The High Art of the Hotdish, Cajun Style
When I first moved to Minnesota, I was invited to a colleague’s home for dinner. She said we were going to have a Minnesota favorite: Hotdish. The first thing I thought was, “Wow, here is somebody who likes spicy food! Great.” I marveled. “I wonder if she will use cayenne pepper or fresh chilies?” I soon learned quickly that Hotdish was a casserole and spice doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the dish.
Cookbook author Beatrice Ojkangas tells us in her book The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever (Chronicle books 2008), “The word casserole can either refer to the dish that the food is cooked in or the food itself.” She also goes on to say that casseroles became popular in the 1950s, mainly because they got the cook in and out of the kitchen fast.
When in Rome...
Hotdish is still a popular culinary entertainment choice for the busy cook. It can be assembled ahead of time and can be held if guests are late to arrive. I soon learned with the cold winters, stick to your ribs meals with lots of sauce was the order of the day, so it made sense for me to jump on the Hotdish bandwagon, once I was vetted in the basics. Don’t get me wrong, we had Hotdishes where I grew up in Louisiana, but they were always a supporting role for the meat, which was usually cooked outside all year round. Those Hotdishes always had rice and some sort of green vegetable, mainly broccoli, and lots of cheese. They were stand-ins when we tired of macaroni and cheese, which was popular on Sundays for dinner.
Today, I make crawfish casserole for company, and, being in the Northwoods, I call it a hotdish. I substitute wild rice for the usual white rice (aka Cajun caviar), and I make the cream sauce from scratch. It’s a little more work than opening a can, but the results of a homemade sauce are nothing short of delicious.
A little of this hotdish goes a long way. Serve with a crusty baguette and green salad. Crawfish tail meat is available at Walmart in the frozen seafood section.
Yields 10-12 Servings
1 eight-ounce package cream cheese
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, plus 1 Tablespoon butter
2 pounds crawfish tail meat, rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 eight-ounce package of fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 14-ounce can of cream of mushroom soup, undiluted or 1 ½ cups of homemade cream sauce, recipe follows.
2 cups cooked wild rice
3 dashes white pepper
½ teaspoon ground red pepper
1-2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
1 eight-ounce package shredded cheddar cheese
1 can Durkee brand fried onions for topping
Preheat oven to 350F
Melt cream cheese and 1 stick of butter together in a saucepan over medium heat; set aside.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté onion, green pepper, mushrooms until soft. Add crawfish and cook for about 3-5 minutes more.
Add canned soup or cream sauce mix, wild rice, and butter/cream cheese mixture. Add seasonings and pour into a 9x13 casserole dish sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Top with shredded cheese and fried onions and bake 30-45 minutes until bubbling. Let stand 10 minutes before serving, as it will thicken when it cools.
Homemade Cream Sauce
This recipe makes a little more than you need. The extra sauce can be used as a base for a quick cream soup on another day when you are short on time.
Makes 2 cups
½ stick butter or margarine
½ cup white all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream, milk or half and half
Pinch of ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning
Salt and white pepper to taste
Melt butter or margarine in a medium skillet or saucepan and add flour. Stir constantly for at least 5 minutes until flour is cooked out of the mixture, it will start to turn a slight brown color. Add cream or milk and stir, mixture will immediately thicken. Take off of heat and add seasonings. Use right away or store in the fridge until needed.