he can even taste the spice.

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Hmmm. His taste buds must have been nuked–that’s the only explanation I can think of, because there’s definitely some heat there.

In fact, upon further thought, I believe I can identify the very place where his taste buds were forever damaged: a little restaurant called Burmese Gems (since closed) that we ate at during our undergrad days in Bloomington, Indiana. Their food was so spicy that once, on the walk back to the dorms, I had to lie down on the sidewalk because the pain in my abdomen from the spice was so severe.

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The sidewalk, people!

My taste buds made it out okay, but apparently my spouse’s were forever inoculated against spice, and now he can’t taste it unless it’s of the magnitude of the Chicago fire. Or something.


Here’s the recipe, a couple semi-blurry iPhone pics and my firmest endorsement.

Chicken Étouffée à la Dad

(Serves 8)


2 TBS olive oil
2 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 stick butter
2/3 cup flour
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bottle amber beer
2 bay leaves
1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with chiles
3 cups chicken stock
1 TBS maple syrup
2 TBS Cajun seasoning
2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
Serve with rice and a bottle of hot sauce

  1. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot. Season the chicken with salt and pepper; brown in batches and remove to a cutting board.
  2. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces (it will still be a little raw–that’s fine). Prep your veggies: dice the onion, green pepper, celery, and mince the garlic.
  3. Melt the butter in the pot; when melted, add the flour and stir frequently for 20-25 minutes (don’t let it burn!) to create a roux. The roux is done when it’s a little darker than peanut butter. If your chicken brownings are coloring the roux from the start, go even darker.
  4. Add the diced veggies and garlic to the roux. Cook for 10 minutes, until they’re softened.
  5. Pour in the beer and scrape the pot to get all the browned bits in circulation.
  6. Add the remaining ingredients (bay leaves, tomatoes, stock, maple syrup, Cajun seasoning, Worcestershire sauce) and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and add the chicken pieces back in.
  7. Simmer for 45 minutes; taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
  8. Serve with rice and hot sauce that everyone can add to taste.

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Thay’s Secret Spaghetti Sauce

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As far as spaghetti goes, I like it fine. But I don’t have that much more to say about it . . . it’s just . . . yeah. Fine.

Until I was introduced to this spaghetti sauce. My friend Thay brought it over during our first few weeks home with Benjamin, when our lovely church friends were bringing meals.

“It’s spaghetti,” she said, handing me the containers of pasta and sauce.

I felt just fine about having spaghetti.

And then I ate some. And suddenly I felt GREAT about eating spaghetti.

And joy of joys: there were lots of leftovers–she’d sent a nice big batch of sauce.

“This are mine,” I informed my husband, fitting the lid back on the container and eyeing the remaining sauce protectively. “I claim these leftovers.”

“Uh . . . okay,” he agreed. I think my sudden passion regarding spaghetti sauce probably came as a surprise. Heck, it came as a surprise to me too. More like a surprise attack.

He relinquished any right to those leftovers immediately.

I would have too, if I’d seen the burning glint in my own eye. It was probably the fiercest, possessivest (yeah, I know that’s not a word) I’ve felt about anything since popcorn.

The next time I saw Thay, she told me how to make it. And her secret ingredient: those little containers of chili sauce you get when you order Thai delivery. But in the absence of those, I luckily discovered that a little sweet chili sauce and a little sriracha produce the same magical effect: a little mysterious je-ne-sais-quoi–a bit of a bite (but subtle), a little tang, a little something delightfully sweet but vinegary.

And the stuff in the sauce! The turkey and peppers an onion make it thick and–well, interesting.

I just made my second batch of the stuff, and I eat it all week long for my lunches, but over rice, with some spinach mixed in, and with two fried eggs on top. Like dees:

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It’s the perfect lunch–a kind of extra-fancy and delicious version of Arroz a la Cubana.

Also, you may have noticed that topping everything with eggs is a kind of obsession with me. I keep hearing about this national egg shortage, and hoping its effects don’t trickle down too far–I need my eggs. I really need ’em. To make my fancy spaghetti sauce lunch–and this salad. With no eggs, they would be naked, sad and ashamed.

But moving on to the recipe!


(Serves 8 +)

¼ cup olive oil
3 lbs ground turkey
4 large white onions
2 red bell peppers
2 green bell peppers
10 cloves garlic
2-28 oz cans (plain) tomato sauce
Generous sprinkling dried basil and thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp sugar (or more to taste)
Secret ingredients:      2 tsp sriracha (or more to taste)
2 tsp Thai sweet chili sauce (or more to taste)

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1. Dice the onions and bell peppers, and mince the garlic.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot. When hot, add the diced onions. Cook on medium heat until onions are soft, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they don’t burn. Add the garlic and some salt and pepper; cook for another few minutes.

3. Add the ground turkey to the pot with the onions and cook over medium high heat for 5-8 minutes, crumbling the turkey with a spatula as the meat cooks.

4. Add the bell peppers and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are soft.

5. Add the tomato sauce, dried herbs, more salt and pepper, the sugar, and the secret ingredients. Stir, cover and simmer on lowish heat for at least an hour, stirring every now and then. If you’re able to let it cook away all afternoon, even better.

6. Taste and adjust seasoning; serve over pasta. Or stir in some spinach and spoon it over some rice with eggs. It’s a sauce worthy of being served in many ways, and as often as possible.

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