By Tim H. Martin
The author picked a horrible day to hunt, but a great day to daydream about a Cajun classic.
Nothing Inspires a Heart-Warming Recipe Like an Icy Brush With Death.
Cabin fever can be a dangerous thing, especially to a whitetail hunter who’s been cooped up for three days, waiting out an ice storm.
Gale force winds were continuing to rip down ice-covered power lines throughout central Alabama, and most of my hometown was still dark. Although our cable was out, somehow my house retained power throughout the onslaught. My wife and I were thankful to be able to entertain our toddling daughter with a popular kiddy video, but after 72 hours of listening to the babble of a certain purple dinosaur, I was going insane.
I had no business leaving the house on that brutal January day, much less going deer hunting. But no matter how much Montgomery’s award-winning Channel 12 Storm Team warned me to stay indoors, the thought of spending another day flattening my backside with that Velcro-seamed reptile was unbearable. Plus, the rut was on!
The highways seemed safe to travel by noon, except for the frozen bridges, icy overpasses, deadly curves, strewn telephone poles and hidden patches of ice. So I wolfed down a multi-grain bar, grabbed the Remington .300 Mag and snuck past my napping wife, praying she wouldn’t hear the scrunch of ice scraper against truck window.
Admittedly, it was a white-knuckle drive to the hunting land. Most of the power crews frowned and yelled as I drove past, returning my friendly waves with some sort of gesture. They were probably just jealous that I was going hunting while they had to work.
When my truck slid to a stop at the hunting property, I began to have second thoughts. The woods were shrouded in a ghostly fog, that seemed mysteriously resistant to the roaring wind Every-where, trees were doubled-over from the weight of ice encapsulation, and the dim forest echoed with sounds of snapping limbs. It created an eerie, ominous atmosphere for the mile-long trek to my favorite deer stand, which overlooked a vast, frozen swamp.
I had third thoughts about the trip when I looked up at my treestand some 30 feet high in a flimsy pine tree. It was whipping around like an astronaut training simulator. I took a deep breath, clenched my jaw and began the precarious ascent. I was soon sweating like Jane Fonda at a Vietnam veterans rally, and the wind cut viciously through soaked clothing, directly into my skin. Within minutes, I was shaking uncontrollably.
During the first hour of the tree-rodeo, I figured I’d better eat some sandwiches, which would help me tough it out until dark. But when I reached for my backpack, I realized that I’d left it, along with my lunch and gloves, in the truck.
Oh well, at least the air smelled like fresh pine needles and nobody was singing, “I love you, you love me.”
After two hours, the multi-grain bar was long gone and I could’ve sworn I heard something moan, “GO-HOME … ID-EEEE-YOTTTT.” I couldn't tell if it was my empty stomach or the wind groaning, but Ol’ Mossy Horns was bound to come shivering out of the timber at any moment.
The third hour passed and I figured all the bucks must’ve been huddled together in a big hole somewhere in Macon County, because I never saw one.
After four hours, the hunger pains were as intense as the windburn, and I began to hallucinate about hot food.
Hazy memories of a trip to New Orleans and a delicious crawfish etouffée haunted me from somewhere deep in my subconscious.
I struggled to remember the name of the French Quarter restaurant — probably due to the onset of hypothermia and motion sickness.
Somehow, I managed to retain consciousness by creating a mental list of ingredients required to make a bone-thawing crawfish dish. It would have to be colorful, spicy, tomatoey and seafoody with a thick brown roux, served over a steaming bowl of white rice and garnished with chopped green onions ... oooooh ... and Louisiana
Thoughts of a warm kitchen, hot coffee and my collection of cookbooks began to overpower the desire to obtain venison. A secondary Arctic front was now pushing through Alabama, and conditions were getting even worse.
Next I was hugging the glassy pine in an attempt to keep from being blown completely out. Wind-driven tears streaked across my temples and there was no feeling in my feet and frozen hands. My earlobes were as purple as Barney’s bee-hiney, and snotcicles descended from my numbed nostrils. What the heck was I thinking?
Suddenly, a particularly nasty blast of wind nearly took me out of the stand and the trunk of a huge pine tree exploded on a nearby hillside — POW!!!! CREEAAKKKK!!!!
I watched helplessly as it toppled toward me in slow motion. One of its branches brushed my right foot as it heaved past, crashing loudly to the forest floor. Plumes of freezing mist, pinecones and tree bark descended upon me followed by a surge of sound reasoning and my prompt departure.
Roughing out the Roux
With a mug of hot coffee in one hand and pencil in the other, I spent the remainder of that day at home in front of a roaring fireplace with a pile of Cajun cookbooks. With etouffée thoughts still fresh on a frostbitten brain, I was inspired to quickly recapture the mudbug dream dish by jotting down my ideas with added wisdom from several of my favorite bayou-country chefs.
Soon, the etouffée blueprints were put to paper and my body temperature was nearly back to normal. So I begged my still-steaming bride to bundle up and drive to the grocer and bring me back a bottle of hot sauce and a pound of shrimp and crawdads.
Her icy stare caused me to shiver again. She growled, “Why don’t you take that bottle of hot sauce and …”
Just then, a little voice interrupted from the living room, “Daddy! Daddy! One more time! WEE-WIND BAWNEY!!!!”
As my truck slid to a stop in front of the grocery store, somehow the weather didn’t seem so bad after all.
Winter's Day Etouffée Recipe:
- If you’re not a big fan of mudbugs, don’t fret — substituting shrimp is an excellent alternative.
- First, peel and de-vein 1 to 1 1/2 pounds raw shrimp and/or crawfish. Refrigerate until the final 10 minutes of cooking. Warm the following ingredients in a stockpot or Dutch oven before preparing the roux: 1 (16 oz.) can of tomatoes, 3/4-cup water, 2 Tbls. thyme, 1/2 Tsp. Cayenne pepper (or to taste), 3 Tbls Worcestershire sauce, Kosher salt or sea salt to taste, one dash of your favorite hot sauce (or two or three or four), 4-6 slices jalapeño pepper, minced, juice from 1 squeezed lemon, 2 bay leaves. *To be added during the final 10 minutes of cooking: 1 to 1 1/2 pounds raw shrimp and/or crawfish, 1 Tbls. filé powder (optional) and chopped parsley. Now prepare the roux.
- 1/2 cup, plus 2 Tbls. all purpose flour, 1/2 cup peanut oil (or veg oil), 2 red and/or orange bell peppers, chopped, 4 ribs celery, chopped, 1 medium onion, chopped, 6 or 7 cloves garlic, minced
- In a cast iron skillet, heat oil over med-high heat. Add one third of the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it begins to brown, usually just a few minutes. Then add another third of the flour and continue stirring until it turns the color of peanut butter. Add remaining flour and stir until it’s the color of milk chocolate. If it gets too hot, simply remove from the heat till it behaves. Next, add the onions, celery and bell peppers and cook for about a minute. Toss in the garlic and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender. I really dig the way the kitchen smells during this part! When the roux is ready, pour it into the Dutch oven with the already warming ingredients and slowly simmer for about 30 minutes with the lid partially ajar. Then add the chopped parsley, filé powder (optional) and shellfish, cooking for an additional 10 minutes. Ladle the etouffée over a bowl of steamed white rice and garnish with parsley sprigs and chopped green onions. Hot, buttered French bread is a must for sopping!