New cookbook celebrates Cajun cuisine

In her new cookbook, chef Melissa M. Martin takes issue with a “well-respected newspaper” that once published a recipe for making roux in a microwave. “To me, that’s like speed dating. My advice: don’t do either.”

Nor does she go for the labor-saving restaurant trick of starting the classic gumbo thickener on the stove and then finishing in the oven. “That method works, but there’s no romance to it — romance is slowing down and stirring with a wooden spoon, allowing the roux to happen.”

There’s no “bam!” to the Cajun cooking Martin writes about in “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou” (Artisan, $35). Her recipes for Redfish Courtbouillon, Smothered Okra, and seven different types of gumbo represent “the hard work of fishermen and the palates and grace of mothers and wives commanding their stoves.”

Martin was raised on Louisiana’s southernmost coast in Terrebonne Parish “with leftover gumbo in the fridge and an oil rig drilling just outside my window,” a place she rarely left until she moved to New Orleans to study at Loyola University. Craving the simple, fresh flavors of home, she formed relationships with the fishermen and farmers at Crescent City Farmers Market, and after Hurricane Katrina followed a winemaker friend to Napa Valley to hone her culinary skills.

She returned to New Orleans to help launch several sustainable restaurants before opening Mosquito Supper Club in 2014, where family-style Cajun feasts tell a bittersweet story of a land where rising tides have taken a heavy toll. Like her menus, Martin’s book aims to capture that culture and history before it washes away altogether.

Recipes are categorized by ingredient — five relate to seafood — plus chapters devoted to gumbo, pantry staples, and sweets and breads. Evocative essays and painterly photographs of shrimping by moonlight and sugarcane-harvesting bring deeper meaning to dishes like Pillowcase Cookies and the delicious one I tried for Smothered Shrimp and Eggplant.

Ingredients are simple and techniques straightforward. But don’t look for shortcuts.

As she notes in the preface to her mom Maxine’s Shrimp Okra Gumbo, “It takes time for something this good to come together.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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