When MB editorial director Judy Culbreth and husband Walter Kirkland returned to the South nine years ago, they didn’t want to forget some of their most memorable meals in New York and New Jersey. An all-time favorite was a Christmas Eve fete that followed the Italian-American custom of serving seven different kinds of seafood. To give the dinner a Southern spin, the couple incorporated plenty of fresh and local ingredients into the menu — many were sourced from their own place on Weeks Bay, Pelican Marsh. “That’s very true to the Italian spirit of the meal, ” says Judy.
Making all the sauces, pizza dough and the pineapple upside-down cake a day ahead keeps the evening of the dinner merry and bright for guests and hosts alike. The party is planned for eight people.
Cajun Seafood Pizza • 100 Oysters 3 Ways • Smoked Fish Dip
Deconstructed Stuffed Fish with Cheese Sauce • Asparagus & Mushrooms • Crab Cake Muffins
Pineapple Upside-down Cake • Frios Popsicles
Cajun Seafood Pizza
When Judy and Walter lived and worked in New York City, a favorite haunt was Two-Boots Pizza for the Ragin’ Cajun cornmeal-crust pizza. This re-creation uses Gulf seafood. Tone this down if you don’t like it hot.
Step 1: Prepare Creole Seasoning
Homemade Creole Seasoning
This can be mixed together days or weeks ahead. Judy thinks popular Cajun seasoning has a metallic taste from the high sodium, so she makes this spicy mix herself with less salt and her own fresh oregano.
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fresh or dried oregano
Step 2: Make Piquant Pizza Sauce and Homemade Pizza Dough (if desired).
Piquant Pizza Sauce
The pizza sauce, a Cajun sauce piquant, and the dough can be made a day ahead. You can also skip this step and use a spicy bottle sauce and ready-bake crust, or get a good cheese pizza and add seafood and veggies.
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped onions
3 tablespoons cored, seeded and chopped green bell peppers
1 tablespoon seeded and minced jalapeño peppers
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1/3 cup Creole Seasoning (see below), or store-bought to taste
crushed red pepper, to taste
freshly ground pepper
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1. Heat 1/4 cup oil over high heat. Add next 12 ingredients. Sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce to simmer for 20 minutes more.
2. Remove bay leaves. Add mixture to blender and drizzle in 2 tablespoons oil while blending. Sauce can be stored in refrigerator a day or two ahead. Add parsley just before ready to make pizzas.
Homemade Pizza Dough
This recipe is adapted from Frank Stitt’s “Bottega Favorita” cookbook. Stitt’s recipe makes three 7-ounce portions of dough for three 10-inch pizzas. Walter divides the dough in half for the Cajun pizza because the toppings are heavier. Dough can be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight. Allow it to come to room temperature before cooking pizza.
1 1/4 cups warm water (105 – 115 degrees)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Cornmeal for dusting
1. Pour the warm water into a small bowl, stir in the honey and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Combine the flours and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a large bowl and a sturdy hand mixer.) Add the yeast mixture and olive oil and mix on low speed until the dough forms a mass on the paddle and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 4 – 5 minutes.
3. Remove the dough and divide it into 2 (or 3 if you want thin crust) equal portions. Put on a flour-dusted baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes, or until almost doubled. (Refrigerate dough at this point if you’re making it the day before.) The dough is ready to be rolled out and baked.
Step 3: Prepare Pizza Toppings.
Prepare a day ahead and refrigerate.
1 cup seasoned crawfish, defrosted
Creole Seasoning (see above)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
15 cleaned Gulf shrimp
2 links Andouille sausage
10 pepperoni slices
2 small red bell peppers, halved, cored and seeded
2 green onions
1 red onion
1 jalapeño pepper, or 8 pickled jalapeño slices
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, or Romano
salt and pepper, to taste
red pepper flakes, optional
1. Check the seasoning of the crawfish to see if it’s spicy enough. If needed, add Creole Seasoning. Seasoned crawfish can be refrigerated at this point. Just before making pizza, sauté crawfish in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Remove from pan and cool slightly. Wipe out pan.
2. In medium bowl, combine 1 tablespoon oil, 1/3 of the Creole Seasoning and the shrimp. Toss to coat. Shrimp can be refrigerated at this point. Right before making pizza, sauté shrimp in medium pan used to cook crawfish until just opaque, turning once. Remove from pan and cool slightly. Wipe out pan.
