POSTED ON FEBRUARY 6, 2013:
Authentic Cajun cuisine in the heart of town
In February, it seems all eyes turn to the South, particularly New Orleans, as Mardi Gras celebrations commence. With it comes the traditions and Cajun flavors that give Nawlins its fame. Luckily you don't have to drive any further than south Tulsa to enjoy the flavors of the Big Easy.
Cajun Ed's is the restaurant side of Hebert's Specialty Meats. This is always a great combo because you know anything you order off the menu is going to be super fresh. It's also nice to know you have a place to go to get the ingredients to create your own Cajun feast at home. The inside is brightly lit and festive, with store items on the right and some nice wooden high-top tables to the left. Cajun Ed's is a popular lunch stop and has a wonderful menu containing all the delights that Louisiana has to offer.
We started our journey into swamp country with an appetizer of boudin balls. Boudin (pronounced boo-DAN) is a type of sausage, and at the same time, it's not a sausage. Contained inside a sausage casing is pork, pork liver (don't let this frighten you -- it's subtle), rice, and a unique blend of spices. It is a savory surprise, with what seems like a million flavors hitting your taste buds all at once. Cajun Ed's boudin balls were outstanding, with the outer coating forming a nice and smooth cornbread crunch and the inside packed a punch. A really great way to start a Cajun feast, and for $4.95 for four nicely-sized balls, it was a slam dunk.
Cajun cuisine is something that I don't feel like I get to have very often, so when I do it, I do it right. My first order of business was to sample the turducken ($11.95). The mythical turducken is a carnivore's dream, with a layer of turkey, enveloping a layer of duck. It doesn't stop there. Then, past the turkey and the duck is a layer of chicken and then a pork sausage stuffing. To eat turducken is killing three birds with one bite, showing Mother Nature who is truly the top predator. As with most Cajun cuisine, it is an over-the-top creation, but the question remained: does it taste good?
The turducken meal arrived with heaping helpings of green beans, studded with onion and bacon, dirty rice and maque choux (pronounced mahk-shoo). The mound of sides made the delicate slice of turducken seem small. However, as I took my first bite, I understood why. To have in your mouth three types of bird is a lot for the ol' tongue to process. It was a bacchanalia of piquancy.
Though the turducken was legendary, I must not overlook the sides, which could easily stand alone. The dirty rice was en pointe with a perfect blend of flavors. The maque choux, another Cajun specialty, was superb with its blend of sweet corn in a light creamy sauce with green pepper and onion.
Now we came to the ultimate Cajun cuisine -- the crawfish. Each year people wait with bated (or baited?) breath for mudbug season to begin, which is usually in March. But with the recent mild fall and winter, people are able to get their crawfish fix early. My beau had never really experienced crawfish in their purest form -- boiled up with potatoes, corn and other seafood. Cajun Ed's Boiled Seafood Platter ($21.95) comes with crab legs, fresh gulf shrimp, corn, potatoes, and crawfish.
The whole mudbug can be intimidating, but here are some simple tips to successfully conquer the crawfish. First, snap the little guy in two where the head meets the rest of the body. Press on the head a bit to loosen it up. Once separated, you have a couple of options. Perhaps you've heard the term "suck the head." It's pretty simple. Once you've got the head in your hand, put it to your lips on the open end and give a healthy slurp. Inside is a "heady" mix of flavors from the boil water and from the crawfish itself. It's nice flavor prep for the next step.
You've dealt with the head, now to tend to the tail. Pinch the very end of the tail between your thumb and index finger and at the other end you'll see the tip of treasure you seek. Delicately pull on this exposed meat while pinching the tail and blammo! The tail meat is all yours to savor. Crawfish meat has a similar flavor profile and texture to crab. It's sweet, not briny, and tender. It may seem labor intensive, but it's really fun foregoing all food etiquette, getting your hands dirty all for the sake of a small piece of tail.
Along with a nice haul of crawfish came crab legs and some of the freshest, most delectable peel-and-eat shrimp I've had in a while. The corn on the cob and potato were largely overshadowed by the bounty of crawfish and seafood.
Maybe dealing with the whole crawfish isn't your style. You can still reap the benefits of the taste of the crawfish without all the rigmarole by ordering Cajun Ed's Crawfish Half-and-Half Platter ($10.95). The platter includes a heaping helping of crawfish, coated in that sweet yet spicy cornbread coating and fried to perfection. This is crawfish with all the joy and without all the work. The other half of the platter, however, is a thing of beauty -- crawfish étouffée.
Etouffée is a distinctly Cajun concoction that is full of flavor and rib-sticking goodness. It is usually made with shellfish, with crawfish being the most authentic choice. A thick sauce, or roux, is created by mixing the trinity -- green peppers, onion and celery -- with flour. To get the distinct mahogany color, it is necessary to stir and watch the roux with care. Cajun Ed's offering was as authentic as it gets, with the bold flavors that only enhanced the sweet, delicate crawfish.
Cajun cuisine is an often-imitated cuisine. It's understandable because the flavors are so haunting. Though imitations are a quick fix, there is no substitute for the real deal. Tulsans are lucky that they have a place to satisfy the Cajun cravings. Because if you want to know what Louisiana really tastes like, look no further than Cajun Ed's.
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