Here in the South, folks are prone to outbursts of words, phrases, and sayings that anyone outside of our world has a hard time grasping. Seems that over the past few generations, Southerners have developed their own language that defines who we are. As the saying goes, “porches are wide and words are long.”
Certainly, everyone has heard the ubiquitous Southern pronoun “y’all.” That one’s easy and one you’ll hear all over the nation but still a quick and easy giveaway of Southern heritage nonetheless. Here in Cajun country we tend to say “cher–pronounced “sha” with a short “a” for a term of endearment from the French word for “dear.” To this day, when my mother-in-law Rosalie sees an adorable infant child, it always elicits an “aw, cher bébé.”
Surely, wherever you are in the South–especially South Louisiana–weather conjures up a lot of colorful language and you just know the temperature’s rising when your Tante Marie says “it’s hotter than a billy goat’s ass in a pepper patch.” And one of my favorites is “so hot the hens are laying hard-boiled eggs.”
What I’ve found in my culinary travels is that food rouses up more Southern sass than just about any subject. “As country as cornbread,” is what my wife Roxanne calls someone who she deems worthy of a Southern pedigree. Another very colorful outburst of surprise I’ve heard is “butter my butt and call me a biscuit!” And surely, you’ve heard of “kiss my grits” or “my youngun’s so buck-toothed he could eat corn through a picket fence.” But, down here in Cajun country we have a saying that has taken on a life of its own and has become one of the most popular brand names around – “Slap Ya Mama.”
First of all–and for your mama’s sake–don’t take this saying literally. It is actually a compliment to the cook as in, “this rice and gravy’s so good it’ll make you wanna slap ya mama.” Now, I’m not sure how this phrase came to be, but a good Cajun businessman TW Walker over in Ville Platte, Louisiana decided it would make the perfect name for his brand of seasoning. The name stuck and has spawned a cottage industry of Cajun products that have a nationwide following.
Today, Acadiana Table is featuring a recipe for oyster pastalaya. Pastalaya is a relatively new invention spawned by some creative Cajun mind. It was probably hatched late one night after way too many beers, as is mostly the case along the bayou. In fact, the origins of most Cajun recipes are a mystery and so it remains with this unique hybrid of jambalaya and pasta. But, I will say that my Oyster Pastalaya recipe version is different than any I’ve tried for a few very key reasons.
This Oyster Pastalaya recipe is all-white rather than the red gravy-covered version. Plus it uses a unique seasoning component from Slap Ya Mama called White Pepper Blend Cajun Seasoning. The folks at Slap Ya Mama have a unique white pepper blend variation of their original Cajun seasoning. Where most blends use black pepper, this version uses white and has a very unique flavor profile. It is actually spicier than the standard mix but with a more pronounced peppery punch. I like it in this cream-based Oyster Pastalaya dish.
Another unique factor in my Oyster Pastalaya ingredient list features pappardelle pasta along with a triple play of oysters, spinach, and andouille sausage. Smoky andouille builds the lower bass notes while fresh spinach leaves along with fresh Gulf oysters elevate the elegance of this Cajun recipe. Heavy cream and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese bring this Oyster Pastalaya all together and translate this into one spectacular dish.
One taste of my Oyster Pastalaya and you’ll be speaking the language of South Louisiana. No translation needed.
- ½ cup salt
- 1 (16-ounce) package of pappardelle pasta or wide pasta noodles
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups sliced smoked andouille sausage
- 1 cup diced yellow onions
- ½ cup diced celery
- ½ cup diced red bell pepper
- ½ cup diced yellow bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon Slap Ya Mama brand white pepper blend Cajun seasoning
- Dash of hot sauce
- 1 pint (16 ounces) Louisiana Gulf oysters, with oyster liquor
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- ½ cup diced green onion tops
- Kosher salt
- Add water and salt to a large pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until just al dente. Remove from the heat and strain. Reserve for later use.
- In a large pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat, add the oil. Add the sausage, onions, celery, and bell peppers, and cook until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and white wine, along with the spinach leaves. Let the alcohol burn off as the spinach begins to wilt. Add the cream and stir. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and let cook for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
- Uncover the pan and stir. The spinach should be wilted and the cream will have begun to reduce. Continue simmering the mixture as the sauce thickens. Add the Cajun seasoning and hot sauce to taste. Turn off the heat until ready to serve.
- Chop half the oysters and leave the remaining oysters whole. Just before serving, bring the cream and spinach mixture back to a simmer and add the oysters and ¼ cup of the oyster liquor. Gently simmer the oysters in the creamy bath until they are delicately poached and the edges begin to curl and wrinkle, about 5 minutes.
- Add the pre-cooked pasta and let simmer until the pasta is fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the cheese and green onions and stir into the sauce. Turn off the heat. Taste and add salt, if needed.
- Serve the pastalaya in shallow bowls with crusty French bread for dipping the rich sauce.
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