3. Slice sausage in half lengthwise. Cook in medium saucepan, breaking sausage into bits with a wooden spoon. Remove from pan and cool slightly. Sausage can be refrigerated at this point. Right before making pizza, drain sausage bits on paper towels to remove any grease. Reheat slightly in sauté pan. Wipe out pan.
4. Cook pepperoni on high heat until edges blacken a bit. Pepperoni can be refrigerated at this point. Just before making pizzas, reheat in sauté pan.
5. On party day, coat peppers in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook on grill until skin blackens or place on skewer and hold over gas flame of stove. When cool enough to handle, slice peppers.
Step 4: Make and bake pizza.
Pizza Dough (store-bought or homemade)
Piquant Pizza Sauce (above)
1. Preheat oven to highest temperature. Preheat a large pizza stone on center rack of the oven.
2. While oven is heating, bring crust and other ingredients to room temperature.
3. Roll out dough and shape 2 crusts (3 for thin crust).
4. In a sauté pan reheat crawfish, shrimp, sausage and pepperoni, wiping out pan after each use. Do not overcook.
5. Spoon 2 – 3 tablespoons sauce over each pizza crust. Sprinkle with parsley. (You will have sauce left over.) Divide crawfish, shrimp, sausage and pepperoni between crusts. Add vegetables, cheeses and seasoning.
6. Open oven and dust pizza stone with coarse cornmeal. Reduce heat to 500 degrees. Gently add pizza crusts to stone. Bake for 8 – 12 minutes, watching closely, until crusts are browned.
100 Oysters 3 Ways
For Christmas almost every year, Judy and Walter give each other a bivalve-related present. “It started with a string of pearls, then there were a few years of oyster platters and The Oysterman’s Grillers. Last year, we splurged on a professional shucking gizmo, the EZ Shucker. I think that tells you how much we relish the local oysters down here, ” says Judy. Walter readies a few dozen pre-party for the raw bar. “But my friends like to see the EZ Shucker in operation. It’s part of the evening’s entertainment. They also gather around the grill to get first dibs on hot Point Aux Pins.”
1. Raw Bar
1. Fill a big platter with crushed ice. (No rock salt. It can spoil the oysters.) Arrange cut Meyer lemons, dill, capers and hot sauce in the middle and a circle of raw Point Aux Pins on the half shell along the edge.
2. Serve with crackers, garlic toasts, Horseradish and Ketchup Cocktail and Mignonette Sauce (below). Both of these sauces can be made a day ahead.
Horseradish And Ketchup Cocktail Sauce
1. Mix 1 cup ketchup, 2 tablespoons horseradish, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, juice from 1/2 lemon and 1 teaspoon dried onion powder (if desired).
1. Combine 2 finely chopped shallots, 1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns (or a peppercorn mix), 1/2 cup champagne vinegar and 1/2 cup sparkling wine, such as prosecco.
2 . Butter-basted Grilled Oysters
1. Prepare Big Green Egg (or other grill) with lump charcoal and pecan wood.
2. Grill whole Point Aux Pins until shells open.
3. Add a bit of melted butter (or melted garlic butter) to only half the shells since many folks prefer an unadulterated smoky flavor.
4. Remove oysters while they still glisten.
3. Bacon and Cheese Grilled Oysters
1. In a skillet over medium heat, cook about 1/4 pound of good-quality bacon. Reserve the bacon fat and then crumble bacon into bits.
2. In a saucepan, melt 1 stick of butter and add 2 cloves garlic, grated, and 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
3. Place 3 shucked oysters in each Oysterman’s Griller (or oyster shells). Baste oysters with bacon fat and garlic butter/Parmesan mixture.
4. Sprinkle with bacon bits. Grill until the cheese melts.
5. Garnish with lemon wedge and fresh cut chives.
Smoked Fish Dip
Judy’s and Walter’s friend, Howell Raines, smokes mullet often. It makes a delightful, flavorful dip, which is even better if it sits in the refrigerator overnight. An even easier alternative is prepared smoked tuna dip, available at seafood stores. Red caviar on top makes it count as two of the seven fish.
smoked fish of choice
2 (12-ounce) containers whipped cream, softened
Crystal Hot Sauce, to taste
prepared store-bought puffed pastry shells
red caviar, if desired
1. Pick the white meat off the bones of one big fish and discard skin, bones and dark meat. Flake white meat into small pieces.
