It all started in the 1990s, when Bangor resident Carey Haskell started watching Louisiana chef and humorist Justin Wilson’s PBS cooking show. The humor, the culture, the literature and, most of all, the food of Louisiana got him hooked. He started cooking his own Cajun food, but it wasn’t until his first visit to New Orleans in 2005 that it was settled. Haskell is a true Louisiana-phile.
“We’ve been back 12 times now,” said Haskell, who travels there with his wife, Loretta, and daughter, Victoria. “We go at least once a year. We’re going back next month, in fact. It’s always a highlight of the year. I just love everything about it.”
He has been to the city for Mardi Gras — which this year is set for Tuesday, Feb. 12 — and he has been to the city when it’s relatively quiet. He has been to roadside shacks in outer parishes, in search of real gumbo and po’ boys, and he has been to fancy restaurants. He likes all of it, so much so that he brings it back home with him everytime he goes, cooking etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya, rice and beans, a King cake for Mardi Gras and whatever else sounds tasty.
“Everyone knows the Friar’s Bakehouse in downtown [Bangor]. I’ve been going there for years and years, and when I go down to New Orleans I always check with Brother Donald … to see what spices he needs me to bring back,” said Haskell. “File for gumbo is the big one, and a couple pepper spice blends that you can really only get in stores down there. I’m their unofficial spice courier.”
He tries to keep his cooking as close as possible to what is traditional for Louisiana — he orders crawfish by mail, he creates his own Cajun spice blends and he brings back Louisiana coffee and baking mixes. But he’ll make Maine lobster stock for the gumbo and etouffee, for example, to retain the Acadian-Cajun, Louisiana-Maine connection.
1 stick butter
½ cup flour
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped red and green peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 ounces tomato paste
1 quart fish, lobster or other seafood stock
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon spice blend (see note)
3 cups shrimp, peeled and deveined (or other, see note)
1 bunch green onion, chopped
½ bunch parsley, chopped
4 cups cooked rice
Hot sauce (optional)
Melt butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven or large, heavy pot. When butter begins to foam, add flour, stirring constantly. Cook for about 10 minutes to form a light brown, peanut butter-colored roux.
Add vegetables — first onions, allowing them to soften, and then celery and peppers — and cook, stirring frequently. Add tomato paste and cook for five more minutes, then add stock and spice blend. Bring up to a simmer, then add shrimp and cook for ten minutes. After seven minutes, add the parsley and green onions and stir. Simmer for another 10 minutes, and then allow to sit for up to 20 minutes, to cool and thicken. Serve over rice, with hot sauce.
Notes: For spice blend, combine the following: ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon powdered ginger, ½ teaspoon dry mustard, ½ teaspoon oregano, ½ teaspoon black pepper, ½ teaspoon celery salt, ½ teaspoon dried chives. Can be made in large quantities for future cooking. Haskell uses 1½ cups shrimp and 1½ cups crawfish; if crawfish is not available, all shrimp is fine. Lobster is also a good substitute for crawfish, for a Maine-Louisiana flair.
— Adapted by Carey Haskell from “Justin Wilson’s Homegrown Louisiana Cooking.”