Courtbouillon and the story of Ms. Mattie
“Cubie yon” or “Coo-Bee-Yon” would be how you say it.
A tomato based fish stew of the Gods is how I would describe it.
upon us, I thought it’s only right that I post about one of my favorite dishes native to Louisiana.
And of course I have a story.. a little
you could say..
Louisiana or Lafayette and New Orleans to be more precise, deeply rooted itself in my veins many years ago. That sounds weird but is really the only way that I can describe it. To be honest, there isn’t a way for me to describe it..
My experiences there would range from the happiest of moments to the most devastating..
There was a little white siding house we rented with instructions to stay off the path behind the trees. Well of course the first thing we did was walk down the path, one that seemed to be endless and as it got dark had us turning around and heading home. This one path and its mystery would prohibit me from sleeping for three nights due to my thoughts of what may be at the end.
“ buncha Caimon” is what my neighbor said… Caimon meaning gators..
That just wasn’t enough to deter me from getting up one morning and making my way down this enigmatic dirt walkway that to my surprise became a dusty gravel road that would span two miles.
Two miles miles into a deserted marshy swampland with an old blue house and a battered yellow sofa sitting in the driveway.
Two miles that lead me to Ms. Mattie..
“Gar ici pischouette” is how she greeted me, along with a few other words that I couldn’t decipher. She asked if I was from the “city” or if I “spoke her speaks”
I told her “Naw, I’m from the south and I speak food”
Humor has always been my coping mechanism with a tendency to be more prevalent when I’m intimidated. Needless to say she didn’t laugh at my joke and continued to stare until I turned my behind around and made my way back up the path. Months would go by before I found myself walking down that road again.
I just couldn’t shake the feeling.. You know that feeling that you’re missing something.
“Mais jamais d’la vie!” (Well never in my life)
Would be the first thing she said to me when I stood back in her yard those many months later. Right before she invites me to sit. To sit on what I noticed was the wet end of the sofa, it was also a challenge. One that I happily excepted by sitting down on the damp fabric and allowing it to seep through my clothes..
My grandma told me once: “Never miss an opportunity to learn from us old folks. Cause we’ve seen what y’all young ones are too blind to notice”
Ms. Mattie laughed at me, told me not to be foolish, then offered me a seat on the chair beside her. We sat in total silence for what seemed like hours…
Then she grilled me about everything from my “mama’s people” to what had me in Lafayette.
The entire time I’m overwhelmed by the smells that are coming from her kitchen.
“You’ll stay and eat with me”
This was not a question.
So stay I did and returned day after day until the months ran into years. 3 years to be exact..when we decided to move back to New Orleans and I had to say goodbye to Ms. Mattie.
Ms. Mattie spun tales of the past like the seasoned storyteller that she was. About the dark history of “my people” and spooky stories of the Houma Shortcut.
It was in her kitchen that I learned to add liver to my dirty rice, the story behind Boucherie and the importance of the Roux and filé..
And there were no such items like measuring cups or tablespoons, just a “chouhoot” of this and a “chouhoot” of that.
She also never once called me by my name, just pischouette..
I was always pischouette. (Little girl)
Ms.Mattie is long gone now and much of her personal memories given to me were washed away by Katrina. She lived to be 98 with no children, just the memories that she shared with others. But I remember every story, enough creole to get me by and of course her Courtbuillon..
And now so do you.
This post was much longer than normal. In truth, I have endless stories of my time with Marie-Anne Renault aka Ms. Mattie.. I’ll try to share more of my time with her.. Her teachings were more than lessons in the importance of Okra and Cajun French dialect.
The two-mile road is now closed off by over grown bushes and this strange wire fence (a sign that no one no longer travels down that path). At night I wonder what I would find if I were to tackle those bushes and make the trek that became my daily routine all the years ago…
This dish has a bit of a kick.. I cut back on the spice to make it a little less on the spicy side. In some parts of Louisiana, Courtbuillon is a seasoned broth used for poaching fish. In others it's a whole baked fish with tomato-based sauce.
There are many different variations of this dish. Feel free to add oysters, shrimp or even more vegetables.
I cut a corner by using store bought seafood stock that I purchased from Whole Foods. The recipe calls for making you own fish stock.
has an easy fish stock recipe that I've used before.
Prep Time- 30mins Cook Time- 1hr 45mins Yields- 8 servings
Adapted from the hand written notes of Ms. Marie-Ann Renault
cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, medium size, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Bay Leaf
1 (1-pound) can of whole tomatoes
1 (10 oz can) diced tomatoes
6 cups of warm seafood stock
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 ½ pounds of firm fish, such as redfish , trout, or sea bass. I used sea bass but have used Cod before.
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Hot cooked rice for serving
Warm crusty bread, such as French bread
We start with the roux:
In a large heavy pot, such as a dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly
to make a thick roux almost the color of chocolate. It should coat the back of your spoon.
Add in the onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic and bay leaf. Cook, stirring constantly until vegetables are soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add in tomatoes both whole and diced, and fish stock ,stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for one hour. The mixture should be slightly thick. (add more stock or water to the mixture if it becomes to thick)
After an hour, add in fish, salt, cayenne, and parsley, cover and cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Add more salt or cayenne if desired.
Serve while hot with steamed rice and crusty French bread.