2. Mix with whipped cream and hot sauce.
3. Serve atop prepared puffed pastry shells. Top with caviar, if desired.
Deconstructed Stuffed Fish With Cheese Sauce
In this version of a coastal Alabama favorite, the traditional crab stuffing is in a muffin on the side and the sauce is on the bottom of the plate. Fresh fish then becomes the star, as its flavor shines through. Flounder would also work well.
Step 1: Prepare Mornay Sauce.
When sauce is ready, cool completely and pour into a plastic bowl with a lid. Store in the refrigerator several days ahead.
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups warmed milk
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir until mixture is well blended and frothy. Do not brown.
2. Gradually whisk in warm milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to boil and thicken, about two to three minutes.
3. Lower heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, about 2 – 3 minutes. Add cheese and stir until melted.
4. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. If sauce seems thick, thin with a little more warm milk. Makes 2 cups.
Step 2: Prepare Crab Cake Muffins.
Crab Cake Muffins
1 pound lump crabmeat
3 eggs, divided
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup red pepper, minced
3 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
10 or more dashes hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Oil the muffin liners. (No need to oil silicone liners.)
2. In a large bowl, combine 2 eggs and 1 egg white, and remaining ingredients. Divide into muffin cups. Store.
3. Bake 20 – 25 minutes until tops crisp.
4. Cover with foil; keep in a warm place. Makes 12 muffins (you may want to double the recipe.
Step 3: Cook vegetables.
Asparagus and Mushrooms
Reserve vegetables at room temperature. Reheat on low before serving.
2 bunches thick asparagus
1 package fresh, sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Rinse and drain vegetables. Pat dry.
2. Fill a bowl with ice and cold water. Fill a large skillet with water and bring to a boil. Break off woody ends of asparagus. Peel some of the tough exterior. Cook in boiling water just until it changes color. Plunge in ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove from ice bath. Let drain on paper towels or wire rack.
3. Clean out skillet and melt butter over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms until they soften but don’t overcook. Season. Serves 8 – 10.
Step 4: Reheat Crab Cake Muffins.
Step 5: Prepare fish.
4 grouper fillets
salt and pepper, to taste
pinch of sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon butter
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash fish and pat dry with paper towels.
Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar on one side.
2. Heat large sauté pan on high heat. Add canola oil and butter to hot pan. Turn pan to coat evenly. When butter has foamed and melted, add fish fillets, sugar side down. Sear on one side until golden brown, about 1 minute.
3. Flip fish and place in oven. Finish until fish is translucent (just done).
4. Remove from pan, divide into 8 pieces. Cover with foil. Flip to golden side to serve. Serves 8.
Step 6: Plate the entree.
1. While fish rests, reheat sauce on low heat. Reheat vegetables on low heat.
2. Pour 6 tablespoons sauce on bottom of each of 8 plates. Place sautéed fish on top of sauce.
3. Arrange asparagus and mushrooms alongside fish.
4. Place 1 – 2 Crab Cake Muffins on each plate.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
The cake is even better when made a day ahead. Serve with a Frios’ fresh fruit popsicle, available at Windmill Market, or your choice of sorbet. Walter pairs the cake with his delicious homemade strawberry wine.
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, plus 4 ounces
1/3 cup chopped B & B pecans
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup Claude’s Cornmeal, coarse ground (available at Fairhope Tire, 19526 Greeno Rd.)
1 cup dark brown sugar
6 – 8 slices canned pineapple in heavy syrup
6 – 8 maraschino cherries, or to taste
3 tablespoons reserved pineapple syrup
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small skillet, melt 1 teaspoon butter and toast the chopped pecans.
2. In a separate pan, bring milk to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in cornmeal. Set aside for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar until dissolved. Remove skillet from heat.
4. Place 1 slice of pineapple in center of brown sugar mixture and other slices around center slice in a circle. Arrange cherries in center of slices and add nuts evenly. Spoon reserved pineapple juice over top of all.
5. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium mixing bowl. Whisk together to combine.
6. In another mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add sugar to eggs and whisk. Add canola oil and whisk. Add the cornmeal mixture to the eggs mixture and whisk. Add to flour and stir. Pour the batter over the pineapple mixture in the skillet.
7. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.
8. Remove from oven. Let cool 30 minutes in the skillet. Set a serving platter on top of the skillet; carefully invert cake. (This is often a two-person job!) Serves 12.
Photos by Summer Ennis