Cajun and southern country cooking are so intertwined that sometimes they just go together like live oak trees and Spanish moss.
Greensboro is oh so fortunate to have a few folks of Cajun Country descent who grew up with a ladle in one hand and spices in the other. Add a tad of creativity, and you have the ingredients for prize-winning cooks!
Roland Perry is one of them.
While his name doesn’t sound one bit French, he’s got the brogue to go with his background…raised on Cow Island, Louisiana, where he learned to cook beneath live oak trees on the intracoastal canal somewhere between Lake Charles and Lafayette.
His claim to fame in Alabama is chief recipe creator for a cooking team that won the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Wild Game Cookoff several years ago. And yes, that recipe contained catfish!
Well now, farm-raised catfish isn’t wild, but all of Roland’s recipes adapt to this sweeter, healthier variety. The winning recipe was a mixture of flavors: catfish filets stuffed with crabmeat and topped with crawfish etouffee. He says this dish is written in his head, and here goes:
Split several 5-ounce catfish filets, and score them on the inside. Mix fresh or canned crabmeat with minced onion, cayenne pepper, garlic and butter (to keep it moist).
Roland recommends creativity here. Just add the ingredients according to your taste.
Fill the filets with the crabmeat mixture.(It doesn’t take much.) Grill, and top with crawfish etouffee.
Crawfish Etouffee (A-2-fay)
1 lb. crawfish tail meat
¼ lb. margarine
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1 small bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic
1 10-ounce can golden mushroom soup
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Use a black, iron cook pot or Dutch oven. Sauté the pepper, salt, onions and bell pepper in the margarine until onions are clear or wilted. Stir in the peeled crawfish meat. Lower the heat, and stir the mixture so it does not stick to the pot. Add garlic, and heat at least 15 minutes, then add the mushroom soup and green onions, and turn off the heat. Cover tightly and allow to simmer about 10 minutes. Serve the etouffee over the catfish.
Roland, who retires this week from his job as district conservationist for the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, will likely be doing even more cooking in his “ free time” ahead. He already has a reputation around town as a great cook. He’s cooked for dove hunt crowds of 75, helped start the crawfish festival in Faunsdale, cooked at Greensboro’s catfish festival and written a Camphouse Kitchen column for Gulf Coast Outdoors magazine.
In his column, he encouraged creative cooking. “Creativity is seeing what everybody else sees, only seeing it in a different way. Everybody can be creative,” he wrote.
“Creative” to Roland meant trying all kinds of cuisine as well as cooking methods. On summer Sundays, his family would gather with friends for an outdoor fish fry. They used a black iron pot that sat on a tripod over hot coals, and he gathered firewood for cooking and Spanish Moss for a fish bed. The moss was placed next to the frying pot, and when the fish was done, it was placed on the moss where it absorbed the cooking oil from the fish, a method that he says works better than today’s paper towels. While hog lard was used back then, today he recommends peanut oil.
“Catfish was the big thing down there,” he said, so he felt right at home when he moved to the “other Catfish Country” around Greensboro, and he says he's here to stay!