Lighter Mardi Gras still heavy on flavor
A lighter, but still festive, option for a Mardi Gras-themed dish is blackened grouper over crawfish corn risotto with lemon beurre blanc and garnished with parsley and rosemary. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Blackened Grouper with Corn and Crawfish Risotto
½ pound butter
4 cups Spanish onions, diced
3 cups risotto
1 pound crawfish tail meat
1 cup white wine
4 ounces chicken base
8 cups water
2 cups whole corn
Add all ingredients to pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from stove for 15 minutes. Let risotto set, and then scoop and serve.
Blackened Grouper (use four-six 6-ounce filets)
Lightly add some blackening seasoning to both sides of filet. Use either skillet or flat top to sear fish. Cook for roughly three minutes on each side (depending on thickness).
Lemon Burre Blanc Sauce
1 cup white wine
10 ounces lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
3 pounds butter, unsalted
Cut butter into chips and set on plate to warm to room temperature. Combine wine and lemon juice in sauce pan, and reduce to ½ cup over medium heat. Add cream and reduce by half until semi-thick.
Reduce heat to low, and slowly add butter chips while whisking well. Be sure to whisk consistently until all butter is incorporated.
Use large scoop or spoon to place 4 ounces of risotto on plate. Place grouper on top of risotto, and then add about 2 ounces of lemon butter reduction on top of grouper.
— Recipe courtesy of Jim Lederer, owner of Bluegrass restaurant
Updated: February 6, 2013 1:40PM
Fat Tuesday may be the last big food hurrah before Lent, but it doesn’t have to be all fatty, heavy Mardi Gras foods.
Lighten up that perennial feast without sacrificing favorite Cajun flavors.
Muffaletta, a traditional New Orleans olive mixture typically stuffed between thick slices of bread, is just as tasty on a bed of lettuce.
“A muffaletta salad is a great option, especially for people who are watching their gluten,” says Rochelle Taylor, resident chef at Sur La Table in Northbrook.
She suggests replacing fat with flavor by accenting grits with spicy, small-diced cayenne or jalapeño peppers, instead of butter or cheese.
Likewise, smoked paprika can be used to mimic the taste of smoked chicken or andouille sausage in meatless gumbos and stews.
“Gumbo, itself, is not super unhealthy, until you cook it in andouille sausage fat,” Taylor says.
If meat is a must, she recommends chicken breast meat instead of dark chicken or sausage meat. Rather than making a high-calorie stew, she suggests putting a light sauce made with gumbo vegetables over baked or grilled chicken or fish.
Fish, even with a heavy sauce or side, can lighten up a Mardi Gras menu. At Bluegrass in Highland Park, Chef Jorge Cardoso makes a blackened grouper with a creamy corn and crawfish risotto.
“This is one of those dishes that came together quickly, seemed so simple and just has been a great seller for years,” Cardoso says.
Bluegrass owner Jim Lederer especially likes the textures of the dish.
“Any good dish has multiple textures involved,” he says. “This dish, while largely rich and creamy, has varying textures: There is a slight crust from the blackening process; a slight pop from biting into a corn kernel; and a tender chew in the crawfish tail. Combined with the slight al dente texture of the Arborio rice in the risotto, the dish excites the palate with each bite.”
Grouper holds up better than other fish to the blackening process, which enhances the dish.
“One nice benefit of the blackening process is that cooking the fish on such a hot surface sears the outside flesh so that, even if you overshoot the temperature a bit, the fish tends to retain a great deal of moisture,” Lederer says.
To avoid overcooking fish, make sure it is not cut too thinly. Be sure to start with an extremely hot cast iron skillet.
“People tend to overcook fish, and the blackening process makes that even easier. Cook it just long enough on either side so that the seasoning gets a slight blackening,” he says.
To tell when grouper is fully cooked, Lederer compares its consistency to that of a medium-cooked steak.
“The fish should feel firm but should give slightly when pressed,” he says.
For details about Rochelle Taylor’s Mardi Gras Party cooking class at Sur La Table, see bit.ly/UDswWr.