Cooking with Myra: Fishin' and eatin' Louisiana style
July 19, 2011 at 2:19 a.m.
By Myra StarkeyLast weekend, Taylor and I traveled to Lake Charles for a visit with my parents. It had been a while since I had seen them in their natural habitat. I also had a deep yearning for some real Cajun food.
I had learned that my younger sister, Cindy, and her family would be there for her 30th high school reunion, and it seemed like a good time to make the trip.
After a very hectic day of work on Friday, we headed west toward Louisiana, and about five hours later, arrived at the driveway of my parents' retirement dream home on the bay.
This house was my father's idea, since he has been a sportsman all his life. It has a long pier just out the back door.
I grew up deer and duck hunting and fishing with him since he lacked a son. He made up for this by training me, his eldest daughter, the hunting skills of an outdoorsman. I used to be fairly good at filleting fish, but fortunately, skinned very few deer because I almost could not bear to see them after death.
He gave up teaching me, since I constantly had to wipe away tears, and I am sure it was easier to just do the job himself. He still loves to fish and always tells us before we get there how good the fishing has been.
Surprisingly, when we arrived at 11 p.m. everyone was still up. My dad and niece, Leah, were on the pier fishing. My mom was seated in front of the television watching Fox News, probably trying to stay awake to make sure we arrived safely. The fishermen eventually came in, saying the wind was churning up the water and they had been unsuccessful in bagging any keepers.
On Saturday morning, we drank coffee on the front porch, watching the bay water turn from grey to blue as the sun lit up the sky. My parents are probably like most people who live on the water, they tend to take the view for granted and only reacquaint themselves with it when company arrives and marvels at the beauty. We made plans for the day, including Cajun food for lunch and a trip to S&M Family Store, a mecca for close-out priced shoes and clothes.
Our shopping was successful, but took up the whole morning. We worked up quite an appetite, so we chose the Seafood Palace for lunch. This nondescript restaurant that is frequented by locals is famous for its gumbo. The roux, or base, is a dark stout liquid with the perfect hint of spice. I also tried the crawfish pie, but was not impressed and preferred Cindy's selection of crawfish pistolette (a bread roll stuffed with etouffee and deep fried to a crispy exterior). Yum!
I always seem to remain hungry in Lake Charles, and as soon as we arrived back at my parents' home (after a detour by the mall), I was back in the kitchen making crawfish etouffee for supper. I also fried eggplant from my garden, and my mom made strawberry pie. This meal was a flashback from childhood except that I have taken my mother's place in the kitchen as the cook, though I continue to use her recipes. The recipe for the pie is from her friend, Joan, (pronounced Jo-Ann) and it is a delicious reminder of those I enjoyed as a child.
During dinner, we realized we needed a fishing license if we intended to fish legally that evening, so we drove down the country road toward town, to a local convenience store. This was one of those places owned by Cajuns and run by Cajuns.
This type of establishment doesn't follow basic employee rules like no texting or using your personal phone while your customers patiently wait at the counter. They also fail to train the employees in the etiquette of opening a second register when there is a long line at the register.
As I stood in line waiting, I overheard the clerks talking about another customer who they saw outside at the gas tanks. Their comments were not exactly complimentary. Taylor waited outside for me and was intrigued by a bunch of young guys trying to winch a wrecked truck onto a flat-bed trailer in the parking lot with little success because the two front wheels of the vehicle were pointed in drastically different directions.
They had an audience of seven or eight women and children as that seemed to be the major source of entertainment that evening for that part of the parish. I was happy to get out of there and back to the solitude of the bay and all those hungry fish just waiting for us.
Cindy and her husband, Charlie, left to attend the reunion, and Leah, Taylor and I prepared for a night of fishing with Dad. Normally, the fishing doesn't start until 10, but we were anxious and the weather seemed right, so we grabbed the rods and set about the task.
Bugs were gathering in a thick cloud around the fishing lights and were covering me as I cast my silver spoon into the dark water. Almost immediately, a croaker bit my hook, and as I reeled it in and plopped it on the pier, I heard the loud croaking noise that earns the creature its name. I took him off and threw him back so he could grow larger.
Minutes later, I caught another small croaker, and my dad suggested that I leave the small fish on the hook to use for bait. Within a minute there was a strong tug on my line, and I reeled in a 21-inch speckled trout. My dad was so excited.
I was suddenly hooked on fishing and cast over and over. Next, I caught a flounder, which is disgusting to look at, but delicious to eat. Taylor and Leah were reeling them in too, and Dad spent much of his time netting our catch and expediting them to the ice chest. After an hour, the wind began to blow, and the waters roughened and the fish quit biting.
Dad and I cleaned our catch, and I envisioned the recipes I might use. My time fishing with him reminded me once again of my childhood when he first taught me to cast, set the hook, net the fish and finally to clean and filet the bounty.
We arrived back home in Victoria with fresh fish, Cajun boudin and strawberry pie. It was a perfect weekend.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email email@example.com.