In our 2007 Chefs to Watch article about Chef Stephen Stryjewski, the writer mused that Stephen “may have another restaurant or two left in him.” In the nearly ten years that have elapsed, that prediction turned out to be right on the money, as Stephen branched out from his position at New Orleans’ Cochon to open Butcher and Pêche Seafood Grill with 2006 Chef to Watch Donald Link. While he has spread his wings and taken on more projects, his style of straightforward, comforting cooking has remained the same. As autumn sets in, we talked with Stephen to get his thoughts on a classic smothered Cajun dish: fricassee over rice.
Q Tell us a little bit about this particular fricassee.
This is very, very classic Cajun fricassee. It’s basically a pork neck stew, which has been done forever. We season it very traditionally with the trinity, some bacon, and some tasso to give it a little spice note; then we use steaks from the pork coppa cut, off the top of the pork shoulder. It’s what you’d traditionally use for salami or sausage making because it has a high ratio of fat. A lot of people do make the same dish with pork chops, but I’m not as big a fan of using them, because by the time they cook for an hour they get dried out.
Q If readers can’t find this cut, what could they substitute?
If you’ve got Boston butt or a shoulder, those would be an acceptable substitute. You could cut it into steaks or large cubes and sear it on all sides. It’s just a different presentation with the same technique.
Q To you, what makes the perfect fricassee?
You want a nice deep flavor. I like the combination of the roux and the little bit of smoky meat; and gravy and rice is one of my favorite things.
Q What tips would you give a home cook?
Don’t be afraid of the roux. Definitely cook it long enough, and stir it constantly so it doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pan. You don’t want any black flakes in there because it’ll make it bitter and definitely not delicious. Then, if you’re doing seafood or a crab fricassee, make sure you cook it long enough. Usually when I make a shrimp or crawfish fricassee, I’ll add half of the seafood and let it cook until it starts to break down. Then I’ll add the other half and let them cook just until they’re done. Giving the shellfish an opportunity to break down really permeates the broth with the flavor, and they go from being perfectly cooked to really chewy to really nice and soft again, and I try to get to that nice and soft stage.
Q As the seasons change, do you change your fricassees?
Most definitely. My favorite time of year is March, when crawfish drop in price and I make sauce américaine, the traditional French dish where you braise the chicken without browning it and have a white chicken stock roux. I finish it with crawfish butter and a bunch of crawfish tail meat.
Q How long do you cook your roux for this dish?
For my gumbo I go pretty dark, but for this sort of dish, I keep the roux fairly light. For the fricassee, I want it to have more of a stew consistency, and I don’t like the roux to be the most dominant flavor. I like to have a balance of pork, spices, vegetables, and smoky meat, so I keep the roux medium-brown. People describe it as peanut butter, but I think it’s a little darker than that. Coffee with a little cream, maybe.
Q What do you think pairs well with fricassee?
I like eating it with a nice dry cider, or some fresh vegetables. Something light, bright, and acidic to counteract the stew aspect. Maybe a Brussels sprouts salad or a zucchini and squash salad, shaved with some raw onion and dressed with sherry vinegar and olive oil.
Q What other fall fricassees do you like to make?
Chicken fricassee works really well in the fall. You can add tomatoes if you’ve got them. You can really make it with whatever you have; it’s one dish with a thousand different possibilities.
Q Does using a cast-iron pan help making this dish?
Yes, it does. It’s got a nice even heat, and especially for me, making home-sized portions with roux, I like to use cast iron because the heat is consistent. When you’re using a light gauge pan, you can have a lot of burning issues and trouble with the roux sticking. With cast iron, you’ve got a nice even temperature so it doesn’t stick or burn if you stir it constantly. Pretty much all my pots at home are cast iron, but there are a few enameled Dutch ovens that I use when I’m cooking with tomatoes, because I do agree about the rusty flavor you can get when you cook tomatoes in cast iron.
- 6 (8-ounce) pork coppa or shoulder chops
- Ground black pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 1¾ cups oil, divided
- ½ pound bacon, diced
- ½ pound tasso, diced
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 large bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 fresh bay leaves*
- 2 large sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- Hot cooked rice
- Garnish: chopped green onion
- Season pork with salt and peppers, and lightly dust with ½ cup flour.
- In a large Dutch oven, heat ¼ cup oil over medium heat; add chops in an even layer, and cook until browned, turning once. (Be careful to not overcrowd the pan.) Remove browned chops, and set aside.
- Add remaining 1½ cups oil and 1½ cups flour to pot. Cook, whisking and scraping browned bits from bottom of pot, until a brown roux forms. Add bacon, and stir briefly; add tasso, onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Stir in stock, and add reserved pork chops in an even layer.
- Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until pork is tender and gravy is thickened, about 1 hour. Serve in a shallow bowl with rice, and garnish with green onion, if desired.
- *Four dried bay leaves may be substituted